As Sotheby's Hong Kong biannual spring/autumn auctions wrapped last week, we look back at some of the most memorable moments of the series.
"We are pleased to continue on a record-breaking year in Asia and will continue to expand the international audience interacting with us while retaining what is making Asian art and Hong Kong truly unique and special."
Collectors around the world turned their focus to Hong Kong as Sotheby’s held its big biannual week-long auction series in the city, offering the opportunity to bid on the very best of fine art and luxury. The auctions were nothing short of thrilling as rarities went under the hammer in the week – from all categories of Chinese ceramics and paintings, modern and contemporary art, jewellery, watches and wine. Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2021 Autumn Series alone achieved HK$3.08 billion (US$397 million) bring the year-to-date total in Asia to HK$8.5 billion (US$1.1 billion), in ten months surpassing 2020's full year total. Here are the key takeaways from the series.
"This week’s sales, which close out the latest chapter of what is already a record-breaking year for Sotheby’s Asia, have shone a spotlight on the evolution of collecting and taste in the region. Reflecting the ever more international nature of today’s market, in which collectors are less constrained by focused categories of period or nationality, this season’s top prices were achieved for works by Zhang Daqian, Picasso and Basquiat."
Strongest Year Ever for Western Art in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s emergence as an important international hub for the market was evidenced by the results of the modern and contemporary art auctions which extended two days over the weekend of 9-10 October. New generations of international bidders added to the composition of more established collectors, snapping up works by blue-chip artists as well as emerging talent. The evening sales saw high demand as the impeccable quality and provenance of the works on offer boosted competition among bidders from all over the world with specialists on phone banks taking bids in real time from New York, London and Hong Kong.
“It’s clearly full steam ahead for collectors in Asia. This is where many of the finest new collections in the world are being built today, with an approach that is both boundless and progressive.”
Key Numbers. The five auctions of modern and contemporary art achieved HK$1.4 billion (US$185 million), bringing the year-to-date total in the two categories for Sotheby’s Asia to HK$4.7 billion (US$600 million). Compared with the previous year, that’s 35% higher than the entire 2020 total for modern art and contemporary art. Sales in both categories were higher than projected. In the details, Western art sold in the two days accounted for HK$887 million (US$114 million), together achieving a record HK$2.57 billion (US$330 million) in the ten-month period. The fact that this is close to triple the 2020 figure demonstrates that the international competition for Western art in Asia is now at an all-time high.
Picasso and Basquiat set auction records, plus a Van Gogh first. Among the most memorable highlights of the Modern sale was Pablo Picasso’s Femme Accroupie. With exceptional exhibition history and having remained in the collection of American philanthropists Kate and Allan Emil since 1957, the portrait of Jacqueline Roque sold for HK$191.7 million (US$24.6 million), topping the auction record for Picasso in Asia. In the same sale, the first painting by Vincent van Gogh ever offered at auction in Asia realised HK$71 million (US$9.1 million). Painted in 1886, during the artist’s Paris period and at the crux of the most transformative stage of his career, Nature Morte: Vase Aux Glaïeuls is the only early period flower still life by Van Gogh to appear at auction in more than two decades. Leading the Contemporary evening sale was Untitled (Red Warrior) which was created by Basquiat in his ‘golden year’. Coming to the market just months after Basquiat’s Warrior, also from 1982, the rarely seen work offered in Saturday’s auction brought in HK$162.9 million (US$20.9 million), becoming the most valuable Western artwork ever sold in Asia.
“The new auction record achieved for a Picasso in Asia reaffirms Sotheby’s commitment to bringing international masterworks both physically to the doorsteps of our clients in the region and virtually to collectors across the globe. The excitement of the bidding for this striking, long-unseen portrait from my colleagues in Hong Kong, New York, and London is testament to the power Picasso holds over collectors world over.”
Demand reflects wider scope of collectors. Exceptional provenance and exhibition history attracted competition worldwide, with American collectors accounting for about 30% of the total amount bid in the Modern Art Evening sale, where both the quality and previous ownership of the works on offer was of great appeal. Works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Bernard Buffet, Picasso, Marc Chagall and many others had great provenance, and strong prices were achieved for Joan Mitchell, Roy Lichtenstein and Cecily Brown. Paintings by Asian masters continued to excite demand, including highlights Sanyu’s Nu endormie, Yoshitomo Nara’s Under the Hazy Sky, and Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline - The Big Family No.1. Film auteur Wong Kar Wai’s first ever NFT creation, In The Mood For Love - Day One established a new benchmark for any Asian film NFT.
Rising stars emerge. The contemporary art auctions also saw standout performance of today’s most promising artists including, Jadé Fadojutimi, Loie Hollowell, Rafa Macarrón, Shara Hughes, and Louis Fratino. ‘Our Evening Sale undoubtedly started with a bang, with the first four offerings setting new auction records for the hottest new names,’ says Max Moore, Head of Contemporary Art Sales, Sotheby’s Asia. ‘Not only does this speak to the ever-increasing appetite from collectors for new talent, it also reaffirms Asia as one of the shining bright spots for platforming today’s most exciting artists emerging onto the market.’
“We set out to put together a sale that simply speaks to what our clients across Asia are looking for. In our case, this means important pieces by storied Contemporary masters, as well as buzzy young artists who have recently started taking art fairs, or indeed Instagram, by storm.”
NEW ARTIST’S RECORDS SET
Zhang Daqian Inspires Fierce Bidding at Fine Chinese Paintings Sale
Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Painting Sale concluded with a total of HK$441.6 million (US$56.7 million), with about 90% of the lots on offer sold. The moment of the day was when Zhang Daqian’s Mist at Dawn went on the block. Inspiring a thrilling fifteen-minute battle generating more than twenty bids, the painting from the M K Lau Collection fetched HK$214.6 million (US$27.6 million), establishing work as the second most valuable painting by the artist ever sold by Sotheby’s. The current auction record for Zhang Daqian was set by Sotheby’s in 2016.
Xu Beihong, Lin Feng Mian, Pu Ru remain collector favourites. The sale saw exceptional results for Ancient Cedar Trees and Galloping Horse, both by Xu Beihong and both surpassing projected estimates. Other notable collectors’ favourites from the M K Lau Collection include Lin Fengmian‘s The Monkey King and Landscape Scenery. All fourteen works by Pu Ru were sold, including Calligraphy Couplets on Twelve Months and Tranquil Wilderness.
Standout Results for Gong Xian’s Landscape and Other Classical Works
From the Tsao Family Collection, a rare set of four hanging scrolls by Gong Xian took the spotlight at the Classical Chinese Paintings sale. Bidding for the lot was brisk, ultimately bringing in HK$14.7 million (US$1.9 million), the highest price for a work in the auction. Other highlights of the sale include: Two Ming dynasty works by the brothers Wen Peng and Wen Jia, a rubbing mounted in an album of 56 leaves Stele for Shi Chen, and the manuscripts by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
A Big Night for Qing Imperial Porcelain, Buddhist Bronze Statues
Two single-owner sales THE THREE EMPERORS: Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns from the Yidetang Collection and Reflection and Enlightenment: Chinese Buddhist Gilt-Bronzes from the Jane and Leopold Swergold Collection on 12 October showed strength for Chinese Works of Art.
Runaway prices for Chinese gilt bronzes from the Jane and Leopold Swergold Collection, with top two lots exceeding their estimates by multiple factors. Jane and Leopold Swergold are amongst the most renowned collectors of Buddhist art in the US. Spanning the seven centuries between the Northern and Southern Dynasties period and the Liao and Song dynasties, the 25 Chinese Buddhist gilt-bronzes featured in this auction realised a sale total of HK$40.8 million (US$5.2 million).
Imperial porcelains from the Yidetang Collection also surpassed their respective top estimates, with 96% of lots finding new homes, and with 74% of lots selling for prices above their high estimates. The collection features exquisite wares from the great Qing dynasty emperors. Collectors bid on the the finest in imperial taste, from sublime examples of monochrome, to blue and white, and enamelled porcelain, from the late 17th to the late 18th century. The sale total for this auction was HK$72 million (US$9.3 million) including highlights of an extremely rare blue and white 'lotus' conjoined vase which fetched HK$3.4 million (US$437,000), and a large doucai 'floral' jardinière which achieved HK$4.7 million (US$598,000).
Wine and Spirits: Phenomenal Results Across the Board
Extending across three days, auctions of wines and spirits achieved HK$196 million (US$25 million), exceeding the combined pre-sale estimate. That’s the third highest total for an auction series of wine and spirits in Asia, making 2021 a record-breaking year for Sotheby’s Wine in Asia, with a HK$515 million (US$66 million) total year to date.
Record-breaking single malts. Setting an auction record, the world’s oldest whisky Decanter #1 of the Gordon & Macphail Generations 80-Years-Old sold for HK$1.5 million (US$193,000) to a European private collector, new to Sotheby’s. Another auction record went to The Dalmore: The Dalmore Decades, a one of a kind set of six vintage single malts direct from the distillery, when it sold for HK$8.8 million (US$1.1 million). The represents the highest value for a whisky lot sold by Sotheby’s in Asia. ‘Almost one third of the buyers in our spirits sale were new to Sotheby’s, a reflection of how whisky collecting is attracting an ever broader range of collectors,’ says Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s spirits specialist. ‘What we have also seen over the past couple of years is a growth at the higher end of the market.’
Robust competition for wine. The Art of Living: Legendary Wines from the Cellar of Pierre Chen, which featured legendary wines from the finest producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond, amassed by the collector for three decades, brought in HK$116.3 million (US$14.9 million), outperforming pre-sale projections. The Marvellous Leroy Collection also exceeded estimates with a sale total of HK$40.3 million (US$5.2 million). It was one of the most comprehensive Leroy collections ever to be offered by Sotheby’s, and was 98% sold by lot.
“Collectors were out in force and willing to compete for wines and spirits with great provenance. Asia continues to be very much at the forefront of this global market, which is incredibly vibrant as illustrated by the results of our five sales. While we always expect to see the majority of bids coming from Greater China, we are continuing to see growing interest from collectors in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.”
Diamonds in Demand
The first part of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels drew to a close with a total of HK$389.3 million (US$50 million). Diamonds, in particular coloured diamonds, continue to be in hot demand, with a Fancy Vivid Blue and Pink Diamond Ring leading the results, selling for HK$35 million (US$ 4.5 million), and a Fancy Intense Green and White Diamond Ring achieving HK$23.8 million (US$ 3 million).
International interest in fine jadeite continues to grow, with lively competition for the ‘Fortunate Longevity', an 'Imperial Green' carved jadeite pendant, a jadeite Bead necklace, and a jadeite bangle. Not to be outshined, sapphires, rubies and emeralds continue to be collectors’ favourites, such as the Ratnaraj of Mogok 6.03 carat ruby ring, a sapphire and diamond ring with mount by Harry Winston, and a pair of Columbian emerald and diamond earrings.
Intense bidding was seen this week on signed pieces by renowned jewellery houses, including Cartier, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels, with pieces achieving prices in excess of – and in some cases – doubling or tripling their estimates.
More than 40% of bidders participated online during the sale, and bidding is now open on Magnificent Jewels Part II until 28 October – an online only auction catering to the new digitally driven generation of collectors.
Highest Watch Sale Total in Sotheby's Asia History
At the finale of the auction series, the sale of Important Watches achieved the highest total in the history of Sotheby’s Asia, coming in at HK$261 million (US$33.6 million). Among the top lots was an F.P. Journe limited edition platinum Tourbillon Souverain ‘Souscription’ which set an auction record for the model when it soared to more than double its estimates and realised HK$15.9 million (US$2 million). All thirteen lots from the independent watchmaker fetched prices higher than predicted, together coming to a combined total of HK$36 million (US$4.6 million).
Vintage and contemporary Patek Philippe continues to lead the market. In its auction debut, a brand new platinum and diamond-set reference 5307 realised HK$12.9 million (US$1.7 million), while a reference 3448 white gold ‘Senza Luna’ perpetual calendar wristwatch, made in 1981, achieved HK$10.1 million (US$1.3 million). Setting a new auction record for reference 5070 was a heavy platinum chronograph wristwatch which brought in HK$5 million (US$645,00).
Watches with distinguished provenance saw stellar results, with timepieces from the collection of artist and designer Hiroshi Fujiwara as well as property formerly from rock legend Eric Clapton all 100% sold. Of the watches formerly from Clapton’s collection, three lots set new auction records respectively for Patek Philippe references 5004, 5970 and 3970.