SOTHEBY’S Hong Kong spring sales series of classical, modern and contemporary Asian art, wine, jewellery and watches from April 4 to 8 were not as financially rewarding for the firm as in recent times.
The premium-inclusive HK$691m (£60.1m) total for this
nine-auction series was a significant fall from the HK$1.1bn and
HK$1.77bn tallies in autumn and spring 2008 respectively.
Superficially the series looked slightly larger at 1805 lots
compared with1700 and 1690 for the two previous series, but almost
half - 750 lots - were an inaugural wine sale which contributed
But the latest Hong Kong series had its high points, with two
'white glove' auctions and a healthy overall selling rate by lot of
85 per cent thanks to more streamlined sales and greater
selectivity at the point of consignment.
A major contributory factor to the decline in takings was the
reluctance on the part of some private vendors of imperial ceramics
and works of art to consign major fresh-to-market works, given the
uncertain economic climate.
For a decade, these traditional collecting categories have been
the Asian auction series' bankers. Last October, Sotheby's Hong
Kong ceramics and works of art sales accounted for a
premium-inclusive HK$458m of that series total. This April, the
three ceramics, works of art and furniture sales took just over a
But for vendors of top-end, fresh-to-market imperial Chinese
ceramics brave enough to consign, the rewards were there to be
reaped. Nowhere was this more evident than in the week's jewel in
the crown: a single-owner collection of Yongzheng (1723-35) and
Qianlong (1736-95) Imperial porcelain of impeccable quality,
condition and provenance, assembled in Europe in the 1960s, that
fielded no casualties and brought HK$95.5m (£8.3m).
The sale, billed as Eight Treasures from a European
collection, was rumoured in the trade to be the personal
collection of the highly respected London dealer and Chinese
porcelain connoisseur Richard Marchant. A number of the pieces had
been used to illustrate Mr Marchant's Oriental Ceramic Society of
Hong Kong lectures in the 1970s.
The standout entry was the mark and period Qianlong reticulated
celadon vase, pictured here, sold to a private buyer at HK$42m
This assemblage attracted interest from major US, European and
Asian private buyers and dealers and reflected continued hunger for
This demand was also seen for the best porcelain in the 54-lot
mixed-vendor ceramics and works of art sale on April 8 where
mainland Chinese buyers fuelled prices for mid-range Imperial
However, buyers were indifferent to the works of art offered in
this HK$64.3m (£5.6m) premium-inclusive outing and this section
fielded many of the casualties capping the overall take-up rate at
56 per cent by lot. Similarly, there was little enthusiasm for the
Ming dynasty Imperial lacquer furniture from the Biegucang
collection that totalled HK$18.5m (£1.6m) on April 8. All bar three
of the eight lots were bought in.
Ceramics and works of art aside, the series was notable for the
firm's inaugural Hong Kong wine auction on April 4 that was a
sell-out, netting a premium-inclusive HK$49.9m (£4.3m) for 750
Demand was also robust for the privately sourced material from
several old family collections in the 55-lot, 20th century Chinese
art outing on April 6.
This included the sale's star turn: a large oil on canvas by Lin
Fengmian (1900-1991), entitled Fishing Harvest and
acquired by the Danish ambassador in Beijing directly from the
artist in the 1960s. It doubled the previous record for this
artist, selling at HK$14m (£1.2m), proving once again the winning
combination of quality, rarity and provenance.
By Kate Hunt
£1 = HK$11.5