SOTHEBY’S latest Hong Kong Asian series saw mainland Chinese buyers come of age in the field of Imperial Chinese art.
To date, a mixture of Western and Asian dealers and collectors
have driven the phenomenal growth at the top end of this market
with mainland activity largely confined to the mid range.
But at Sotheby's 196-lot mixed vendor Chinese
ceramics and works of art sale on October 8, the financial muscle
of new and established mainland Chinese buyers triumphed. This
group took home the lion's share of the top ten highlights in the
HK$422m (£34.1m) premium-inclusive auction - the series' most
lucrative outing by far.
Overall, Sotheby's ten auctions of classical, modern and
contemporary Chinese art, watches, wine and jewellery posted a
premium-inclusive total of HK1.3bn (£104.78m) - representing a vast
improvement on the firm's HK$691m (then £60.1m) Spring 2009 tally
and their third-highest grossing Hong Kong series to date.
"There is a great deal of optimism in this part of the world and
a realisation that material is scarce," commented Sotheby's
international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art Nicolas
Chow. "The taste of mainland Chinese buyers now dictates the market
place with a clear focus on Qing dynasty Imperial porcelain and
works of art,"
Few works of art can claim a more Imperial pedigree than the
Qianlong emperor's (1736-95) carved zitan dragon throne, pictured
above - the highlight of the mixed-vendor sale and the week's most
expensive entry. This imposing symbol of power also set a new
Chinese furniture auction record at HK$76m (£6.14m), trumping
Beijing's Guardian auction house 2008 record of RMB32m (now £2.93m)
for a carved zitan table.
A mainland Chinese private buyer in the room, new to Sotheby's
but rumoured to be an owner of Beijing's Council auction house,
secured the large, 4ft 71/4in (1.4m) wide throne, outpricing
Chinese collectors from Ningbo and Taiyuan, Taiwanese dealer
Michael Wang, Hong Kong dealer Albert Chan and a Hong Kong
The same Chinese buyer also took home the auction's second most
coveted entry: a large 18in (46cm) high Qianlong mark and period
blue and white dragon moonflask at HK$35m (£2.83m).
The mixed-vendor sale produced many of the series' highlights,
but take-up was selective at 57 per cent by lot. Buyers focused on
the big-ticket entries at the expense of lesser-value works such as
a 40-lot jade section towards the end of the sale that fielded many
"If people buy in Hong Kong then they want to buy big. Many
mid-range buyers are now intimidated by bidding at Hong Kong,"
remarked London dealer James Hennessy of Littleton & Hennessy
Asian Art, who together with Nader Rasti of Knapton Rasti Asian Art
and Giuseppe Eskenazi was among the handful of London-based dealers
at the sales.
Taiwanese collectors are still the major driving force in the
scholars' object market, as seen at Sotheby's 32-lot HK$64.2m
(£5.19m) premium-inclusive Water, Pine and Stone Retreat
collection on October 8, a scholar's object collection widely
acknowledged to be that of dealer/collector Hugh Moss.
Two different Taiwanese buyers secured the top two lots, with a
Qianlong mark and period yellow jade bowl the highlight at HK$11m
(£889,000). Take-up rate was a healthy 84 per cent by lot.
Imperial Chinese art headlined the series, but all sale
categories reported a recovery in fortunes from earlier this year.
Among the most solid performances was the 253-lot Chinese painting
sale on October 5 that was 94 per cent sold by lot and totalled a
premium-inclusive HK$182.3m (£14.73m), a 40 per cent rise on their
Spring total. Li Keran's 1984 hanging scroll Tranquil
Landscape took the top slot at HK$6.1m (£493,000).
Elsewhere, paintings by blue-chip contemporary Chinese artists
achieved solid prices in the 194-lot contemporary Asian art outing
on October 9. Mainland Chinese collectors again secured the
majority of top ten lots, headlined by Zhang Xiaogang's diptych
Comrade at HK$8.54m (£690,000).
Sotheby's buyer's premium is 25/20/12 per cent. £1 =
By Kate Hunt
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