WHAT a difference a year can make. At the start of 2009 vendors shaken by the economic climate were reticent to consign to the major houses’ Hong Kong sales. But, a series of strong international Chinese sales during the latter half of last year restored market confidence.
This April, Sotheby's Hong Kong (25/20/12% buyer's
premium) posted their most lucrative Asian series to date
tripling last Spring's takings to bag just shy of HK$2bn.
The series was notable for increased levels of competition at
the top end of the market from mainland Chinese, who together with
other Asian buyers and a handful of Western dealers and collectors
pushed prices for iconic 18th century Imperial Chinese art to new
Asian financial muscle was evident throughout the ten auctions
of classical, modern and contemporary Asian art, wine, jewellery
and watches that took HK$1998m (£167.6m), including premium, from
April 3 to 8.
Selling rates by lot averaged around 80 per cent, boosted by a
'white glove' wine auction (the saleroom's third in a row). The
firm posted all-time house highs for mixed-vendor outings of
classical Chinese paintings, watches, jewellery and jadeite.
Far and away the biggest contributor to the series' fortunes was
the HK$710m (£59.6m) mixed-vendor Chinese ceramics and works of art
auction on April 8. It boasted a 74 per cent selling rate by lot
and benefited from a number of blue-chip consignments, including
the week's star lot: this 13/4in (5cm) long white jade seal dated
1796, pictured here.
The seal, inscribed Tai Shang Huang Di, or Treasure of
the Emperor Emeritus, is one of a handful commissioned to mark the
abdication of the Qianlong (1736-95) emperor. The others largely
reside in Beijing's Palace Museum.
The price paid for this iconic Imperial rarity illustrates the
accelerated pace of the market for the finest treasures. Trade
rumour had it that the Chinese buyers bidding in the room, who
bought widely at the sale, were a consortium of Beijing agents.
They secured the seal at HK$85m (£7.13m) - a record for a white
jade carving previously set by this same seal when it sold in these
rooms in October 2007 at HK$41m (then £2.61m).
The HK$19m (£1.59m) bid by a private buyer from Greater China
for the sale's cover lot, a Yongzheng (1723-35) mark and period
doucai bottle vase with a star crack to its base, demonstrates the
value of international auction exposure. A consortium of London
dealers bought the vase for 840,000 Euros (£763,635) in a
non-specialist Paris sale in January this year (reported on page 48
of ATG No 1932).
Sotheby's specialist Nicolas Chow said fewer Western buyers were
successful at the top level as a result of unexpectedly stiff Asian
competition, but London dealers such as Eskenazi and Knapton Rasti
Asian Art were among those active at the sales, as were Littleton
& Hennessy Asian Art, who bought a HK$16m (£1.34m) 18th century
Not everyone found the naturalistic, abstract forms of the 44
scholar's objects from the HK$41m (£3.44m) Water, Pine and Stone
Retreat Collection on April 8 (the firm's second dispersal from the
assemblage) as visually arresting as the vendor, widely
acknowledged to be that of the respected dealer/collector Hugh
Moss. Take-up by lot was 60 per cent.
But as in the mixed-vendor outing, the Imperial scholar's
objects sold well, with an Imperial Qianlong bamboo-veneered ruyi
sceptre establishing a record for a bamboo carving at HK$13.5m
Imperial Chinese art headlined the series, but among the
best-performing categories elsewhere was the 237-lot mixed-vendor
fine Chinese painting outing on April 6 that made HK$305m (£27.2m).
The auction fielded just seven casualties, with its star turn, Fu
Baoshi's Chess Playing from 1943, at HK$34m (£2.85m).
By Kate Hunt
£1 = HK$11.92