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“We do have more and more people from the mainland buying. They are mainly interested in the Qing pieces and the mark and period porcelain,” said Sotheby’s specialist Nicholas Chow.

If mainland Chinese buyers are helping to keep prices buoyant at Chinese auctions in London, Europe and Hong Kong, the fear is that the one-way flow of art into China may have repercussions on supply.

“There is concern among collectors and dealers that some of the best works may not come out of China into the market again,” said Christie’s specialist Pola Antebi.
Although Far Eastern dealers and collectors tend to be the principal buyers for the Chinese-taste Imperial quality works in these biannual Hong Kong sales, Asian buyers were given a run for their money at Christie’s Hong Kong (19.5/12% buyer’s premium) Imperial and fine Chinese auction as a result of competition from American and European room bidders.

The record-breaking highlight at their 274-lot outing on July 7, that totalled a premium-inclusive HK$133,834,625 (£10,863,200), was a large Imperial 12-panel soapstone and zitan hardwood screen from the Kangxi period (1662-1722).

Probably commissioned for the emperor as a gift, the finely worked soapstone panels on the front of the screen depicted Daoist subjects and Immortals, while the reverse was peopled by European figures amidst Western architecture – interesting subjects for the Kangxi emperor who was fascinated by European innovations and technical knowledge.

In addition to the soapstone carvings, each panel sported a contemporaneous ink and colour on silk painting illustrating the stunning mountainous and lake views of Hangzhou that famously inspired Song dynasty painters. “Each panel was a work of art in its own right,” said Pola Antebi.

The screen had formerly been in the collection of Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker who had published it in 1928, but was consigned here by a different American vendor. Mainland Chinese interest helped push bidding to HK$21m (£1,704,545) although it sold to a Hong Kong dealer. The price establishes a new auction record for a piece of Chinese furniture, beating the previous high of US$1.102m (premium-inclusive) paid for a 17th century, 12-panel huanghuali screen at Christie’s New York, in September 1996.

If this massive screen was a showpiece entry, a set of 12 personal seals made for the Kangxi emperor and consigned from a French collection appealed to buyers with a refined, scholarly taste. Some emperors commissioned more personal seals than others, but the Kangxi emperor had relatively few and the Beijing Palace Museum has only three examples.

This finely-worked set of 12 seals sold to an Asian private buyer who outbid other Asian competition for an upper estimate of HK$19m (£1,542,205).

Unlike official seals used to authorise Imperial edicts, this group was employed by the Kangxi emperor for his personal compositions of poetry, calligraphy and painting. The characters of the seal reveal him to be a scholarly man with a high regard for Confucian ideals. They incorporate phrases such as Harmony and balance through the middle way (Zhonghe) and Generous hearted and broad minded (Tantan dangdang).

Further evidence of the strength of the Chinese market for the most exceptional works was seen by the punchy bid placed by London dealer Eskenazi for a finely painted Ming dynasty blue and white charger from the Yongle period (1403-1425), 231/2in (59.5cm), that had been broken in two and restored. Its early date, large size, and the quality of the painting outweighed concerns over its poor condition and it fetched HK$8.2m (£665,585).

The entry into the market of several wealthy mark and period porcelain collectors in the last couple of years helped Sotheby’s Hong Kong (20/12% buyer’s premium) find a buyer for their April highlight. The copper-red and underglaze blue dragon vase with a tianqiuping seal mark and period Qianlong, 1736-1795, which was unsold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2000, when it was estimated at HK$5m-7m, was re-entered with the same guideline and was pursued by
a private Asian buyer who
outbid a European telephone bidder for ownership at HK$9m (£730,520).