THE world auction record for a Chinese ceramic of work of art toppled during Sotheby's latest week-long Asian sales series of classical, modern and contemporary Chinese art, watches, wine and jewellery in Hong Kong.
Sotheby's overall total for the week was a mammoth HK$3.09bn (£250m) and the star turn was the Qianlong (1736-95) mark and period famille rose double gourd vase, shown here, from the 13-lot collection of legendary dealer J.T. Tai and offered on October 7.
The Imperial vessel was a ceramic tour-de-force with a provenance to match. It hailed from the Fonthill collection of Alfred Morrison who acquired the 15 ¾in (40cm) vase along with a group brought back from Beijing by Lord Loch of Drylaw following the sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace in 1860.
Seven contenders took bidding to its upper estimate of HK$50m (£4.04m). From the rarefied HK$100m (£8.1m) mark, Chinese business magnate Alice Cheng, sitting in the room, battled an anonymous buyer on the telephone. The former clinched it at HK$225m (£18.2m).
This eclipses the £14m Yuan dynasty guan sold at Christie's King Street in 2005 but falls short of the RMB390m (now £37m) for an 11th century calligraphic scroll by Huang Tingjian sold at Beijing Poly International this June.
The vase's elevated price is the latest illustration of the buoyancy of this soaring market. Just six years ago, an 18th century Imperial famille rose vase of comparable quality from the celebrated Fonthill collection sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong at HK$40m (now £3.2m).
The phenomenally wealthy 78-year-old Alice Cheng, like her brother, veteran Hong Kong collector and dealer Robert Chang, is a tenacious bidder with a track record in high-profile auction purchases. In 2006 she paid HK$135m (then £9.3m) for a Qianlong famille rose "swallows" bowl put up for auction at Christie's Hong Kong by her brother.
"When she loves an object she puts no price on it. She loved the vase," said Sotheby's specialist Nicolas Chow.
The vase also held personal memories for Ms Cheng. J.T. Tai had been a family friend in Shanghai when she was a child.
It was the highlight of a white-glove dispersal that fetched a premium-inclusive HK$666.66m (£53.9m) and was the highest grossing auction by far in the firm's most lucrative Hong Kong Asian series to date.
"This was the first major series to show great Chinese art is now taking its place on the world art stage," commented London and New York-based dealer James Hennessy of Littleton and Hennessy Asian Art, who bought at the sales. "It was both exhilarating and exhausting. I definitely needed a stiff drink at the end of it all."
The series' takings represented a 50 per cent increase on the saleroom's previous high in April. This was thanks to the quality of material offered and bullish Asian and international demand across the board. Selling rates ranged from 62 to 100 per cent and included two white-glove wine auctions, a HK$423m (£34.2m) jewellery auction and a HK$407.3m (£32.9m) fine Chinese painting sale - the latter two being the firm's most successful mixed-vendor outings in these categories to date.
Of the four other single-owner ceramics and works of art sales, the biggest money-spinner was a nine-lot collection of Qing historical works of art. This collecting category has seen the most marked price increases of all. The highlight was a HK$108m (£8.74m) white jade Imperial Qianlong seal inscribed Xintian Zhuren or "the ruler who believes in heaven", last auctioned in 1997 at Sotheby's Bond Street for £15,000.
Sotheby's buyer's premium is 25/20/12 per cent.
By Kate Hunt