The importance of China as a source of new clients in the international art market has been highlighted in a business intelligence report made available to ATG by Sotheby’s.
The information compiled by the auctioneers in advance of their first major sales activities in Beijing last month, indicates the level of increasing interest from Chinese buyers in non-Asian art categories.
However, despite this rising trend, it has been announced that proposals for a possible TEFAF Beijing have been put on hold for now.
Key findings from Sotheby's show that in the last three years the number of bidders from mainland China active in sectors other than Chinese art has increased by 54%. Over this period, 660 bidders from mainland China competed for more than 7800 lots in these 'non-Chinese' sectors, spending a total of $378m (£241m).
Chairman of Sotheby's Asia Patti Wong told ATG: "Over the last ten years we have seen a constant growth of Asian buyers buying abroad, but in the last five years, and especially the last three, we've seen a real increase coming out of mainland China in particular."
Among the list of Western paintings knocked down at Sotheby's London to buyers from Greater China (which includes ethnic Chinese based in Taiwan and Singapore) since 2007 was a Claude Monet waterlilies study at $36.7m (then £18.5m), while in New York a Canaletto view of Venice sold at $5.7m (£3.8m) to a Chinese buyer. Chinese underbidding also boosted Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's The Finding of Moses to a spectacular $35.9m (£23.4m) record at Sotheby's New York.
Furthermore, in November this year at Christie's New York, a Picasso portrait of his two youngest children sold to Wang Jianlin, China's wealthiest man, for $28.2m (£19.4m).
With China predicted to become the fastest-growing source of new clients in the next few years, a number of buyers have already bid for the most expensive pieces works right from the start.
"Some of these clients have already been active at the top of the Chinese art market in Hong Kong, for example," said Ms Wong. "They are familiar with the auction process and have the money and confidence to enter other categories at the top level. Their bidding is more noticeable at evening sales than day sales.
"We've been staging auctions in Hong Kong for 40 years and initially a small percentage of clients were interested in including Western art in their collections. But that figure is rising all the time, especially as Chinese people travel more and their children study abroad. Buyers use online databases to study the art market so there is particular confidence in blue-chip names."
The report reveals huge growth in activity from Asian clients generally over the last five years. During this period, 5500 clients made bids in a total of 58 'non-Asian' selling categories, spending no less than $2bn.
With the bulk of that sum spent on Contemporary, Impressionist and Modern art, as well as jewellery, this was an increase in spend of more than 200% on the previous five years (2003-07).
Sotheby's and Christie's are clearly both making "client outreach" in China one of their major priorities, but one interesting difference is that Sotheby's continue to operate through the state-owned Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group (Sotheby's hold an 80% stake in the joint venture registered as Sotheby's Beijing (Auction) Company Ltd with Gehua holding 20%), while Christie's have become the first foreign auction house to operate in China without a local partner, staging a sale in Shanghai in September.
Ms Wong confirmed that Sotheby's would continue working with Gehua.
Art at Sotheby's where Chinese clients were the buyer or bidders*
• Edvard Munch, The Scream - estimate: $80m-100m. Underbid: $73m
• Claude Monet, Nymphéas - est: $19.8m-29.8m. Sold for: $36.7m
• Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Finding of Moses - est: $3m-5m. Underbid: $35.9m
• Pablo Picasso, Femme Assise Dans Un Fauteuil - est: $20m-30m. Underbid: $29.2m
• Auguste Rodin, Penseur. Taille de la Porte, bronze - est: $4m-6m. Underbid: $10.25m
• Canaletto, Venice, A View of the Redentore - est: $5m-7m. Sold for: $5.7m
• Caspar David Friedrich's View towards Arkona - sold for £242,500.
• Ed Ruscha, Untitled (Cass), 1972 Silkscreen - est: $100,000-150,000. Sold for: $122,500
*This includes ethnic Chinese clients from Taiwan and Singapore.
All prices quoted in this table and the main article include buyer's premium.