Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby's Asia, sat down with me to discuss the growing Asian market for these paintings.
William Holman Hunt's Tuscan Girl Plaiting Straw. Estimate £3,000,000–5,000,000.
Jane Oakley: There has recently been an increased interest from the Chinese in Victorian Art with the number of Chinese buyers increasing over the past few sales. To what do you attribute this interest?
Kevin Ching: We have started to see keen interest among Asian clients. While 18th-century decorative arts were often made exclusively for aristocracy and are therefore rare and often kept in museums, 19th-century works are more available and affordable as that period saw the rise of a wealthy bourgeoisie aspiring to a quality of life previously enjoyed exclusively by elites.
The arts and culture of the period were characterized by eclecticism and every work of art represents a variety of influences, ranging from styles of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI to Japanese and Chinese features, which are, of course, highly relevant to an Asian audience.
Nineteenth century works are also better made due to the technological advances of the time and are therefore more easily preserved and suitable for everyday use. This is very appealing to Chinese clients who actually want to live with these pieces, and they attract a wide range of collectors. In general, Chinese who appreciate a luxurious lifestyle and owners of high-end property still display a strong European influence and collect 19th century European paintings and decorative arts.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's A Christmas Carol. Estimate £4,000,000–6,000,000.
JO: If you could take one of these pictures home to keep, which one would you choose and why?
KC: I would choose William Holman Hunt’s A Tuscan Girl. The picture, including the frame itself, conveys a strong sense of innocence, tranquility and bucolic charm, something that is hard to find among the hustle and bustle of a modern commercial metropolis like Hong Kong. The painting is not only beautiful but would also be therapeutic for me to have it in my home. I can admire the simple but angelic face of the girl at the same time dreaming about the Tuscan countryside, now a favourite destination for many people from Hong Kong and China looking for fresh air and a relaxing and inspiring holiday.
James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot's A Visit to the Yacht. Estimate £2,000,000–3,000,000.
JO:Are the ties between Hong Kong and Britain still strong?
KC: Ties between Hong Kong and Britain remain strong, notwithstanding the reunification of Hong Kong with mainland China in 1997. The harbour for which Hong Kong is famous is still known as Victoria Harbour and all the main streets, hospitals and buildings have retained their pre-unification names commemorating British royal or former Colonial Governors – Prince Edward Road, Queen’s Road Central, Princess Margaret Road, Queen Mary Hospital and so on. The Hong Kong Golf Club, The Hong Kong Yacht Club and The Hong Kong Jockey Club may have dropped their ‘Royal’ prefix but they remain the most prestigious institutions. The United Kingdom remains a preferred destination for boarding schools and higher education for many Hong Kong parents. There must be at least four direct flights between London and Hong Kong every day of the week.