NEW YORK - I’ve worked auctions since 1997, but the excitement and anticipation I feel when an auction is about to begin has never lessened. I used to think that the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling was due to having to phone bid. But after more than fifteen years, phone bidding no longer makes me nervous. I believe the reason for this feeling is the unexpected. Until the gavel goes down, I never know exactly how a lot is going to perform. Interest in a lot during the preview and condition report requests do provide a hint, but until the auctioneer announces ‘sold,’ nothing is certain.
Auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd at the rostrum.
Before I give any estimate, I do my research, I check past auction records, take into account the provenance of pieces, the desirability of a piece and consumer behavior. Sometimes I also have a gut feeling about a piece, but again this is only confirmed when I hear the knock of the gavel on the rostrum. Results have shown that good property with attractive estimates never escapes the attention of connoisseurs and collectors. A perceived ‘good’ price draws interest, which leads to competitive bidding, resulting in strong prices. Consignors who are willing to take this risk are often rewarded.
Results from the Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art sale this past week bear this out. Overall the sale did very well with over 56% of the lots offered selling for above their high estimates. The total value for the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale was $21.3 million, comfortably exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $11-16 million. When combined with the Archaic Bronzes and the Wu Dacheng Jijintu Scroll sale, the total value of the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sales for the week totaled $24.8 million.
All the best performing lots in both sales sold for multiples of their presale estimates.
Lot 3 the Ji Zu Yi Zun hammered down at $1,265,000 (all prices include the buyer’s premium) against its pre-sale estimate of $300,000-400,000, and Lot 12 the Jijintu Scroll made $605,000 against its $100,000-150,000 pre-sale estimate. In fact, all lots in the Archaic Bronzes and the Wu Dacheng Jijintu Scroll sale sold for multiples of their high estimates, with only one lot failing to find a buyer.
A Rare Molded Blue and White Barbed Rim Dish, Yuan Dynasty.
The top lot in the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale was lot 230, A Rare Molded Blue and White Barbed Rim Dish, Yuan dynasty, which sold for $4,197,000, against it pre-sale estimate of $200,000-300,000. Lot 243, A Rare Wucai ‘Fish’ Jar, Jiajing mark and period, with the same estimate, also over-achieved, hammering down at $845,000.
A Rare Wucai ‘Fish’ Jar, Jiajing mark and period.
A pleasant surprise was Lot 493, a Massive Famille-rose Jardinière, Qing dynasty, 19th century. I believed it would fly, because it was very attractively painted, with a strong presence. Others also felt the same way and fierce bidding for it pushed the price to $112,500, many multiples of its $6,000-8,000 estimate.
A Massive Famille-rose Jardinière, Qing dynasty, 19th century.
Buddhist art, one of my favorite categories, continued to achieve strong results. Lot 264, A Large Pair of Bronze Dvarapala Gate Guardians, Ming dynasty, achieved $617,000 against its $30,000-50,000 estimate; lot 259 a rare carved wood figure of Vairocana, Early Ming dynasty, hammered down at $137,000 against its $20,000-30,000 pre-sale estimate; and lot 401 A Rare Buddhist Painting of a Cosmic Buddha, 17th century also did well. With an estimate of $5,000-7,000, bidders were able to look past the few condition issues and focus on the fine quality of the painting. After competitive bidding it hammered down at $43,750.
There were also a few pleasant surprises in the jade section. Lot 296, A Fine White Jade Carving Of A Hound, Qing dynasty, 18th century achieved $125,000 against its $15,000-20,000 estimate; and lot 309 A White Jade ‘Confucian’ Plaque brought $118,750 more than ten times its pre-sale low estimate of $8,000.
All categories of Chinese art were well represented in this sale. Although there were a few soft spots, such as archaic jades and mirrors, overall the sale was a success. Sotheby’s Asia Week sales totals for all the Asian art departments came to $56.1 million, with a sold-by-value rate of 80%, reflecting the continued strong demand for quality art, attractively estimated.