A cross three days and seven live sales this past weekend, as Typhoon Koinu – skirting as close as 70km to the city on Sunday night – picked up speed and thrashed through Hong Kong with strong winds and heavy rain, Chinese art thrived through it all.
The sale of Chinese Works of Art, Chinese Classical Paintings and Modern Chinese Paintings – which rounded out Sotheby’s Hong Kong 50th Anniversary Autumn Sales – collectively achieved HK$1.02 billion (US$129.93 million). Auctions continued as scheduled despite the deluge, and the saleroom at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre proved Chinese art collectors are a force to be reckoned with.
Sunday morning saw a full house in the saleroom despite observatory warnings of the city’s weather deteriorating. The attendance reflected the high regard Chinese art enthusiasts and collectors hold for the man behind The Leshantang Collection – Treasures of Chinese Art from the Tsai I-Ming.
One of the most celebrated connoisseurs of Chinese art and antiques, Tsai assembled a collection over nearly half a century that reflected his own bold and generous spirit.
Presenting 40 lots of impeccable Chinese works of art, paintings and calligraphies, The Leshantang Collection achieved HK$216,670,900 (US$27,666,707). Among the Chinese ceramics offered, all 16 lots hammered at or above estimates.
The star lot of the sale, a possibly unique famille-rose and doucai moon flask, seal mark and period of Yongzheng, surpassed pre-sale estimates fetching HK$45,220,000 (US$5,774,142).
Several pieces quickly soared above high estimates within seconds of the lot opening for bidding. Among them, a rare blue-ground yellow and green-enamelled incised ‘dragon’ bowl from the Zhengde period hammered at four times the high estimate, bringing in HK$4,064,000 (US$518,932), while a peachbloom-glazed beehive waterpot from the Kangxi period fetched HK$4,191,000 (US$535,149), well above the HK$500,000 low estimate.
A bidding battle ensued for Poems in Running Script by Huang Daozhou. Attracting a flurry of bids on the phone, online and in the room, the 17th century handscroll sold for HK$29,490,000 (US$3,765,578), nearly four times its pre-sale estimate. Also coincidentally achieving the same total price was Zhang Daqian’s Dragon Maiden Worshipping Buddha. Executed in 1948 in the Dunhuang mural painting style, the ink and colour features a captivating red pigment arising from a rare ore near Dunhuang that turned a vivid red when ground up.
On Saturday, Fine Classical Chinese Paintings kicked-off the season’s offerings of Chinese art, raking in HK$176,230,390 (US$22,504,621) – its second highest total since spring 2018. Among the standout results, Painting of Yunchuan, a 16th century handscroll by Lu Zhi sailed past its HK$10 million low estimate to sell for HK$42,800,000 (US$5,465,560). Drawing keen interest and heavy bidding, Landscape, a hanging scroll by Fang Cong bearing the seals of the Qianlong Emperor and Jiaqing Emperor, achieved HK$11,945,000 (US$1,525,376), nearly 12 times the low estimate.
On Sunday, as the typhoon raged on, Fine Chinese Paintings surpassed its pre-sale high estimate of HK$212 million, achieving HK$301,820,980 (US$38,539,521) with a sell-through rate of 97.3% by value. Headlining the sale was Zhang Daqian’s 1968 Verdant Mountains of Summer Spirit. The splashed colour masterpiece saw more than 40 bids placed and fetched HK$86,192,500 (US$11,005,920), four times its low estimate.
This was one of three works making their auction debut from the private collection of Cornelius Vander Starr (1892-1968), the American magnate and founder of the insurance company now known as AIG. On his deathbed, Starr bestowed his collection upon K.K. Tse (1907-88), an employee with whom Starr shared a 40-year-long partnership and camaraderie.
Achieving five of the top ten lots in the sale, Zhang’s masterful ink works proved to remain highly sought after. Fishing in Autumn Mountains, a beautiful small ink painting measuring just 26.3 x 23.8 cm from the collection of Wong Nan-Ping’s daughter, Karen Wang, sold for HK$5,969,999 (US$762,182), more than double pre-sale estimates. While from the collection of Chang Chun, a prominent figure in modern Chinese history, Calligraphy Couplet in Xingshu more than quadrupled its high estimate, bringing in HK$6,477,000 (US$827,048).
The momentum of the Chinese art sales – not to mention the typhoon that had subsequently brought Hong Kong to a standstill with a black rainstorm signal – continued on Monday with Heaven and Earth: The Collection of an Aesthete, Part 1, Karamono: Heirlooms of Chinese Art from Medieval Japan, and A Magnificent Yongle Blue and White Moon Flask.
Presented as a single-lot sale, A Magnificent Yongle Blue and White Moon Flask attracted a bidding battle lasting nearly 20 minutes and more than 25 bids placed. Exceeding pre-sale estimates, the exceptionally rare moon flask raked in HK$85,618,000 (US$10,932,562), selling to a bidder on the phone with Nicolas Chow (Sotheby’s Chairman Asia).
Karamono featured lots arising from several important private collections. Among the nine pieces deaccessioned from the collection of the Daikomyo-ji Temple in Kyoto in efforts to raise essential funds for the construction of its new residence hall (Kuri), a Longquan celadon pear-shaped vase saw fierce bidding and more than 20 bids bringing in HK$571,500 (US$57,460), while an heirloom Jian 'nogime tenmoku’ tea bowl fetched HK$2,794,000 (US$356,766).
Once belonging to the Kuroda family collection, an heirloom Jian russet-streaked ‘nogime tenmoku’ tea bowl became the second highest lot of the sale, achieving HK$4,572,000 (US$583,799), while the top lot sold for HK$4,826,000 (US$616,232) for an heirloom Jian ‘nogime tenmoku’ tea bowl once belonging to the eminent Meiji-period master of tea ceremony Baron Fujita Denzaburō.
From Important Chinese Art, standouts include a possibly unique carved celadron glazed ‘dragon’ meiping vase from the Qianlong period which fetched HK$47,640,000 (US$6,083,152) and a Qing dynasty zitan ‘dragon’ compound cabinet from the Kangxi period. After more than 20 bids placed, the cabinet sold to a bidder in the room for HK$54,595,000 (US$6,971,236), making it the top lot achieved for the sale.
Other notable results above HK$7.8 million (US$1 million)…
- Figures by Qi Baishi fetched HK$7,874,000 (US$1,005,431), more than six times its low estimate.
- Lu Yanshao’s Autumn of Wu Gorge realised HK$18,600,000 (US$2,375,034).
- Landscape after Wang Gongwang by Xu Yang exceeded estimates, achieving HK$25,860,000 (US$3,302,322).
- An album of 16 leaves with eight landscapes by Dong Bangda alongside eight imperial poems by the Qianlong Emperor sold for HK$13,760,000 (US$1,757,152).
- From The Leshangtang Collection, Zheng Min’s A Panoramic View of Mountains and Rivers after Jianjiang after Huang Gongwang sold for HK$10,130,000 (US$1,293,500).
- Xiang Shengmo, House of Heavenly Fragrance, which sold for HK$37,355,000 (US$4,769,860).
As The Hong Kong Autumn Sales draws to a close, explore more in Chinese Art Online: A Private Asian Collection (10–18 October), showcasing bronze ritual vessels, utilitarian objects, gold and silver wares, as well as Tang sancai wares dating to the late Shang Dynasty to the Eastern Zhou period.