A series of evening sales on 5 April in Hong Kong celebrated the landmark milestone of Sotheby’s 50th anniversary in Asia. Since coronavirus pandemic measures lifted in the city just a month ago, the city has been abuzz with enthusiasm for in-person events, and this fervour trickled into the Hong Kong Spring Sales. Unencumbered by the light rain showers and grey skies that has been clouding the week, the energy in the saleroom this evening was nothing short of palpable. The four marquee anniversary sales on Wednesday evening realised a combined total of HK$1.52 billion (US$192.8 million), achieving a sell-through rate of 92.4 percent.
Zhang Daqian ‘Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen’
Kicking off the evening was the spectacular single-lot auction of Zhang Daqian’s Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen, an extremely rare splash-coloured masterpiece painted in 1973 – the very same year Sotheby’s Hong Kong established its permanent presence in the region. Bringing together myriad styles and approaches that embody a lifetime of Zhang’s artistic practice, Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen encapsulates the artist’s significant contributions to modern art and has been kept in the family of the eminent collector C.S. Loh for half a century. With auctioneer Florence Ho at the rostrum, the painting made its auction debut tonight and achieved HK$251.65 million (US$32 million) – the third highest price for the artist at auction, the top two of which are also held by Sotheby's.
Modern Art Evening Auction
Auctioneer Ian McGinlay took to the rostrum for the 50th Anniversary Modern Evening Auction. The first lot of the sale was Sanyu’s Femme à la robe jaune avec chaussettes roses, executed in the 1920s-30s. After fast and competitive bidding, the ink and watercolour on paper sold to a phone bidder for HK$1.65 million (US$210,321), more than five times its low estimate.
Leading the auction was Joan Miró’s Sans titre, which fetched HK$50.57 million (US$6.44 million) selling to a bidder on the phone with Jen Hua, Deputy Chairman of Asia and Chairman of China. After a bidding battle lasting nearly 20 minutes with more than 40 bids placed, the work achieved a new record for the artist at auction in Asia well in excess of the HK$14.89 million record set by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong last autumn with Personnage dans la nuit. Executed in 1947, when Miró’s popularity was at its apex, Sans titre was painted for, and is dedicated to, the photographer and filmmaker Thomas Bouchard and his daughter Diane, who created a film documenting the artist’s stay in New York, in which the Spanish titan of modern art is seen making Sans titre.
Among other notable lots, three from a distinguished private collection cemented the interest of Western modern art in Asia. Fiancée avec bouquet, painted in 1977 by Marc Chagall while the artist was living in France, sold for HK$27 million (US$3.45 million). Portraying Pablo Picasso’s muse and lover Françoise Gilot seated in an armchair with an air of regal authority Femme dans un fauteuil was completed on Christmas Day of 1948, when Gilot was pregnant with their second child Paloma. The star lot of the sale, the oil on canvas sold for HK$93 million (US$11.86 million). Painted nearly 20 years later in 1965, Picasso's Homme portant un enfant, an important work from the finale decade of Picasso’s life, sold for HK$30.7 million (US$3.9 million).
Chinese works of modern art continue to remain strong in the market. Shanghai-born Pang Jiun, best known as a “literati expressionist” pays homage to modern Chinese painter Qi Baishi and French Impressionist Claude Monet in the three-panel painting Spring in Blossom, which sold to a bidder on the phone with Wendy Lin, Chairman of Asia, for HK$8.51 million (US$1.08 million). Fresh to the market, the work set a new world auction record for the artist, after more than 10 minutes of competitive bidding.
Other high performers of modern Asian art include Zao Wou-Ki’s two-and-a-half metre tall canvas 11.08.99 - Après l'éclipse and 25.03.85, both from the artist’s Infinity Period, which sold for HK$48.85 million (US$6.23 million) and HK$45.22 million (US$5.76 million), respectively. Wu Guanzhong’s A season of peach blossoms from 1996 doubled its low estimate and achieved HK$13.76 million (US$1.75 million), while Chen Yifei’s Beauty with fan, the largest single portrait of the artist’s much-admired paintings of women, realised HK$15.57 million (US$1.98 million).
The evening also set yet another new auction record for Vietnamese art. The second largest figurative ink and colour on silk by Le Pho to appear at auction, La famille dans le jardin fetched HK$18.6 million (US$2.37 million), setting a new world auction record for the artist. Other remarkable lots of Vietnamese modern art include Mai Trung Thu’s Femmes et enfants au bord de la rivière from 1955 which sold for HK$5.72 million (US$728,034) and Vu Cao Dam’s Jeune femme en bleu dans un paysage which sold to a bidder in the saleroom for HK$6.99 million (US$889,819).
Luxury Evening Auction: The Exceptionals
Bringing together the most coveted from the luxury division under a special cross-category six-lot sale, 50th Anniversary Luxury Evening Auction: The Exceptionals achieved a white glove sale with auctioneer Uni Kim, bringing in a total of HK$126.57 million (US$16.12 million). The sale was anchored by The Emperor’s Treasure, a jadeite, ruby and diamond necklace. Comprising 43 Imperial Green jadeite beads with a clasp made of rubies and diamonds, The Emperor’s Treasure achieved a stellar result of HK$61.49 million (US$7.83 million).
The limited-edition Hermès Feathers So Black Kelly sold for HK$2.03 million (US$258,856), while the extremely rare Yamazaki 50 Year Old 2005 First Release – the crown jewel of Japanese whisky, with no more than a dozen bottles believed to be in circulation worldwide – set a new world auction record for a bottle of Yamazaki 50 Year Old when it fetched HK$4.83 million (US$614,784).
Launched in commemoration of the 170th anniversary of the partnership between Patek Philippe and Tiffany & Co., and limited to only 170 pieces, the Nautilus Reference 5711 in Tiffany Blue® sold for HK$20.42 million (US$2.6 million).
Demonstrating that iconic statement pieces from the biggest jewellery houses remain in high demand, a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet watch achieved HK$11.95 million (US$1.52 million), while a demi-parure, featuring a 50-carat hexagonal emerald, sold for HK$25.86 million (US$3.29 million), both to phone bidders with Regine Ngan, Head of Department, Jewellery, Asia. Introduced in the 1920s at the height of the Art Deco period, Tutti Frutti jewels are quintessentially a Cartier masterpiece of East meets West, loved for its use of gemstones carved in the Mughal-style bringing bold hues and textures.
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
The final sale of the evening was the 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction, led by several record breakers including Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin (L), which went to a phone bidder with Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Asia, for HK$62.64 million (US$7.98 million) and set a new world auction record for a sculpture by the artist. Other works by the eminent Japanese artist also saw fervent bidding. A-Pumpkin (BAGN8), a painting that captures the artist’s iconic pumpkin and infinity motifs, realised HK$55.17 million (US$7 million). Created in 2018, My Heart is Flying to the Universe marked the first time a mirror room by the artist was offered at auction in Asia, and just the second time one of this size has come to auction. After tense bidding with interest coming in online and over the phone, the work sold to an online bidder for HK$25.85 million (US$3.29 million).
Fresh to the market, Yoshitomo Nara’s In the Milky Lake sold to a phone bidder with Alex Branczik, Chairman of Modern & Contemporary Art, Asia, for HK$100.56 million (US$12.81 million), while Sprout in Hands, a painterly response to the devastating Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, fetched HK$18.12 million (US$2.31 million).
A stellar lineup of works by women artists filled the saleroom with a frenzied energy. A brilliant example of Cecily Brown’s ability to render the emotional and physical interactions between humans and the environment, Where They Are Now achieved HK$21.62 million (US$2.75 million). Other signifcant lots include Loie Hollowell’s Standing in Red, which soared above estimates to reach HK$17.99 million (US$2.29 million), setting a new world auction record for the artist. Anna Park’s charcoal drawing Hero Mentality drew immense interest across bidders online, over the phone and in the saleroom before selling to the room bidder for HK$2.79 million (US$355,928). Louise Bonnet’s Tennis Player more than doubled its high estimate and sold for HK$5.33 million (US$ 679,498), while Lucy Bull’s The Morning Effect, an oil on linen painting from 2019 quickly rose to more than double its high estimate reaching HK$6.6 million (US$841,284). Part of a generation of overlooked female artists being written back into the canon as an important figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Lynne Drexler’s Flowering Judas, painted in 1958-60, was quick to surpass estimates, realising HK$7.34 million (US$ 938,355). With its vibrant hues of reds, pinks, and greens, the work captures the delicate petals of the Judas Tree – a reoccurring source of inspiration for the artist.
Remarkable Results of Women Artists
The largest work by the artist to be offered at auction, Duan Jianyu’s Sister No. 15 sold for HK$7.34 million (US$ 938,355), setting a new world auction record for the artist. Huang Yuxing’s Mountain Bathed Under Golden Sun saw fierce bidding. More than doubling its low estimate, the painting sold to a bidder in the saleroom for HK$9.77 million (US$1.24 million). Meanwhile market darling Matthew Wong’s vibrant oil painting River at Dusk, created the year before the artist’s premature death, fetched a stellar HK$52.3 million (US$6.66 million), eclipsing the world artist auction record set by Sotheby’s New York in May 2022 with The Night Watcher. Setting yet another new world artist auction record was Theology and Evolution, a glorious three-panel ink and colour on silk by Hao Liang which sold for HK$24.65 million (US$3.14 million).
Also achieving a new world artist auction record, Madrid-born Rafa Macarrón’s monumentally sized mixed media on canvas CAC I realised for HK$4.45 million (US$ 566,249). In his work, the self-taught artist often takes imageries and characters, influenced by dreams and observations of his surroundings, creating his own visual language through painting. Since being award the 2010 BMW Painting Award, Macarrón has gained critical institutional recognition and is widely collected around the world.
Rounding out the night, Tomokazu Matsuyama’s Nice Quiet Hot Tears from the artist’s signature equestrian series also marked a new artist auction record, selling for HK$5.08 million (US$647,141), more than four times its low estimate. Proving digital art is still in demand despite the bear market, the NFT work Flow by Six N. Five (Ezequile Pini) fetched HK$1.65 million (US$210,321), far exceeding the existing record set by NFT marketplace SuperRare in February 2022.
The Hong Kong Spring Sales continues this week with modern and contemporary art day sales tomorrow and a stellar line-up of Chinese paintings and works of art through 8 April.