Triumphant Hong Kong Spring Sales Reaffirm Sotheby’s Market Leadership in Asia
W ith the coming of April, Hong Kong once again began to bustle in anticipation of Sotheby’s biannual auction series. As promised, the weeklong event delivered with a spectacular line-up of paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, art objects, wine, jewellery, watches, sneakers, handbags, and more. And the world's foremost art and luxury connoisseurs have remained undeterred throughout the pandemic. The successes of the week owe in equal parts to the appetite for top-quality works from the world of fine art and luxury, continued healthy demand in Asia, the diversifying taste of today's collectors, and Sotheby’s transformation of the auction experience.
Amidst the stream of non-stop activity as thousands of lots went under the hammer, it is easy to lose track of all the many eye-opening moments. Now with only the sale of Fine Chinese Paintings coming up on Saturday as a finale to the Hong Kong Spring Auctions Series, we look back on some of the biggest highlights to date of this season’s auctions. We also present recaps of the week’s sales by category. This story will be updated after the holiday weekend with more from the conclusion of the spring series.
- Marquee Sales
- Picasso, 'Dora Maar'
- Bourgeois, 'Spider IV'
- Zhang Daqian
- Patek Philippe Reference 2499
- De Beers Blue
- Qianlong Imperial Seal
- Leng Mei
- Gems of Imperial Porcelain
- Wine and Spirits
Highest total ever achieved in a single evening at Sotheby’s Hong KongThe De Beers Blue Diamond, Modern Evening Auction , and Contemporary Evening Auction – the three marquee sales on Wednesday evening realised a combined total of HK$1.74 billion (US$221.8 million). In the evening, five lots sold for more than HK$100 million (US$13 Million including works by Louise Bourgeois , Wu Guanzhong , Yoshitomo Nara , and Pablo Picasso , plus the De Beers Blue diamond .
A first for a Picasso portrait of Dora Maar in AsiaA 1939 portrait of Dora Maar to a Japanese collector for HK$169.4 million (US$21.6 Million), far surpassing presale estimates and reaching the second highest price for a work by Picasso at auction in Asia. Sotheby’s now holds four of the top five prices for Picasso in Asia.
Louise Bourgeois 'Spider IV' climbs to the top.Unrivalled amongst other examples of Bourgeois’s iconic wall-mounted arachnids, Spider IV fetched HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million), becoming the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia. A photograph showing Bourgeois wrapping her arms lovingly around this spider’s two wiry hind legs has been reproduced in nearly every publication on the artist, and this portrait has become synonymous with her work. It is this version of the spider, Spider IV, that has become her most iconic, recognizable, and perpetually enduring iteration of her beloved form.
Zhang Daqian landscape breaks a world recordThe week of auctions finished with an epic finale when a blue-green landscape by Zhang Daqian sold for a record HK$370.5 million (US$47.2 million). At the Fine Chinese Paintings auction, the atmosphere was thick with excitement in the sale room. And when the hammer came down after a session of intense bidding, Zhang Daqian's masterpiece broke the world auction record for the artist, previously set by Sotheby's Hong Kong in 2016.
Patek Philippe Reference 2499 sets a new recordIn the white glove sale, The Nevadian Collector , the only known pink gold 2nd series retailed by Gobbi Milano soared to HK$60.3 million (US$7.7 million). From a historically important private collection of vintage watches, the sale presented 40 exceptional timepieces – the vast majority Patek Philippe – which chart the "Golden Years" of horological development from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Setting the benchmark as the largest fancy vivid blue diamond offered at auctionDe Beers Blue , the largest fancy vivid blue diamond offered at auction set the benchmark for the diamond market when the 15.10 carat step-cut diamond sold for HK$451 million ($57.5 million) to a phone bidder far above its presale estimate, placing it among the highest prices achieved for diamonds of any colour.
The Qianlong Emperor's imperial seal makes its mark.Imperial Seal of the Qianlong Emperor stands amongst the most important historical Chinese objects ever to appear at auction and demonstrates the vastness and comprehensiveness of the Qing imperial collection. One of the most representative connoisseurial seals bearing the inscription “Qianlong yulan zhi bao”, the magnificent work of art fetched a record-breaking HK$153.3 million (US$19.5 million), the highest price for any seal ever sold at auction in Asia.
Qing dynasty court painter Leng Mei takes the spotlightA painting that bears the imprint “Qianlong yulan zhi bao” from an iconic Qianlong imperial seal is Lofty Scholar Admiring Prunus Blossoms . Leading Fine Classical Chinese Paintings sale, this work by Leng Mei represents a model of highly refined figurative painting of the Qing imperial court, and sold for HK$12.5 million (US$1.6 million).
Imperial porcelain from the collection of Joseph Lau was 100% soldFor Chinese works of art, the three attributes of rarity, provenance, and condition are the principle drivers of value, and works that possess all three qualities at the highest level will always find demand in any market and in any climate. These principles were on clear display at Gems of Imperial Porcelain from the Private Collection of Joseph Lau sale, which offered a tightly curated assemblage of imperial porcelains and works of art from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Wines and Spirits auctions achieve HK$131 million over two daysKicking off the Sotheby's Spring Auctions Series, sales of wine and spirits brought in HK$131 million (US$16.7 million), at the top end of the combined pre-sale estimate for the four auctions, and with over half of the lots sold achieving prices above their high estimates. Intense bidding from Asia faced competition from collectors across Europe and North America, which is a positive sign for Sotheby's roster of sales lined up for 2022.
MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART
“Bourgeois’ Spider, like Picasso’s portrait of Dora Maar, is one of those works that, once seen, is never forgotten. What an honour to bring them to Hong Kong, to see them excite so many viewers in our galleries, and to see them pursued in our sale room. Western artists have come to feature relatively large in our Hong Kong sales, but what’s particularly exciting for me is to see them in dialogue with their Asian counterparts, great artists like Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh-Chun and Yoshitomo Nara, all of whom – as we saw during the evening – enjoy a huge following, both here in Asia and around the world.”
Live-streamed via Sotheby’s website and across an additional nine social and broadcast platforms in Asia and the rest of the world, two marquee sales on Wednesday evening, reaffirmed Hong Kong as a global platform for modern and contemporary art, with strong demand in the region not only for artists from Asia, but also for those from Europe and North America, driven by the broadening of participation in the sales. The sales saw high sell-through rates, at 95% for Modern Art and 98% for Contemporary Art, with more than three quarters of the offerings were completely fresh to the market. The auctions saw brisk activity boosted by the online participation, which made up just less than 50% of all bidders in the sales.
A Shining Moment for Picasso's Dora Maar
The evening sale for modern art achieved HK$543 million (US$69.2 million), a strong result with about 60% of lots exceeding their projected presale estimates. A Japanese collector clinched the winning bid for Dora Maar HK$169.4 million (US$21.6 million), far surpassing expectations to reach the second highest price for Picasso at auction in Asia, with Sotheby’s now holding four of the top five prices for Picasso in Asia.
Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar | Hong Kong Spring Sales 2022
Chu Teh-Chun's otherworldly abstract landscape Vent debout and Wu Guanzhong’s resplendent Plum Blossoms were also highly anticipated works that achieved standout success that evening. Having been out of the public eye for two decades, Banquet by Chen Yifei achieved HK$54.5 million (US$7 million) alongside other masterpieces from the collection of Sir Run Run Shaw, including works by Cheong Soo Pieng and Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès which all sold higher than estimated for a combined HK$17.5 million (US$2.2 million).
Paintings by Vietnamese masters continued their impressive showing at auction season upon season, with brisk demand by participants that evening. Bids for Figures in a Garden, the three-panelled canvas by Le Pho, multiplied to almost six times its high estimate, reaching HK$17.9 million (US$2.3 million) and setting a new auction record for the artist. The single evening also saw records set for Li Huayi, Amad Sadali, André Brasilier, Lalan, and Wang Huaiqing.
Fierce Competition for Emerging and Blue-Chip Contemporary Artists Alike
The Contemporary Evening Auction was 98.1% sold by lot, with a sale total of $746.4 million (US$95.1 million). Works by a newer generation of emerging artists attracted fierce competition globally, such as Anna Weyant’s still life of a flower Josephine, Louise Bonnet’s The Ice Skater, Shara Hughes’ Tipsy, Salman Toor’s poignant The Rooftop Singer, Cheng Xinyi’s Aperitif and Javier Calleja’s I Hope You Don’t Mind presenting standout results of the evening.
Established contemporary superstars continue to make the biggest impact, with Louise Bourgeois’s spellbinding Spider IV leading the evening sale and becoming the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia after achieving HK$129.2 million (US$16.5m million). In its first appearance at auction, Yoshitomo Nara’s Oddly Cozy, a superlative example from the artist’s mature output, sold for HK$112 million (US$14.3 million) while Zeng Fanzhi’s compelling psychological portrait Mask Series 1999 no. 2 fetched HK$25.8 million (US$2.7 million). Yayoi Kusama’s signature Pumpkin doubled its high estimate to sell for HK$30.6 million (US$3.9 million).
Louise Bourgeois, Spider IV | Hong Kong Spring Sales 2022
In the sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong set new records for Anna Weyant, Louise Bonnet, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Yoshimoto Nara (for a work on paper), Robert Alice, Chris Huen Sin Kan, Michael Lau, Cheng Xinyi (benchmark for auction debut), Atsushi Kaga, and Peter McDonald.
Connecting the Masterpieces of Chinese Art History
The paddles were up at the four auctions of Chinese works of art. Opening on Friday morning was A Journey Through China’s History: The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection, the first of a series of single-owner sales from this great collection to be held globally throughout 2022. The day’s spotlight was on the highly anticipated imperial seal bearing the inscription “Qianlong yulan zhi bao” (“admired by his Majesty the Qianlong Emperor”), regarded as the most iconic amongst all connoisseurial seals, carrying the weight of Chinese art history. For such a marvel to appear at auction is a cause for celebration alone. The bidding for the magnificent soapstone seal was intense spurring a 10-minute bidding battle, ultimately arriving at a sale price of HK$153.3 million (US$19.5 million). This makes it the most expensive seal sold at auction in Asia, surpassing the famous imperial white jade seal from the Qianlong period sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2021 for HK$145.7 million (US$18.8 million ).
“I will never forget seeing this seal sit on a shelf and turning it over for the first time when we visited the Wou collection in 2011, over 10 years ago – it was like an electric shock. I had seen the ghost of that seal so many times on so many of the most important paintings in the world. It was a privilege to find a new home for this exceptionally important historical object.”
Immediately following the sale was Gems of Imperial Porcelain from the Private Collection of Joseph Lau, featuring the finest examples of imperial ceramics from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Collectors vied for the masterworks from this prestigious collection, with every one of the lots in the auction sold. And from Marchant II, Qing imperials porcelain featuring monochrome and enamelled wares of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns also yielded strong results. The results of all of the auctions of Chinese works of art demonstrate that the three attributes of rarity, provenance, and condition are the principle drivers of value, and works that possess all three qualities at the highest level will always find demand in any market and in any climate.
The Best of Early Qing Dynasty Figure Painting
Leading Fine Classical Chinese Paintings sale was Leng Mei’s Lofty Scholar Admiring Prunus Blossoms, a model of highly refined figurative painting of the Qing imperial court as well as a rare work with historical significance. Also attracting interest was the fact that the painting bears the imprint “Qianlong yulan zhi bao” from a seal that would be sold at a separate Sotheby’s Hong Kong Chinese art auction on the following Friday morning. Dated to 1713 and completed at the height of his artistic career, Leng Mei’s painting sold for HK$12.5 million (US$1.6 million). This same sale also saw a bidding battle for a Song dynasty handscroll of a sutra. With a higher presale estimate of HK$6 million, the calligraphic work climbed to more than double that amount realising HK$12.8 million (US$1.6 million).
The Showstopping Finale: Zhang Daqian's Landscape Breaks the World Auction Record
The week of auctions finished with an epic finale when a blue-green landscape by Zhang Daqian sold for a record HK$370.5 million (US$47.2 million). At the Fine Chinese Paintings sale, the atmosphere was thick with excitement and when the hammer came down after an intense bidding, Zhang Daqian's masterpiece broke the world auction record for the artist, previously set by Sotheby's Hong Kong in 2016. The extraordinary Zhang Daqian work Landscape after Wang Ximeng is a masterful reinterpretation of the legendary panorama by the Song dynasty landscape master. Fresh to the market, this blue and green landscape was painted in 1948 during the pinnacle of the artist’s height of traditional elaborated landscapes for his exhibition in Shanghai in the same year. This auction presented more than 200 exquisite modern Chinese paintings, including a series of Wu Guanzhong’s watercolours, sketches, and ink and colour paintings. We will update this story after the weekend following the conclusion of the Fine Chinese Paintings sale.
Wine & Spirits: Strong Results Across the Board Demonstrates Market Leadership in Asia
The 2022 Spring Sales series kicked off with two days of wine and spirits auctions in Hong Kong, including Prestigious French Wines from a Great Cellar, The Wine Hunter’s Cellar, Finest and Rarest Wines, and Finest and Rarest Spirits. Over the course of a single weekend, the sales concluded with a robust total of HK$131 million (US$16.7 million), at the top end of the combined pre-sale estimate for the four auctions, and with more than half of the lots sold achieving prices above their high estimates. White Burgundy and Japanese whisky took the top spots, including a three-bottle offering of Chevalier Montrachet 2011 Domaine d'Auvenay, a full set of 36 bottles of Karuizawa depicting Katsushika Hokusai’s the 36 view of Mount Fuji, and a bottle of the Yamazaki 35-Year-old. Other highlights of the weekend include a Methuselah of the 1976 vintage of DRC Romanée Conti 1976 which sold for HK$1.3 million, plus continued demand for Burgundy, with 12 bottles each of the D’auvenay Chevalier Montrachet in original wooden cases from 1997 and 1998s, sold for HK$1.6 million per 12 bottle-lot.
“There is no doubt that Asia continues to power the global wine and spirits market, and sets the bar for the strength of buying across the board – whether for the rarest wines from Burgundy or for spirits from leading distilleries in Scotland and Japan.”
A Season of Blue
The De Beers Blue. An eight-minute battle between four bidders took the price well beyond the HK$380 million (US$48 million) pre-sale estimate, with the stone going to the winner for the final price of HK$451 million (US$57.5 million), almost touching the current record for a blue diamond set in 2016 by The Oppenheimer Blue, which sold for US$57.5 million. This wonder of nature had been cut from an exceptional rough stone discovered at the Cullinan Mine in South Africa in 2021. It re-emerged as the largest vivid blue diamond ever to appear at auction and the largest internally flawless step cut vivid blue diamond that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded. Sotheby’s holds six of the top seven highest prices for Fancy Vivid Blue diamonds and two of the top three prices for diamonds of any colour.
The De Beers Blue | Hong Kong Spring Sales 2022
Indeed, the hue of the season has been blue. The De Beers Blue led with a great start, and following suit was the 3.27 carat Fancy Vivid Blue Internally Flawless diamond ring which fetched HK$41.5 million (US$5.3 million). The 26.08 carats 26.08-carat Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring exceeded its high estimate to realise a sale price of HK$13.7 million (US$1.7 million), while the 9.66-carat Kashmir Sapphire and Diamond Ring designed by Nicholas Lieou had impressive results at HK$10.7 million (US$1.4 million). From the house of Van Cleef & Arpels, a 'Feuille de Platane' Sapphire Brooch achieved close to six times its lower estimate selling at HK$2.9 million (US$369,000).
Iconic signed pieces delivered strong results, as collectors gravitated towards not only blue jewels, but also gemstones across the spectrum of colour, with highlights including a 16-carat pear-shaped pink diamond, a 17-carat fancy vivid yellow diamond with mount by Bulgari, an emerald and diamond necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels, and a Harry Winston diamond pendant necklace from 1960.
The fine performance of jadeite jewellery reflects continued strong demand from Asia. Spurred on by the gemstone’s alluring lustre, enthusiastic bidders honed in on pieces with intense colour and great translucency, such as an oval ‘Imperial Jade’ cabochon ring or a jadeite bangle which sold for more than twice its upper presale estimate. A top highlight of the auction includes a rare and important 'Imperial Green' jadeite and diamond parure which sold for HK$46.4 million (US$ 5.9 million); the piece is composed of ten oval jadeite cabochons of intense green weighing 176.93 carats in total. Further underscoring the growing appetite for jadeite, an extraordinary ‘Imperial Green’ jadeite necklace, composed of 43 jadeite beads of highly translucent emerald green colour, generated great excitement throughout the previews leading to the spring series, and this stunning piece was sold immediately after the auction for HK$77.5 million (US$ 9.9 million).
The Highest Sale Series for Watches in Asia
In the course of two days, Sotheby’s staged two highly successful watches auctions; The Nevadian Collector followed by Important Watches I together contributed to a combined total of HK$338 million (US$43 million).
The Nevadian Collector was a “white-glove” sale with all 39 lots sold, setting a world auction record for a Patek Philippe Reference 2499. At HK$162.4 million (US$20.7 million) achieved, that makes it the most valuable single-owner watches sale every staged at Sotheby’s Asia. Three other reference 2499 offered in the sale were also sold above high estimates, and together, all four sold for a combined total of HK$100 million (US$12.7 million), contributing significantly to the sale.
“We are extremely delighted to consecutively put together a record-breaking sale series in Asia. Not only did we witness a new world record for the most important vintage reference for Patek Philippe, but setting the record here in Asia also demonstrates how the region has been a major driving force for the global market.
Important Watches I marked the first time a Patek Philippe Reference 5217 was offered at auction, and it realised HK$17 million (US$2.3 million). Patek Philippe achieved top prices, as a Reference 5016, Reference 3940, and Reference 5971 in the sale all set auction records for their respective references. The sale total for this auction rose to HK$175.3 million (US$22.3 million)