Modigliani Female Portrait Becomes Most Valuable Western Modern Masterpiece to Go Under the Hammer In Asia

Modigliani Female Portrait Becomes Most Valuable Western Modern Masterpiece to Go Under the Hammer In Asia

Asian bidding remains firm with artist records for modern and contemporary art.
Asian bidding remains firm with artist records for modern and contemporary art.

I n a back-to-back sequence of five marquee auctions inside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Sotheby’s Hong Kong 50th Anniversary Autumn Sales realised a total of HK$1.33 billion (US$170 million). Three quarters of bidders hailed from Asia, a signal that strength in the region remains strong.

With Oliver Barker (Sotheby’s Chairman, Europe) at the rostrum, and a full house in the saleroom, all eyes were on the star sale of the evening: A Long Journey, presenting a selection of modern and contemporary art from the Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei Collection.

Amedeo Modigliani’s portrait of Paulette Jourdain executed circa 1919, from this collection, became the most valuable Western work of modern art to be sold at auction in Asia. One of the largest canvases ever produced, and one of his final masterpieces, Paulette Jourdain marked the first time a painting by the Italian artist has been offered in Asia. The subject, Paulette Jourdain, was the housemaid, assistant and later lover of Modigliani’s dealer Léopold Zbrowski. Rare in the market, only 10 portraits by Modigliani have appeared at auction in the past five years. After a tense face-off between two bidders on the phone with Nicholas Chow (Chairman, Asia) and Helena Newman (Chairman, Europe), the masterpiece went to a lady in the room for HK$272,905,000 (US$34,844,510), setting off a thunder of applause.

left to right: Amedeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain  | lot sold for HK$272,905,000; René Magritte, Le miroir universel  | lot sold for HK$77,575,000

Modern art from the West brought more noise to the saleroom as Le miroir universel, a glorious female nude by Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, achieved a superb new record for the artist in Asia: HK$77,575,000 (US$9,904,776). Belonging to a seminal group of works titled La magie noire in which Magritte painted his wife, Georgette Berger, metamorphosing from the waist upwards blending into a blue sky, Le miroir universel easily eclipsed the previous record of HK$51.2 million.

Lucy Bull, Flash Chamber | lot sold for HK$13,760,000
Diane Dal-Pra, I’m just behind what I am | lot sold for HK$2,032,000

The record continued in the Contemporary Evening Auction, which saw immense interest for Diane Dal-Pra’s I’m just behind what I am and Lucy Bull’s Flash Chamber, both of which reached more than double their high estimate and set new records for the artists at auction. A flurry of quick bids drove the Dal-Pra to HK$2,032,000 (US$259,446), while Flash Chamber was steadily bid up to HK$13,760,000 (US$ 1,756,877).

These were followed closely by a monumental painting by Ethiopan-American artist Julie Mehretu, who has garnered significant art world attention in recent years. Her untitled painting from 2001, which is regarded as one of the artist’s most ambitious to date, and which was first exhibited at the 8th Baltic Triennial of International Art in 2002, made a staggering new record at HK$72,979,000 (US$ 9,317,959) sailing past her previous record of HK$44.2 million, set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019.

front: Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild | lot sold for hk$84,469,000 ; Back: Julie Mehretu, Untitled | lot sold for HK$72,979,000

Other works by Western artists also performed well. New artist records were set for Jonas Wood, Alex Katz and Mark Bradford in Asia, while heavyweights Gerhard Ricther and Willem de Kooning also saw solid performances.

Turning momentarily away from modern and contemporary art, two single-lot sales added a touch of glam to the evening. The Infinite Blue, a captivating 11.28-carat fancy vivid blue diamond and diamond ring sold for HK$198,220,000 (US$25,308,730) to a bidder in the room. This was shortly followed by The Jadeite Tianchi, a demi-parure featuring eight resplendent Imperial Green jadeite cabochons, which brought in HK$31,910,000 (US$4,074,269).

The evening also included the special announcement of an enhanced calendar that will be inaugurated in the second half of 2024 upon the much-anticipated opening of Sotheby’s Asia’s new Maison at Chater House in Central, Hong Kong.

Sharing the news ahead of the Contemporary Evening Auction, auctioneer Ian McGinlay noted that the move will see Sotheby’s Asia moving beyond the traditional Spring and Autumn series. The calendar will instead be spread over dedicated marquee weeks held throughout the year at the Maison, which is set to become a cornerstone of art and culture in the city.

Other highlights included…

chen yifei, Opening Night | lot sold for HK$7,620,000

  • Tetsuya Ishida's Wild, which doubled the high estimate and sold for HK$4,445,000 (US$567,538).
  • Miriam Cahn's Im weg liegen soared to HK$2,032,000 (US$259,446), more than three times low estimate.
  • Achieving the second highest price for the artist at auction, Ji Xin’s Room with Venus sold for triple the high estimate at HK$1,905,000 (US$243,230).
  • Zenzaburo Kojima’s still-life painting Dahlias, which in the Modern Evening Auction sold to a bidder on the phone for more than five times low estimate, reaching HK$1,524,000 (US$194,584).
  • All three paintings by Chen Yifei found new homes. Water Valley I, a beautiful impressionistic landscape, sold for HK$1,905,000 (US$243,230). Equally captivating, Admiration raked in HK$3,556,000 (US$454,030), and Opening Night realised HK$7.620,000 (US$972,922).
Zao Wou-Ki, Sous un grand arbre d'été - 05.07.54 | lot sold for HK$44,010,000
zao wou-ki, Sans titre | lot sold for HK$16,180,000

  • All four works by Zao Wou-Ki in the Modern Evening Auction also sold, led by Sous un grand arbre d'été - 05.07.54 from the artist’s important Oracle Bone Period. Painted in 1954, it realised at HK$44,010,000 (US$ 5,619,197). Sans titre landed at HK$16,180,000 (US$2,065,862), while 15.03.60 and 07.05.60 – held in the same family collection for six decades – arrived fresh on the market and exceeded high estimates. 07.05.60 sold to an in-room bidder for HK$3,683,000 (US$ 470,245) after a bidding battle, while 15.03.60 surpassed its low estimate and went to a phone bid for HK$16,180,000 (US$ 2,065,862).


The Hong Kong Autumn Sales continues this week with Modern and Contemporary day sales tomorrow and a stellar line-up of Chinese paintings and works of art through 9 October.

Modern Art | Asia

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