Monumental Moments of Hong Kong Spring Auctions 2021

Monumental Moments of Hong Kong Spring Auctions 2021

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Auctions series has seen many highlights within a week of non-stop activity. Across the categories of fine and luxury, thousands of lots went under the hammer, with auction records broken each day. As the series closes on 23 April, we look back on some of the most exciting moments of the week.

Auctioneers Ian McGinlay, Felix Kwok, and Paul Wong hold court over several of the auctions taking place at Sotheby's Spring Sales this week. Photo by EGILL BJARKI.

In 2021, the art world continues to adapt to an evolving global reality. The exceptional results of this week’s auctions owe in equal parts to strong demand from collectors and the solid foundation laid by Sotheby’s in the previous year – in innovation and expertise. Sotheby's has pivoted to present the live auction in a variety of formats, bringing top-quality works of art and luxury to collectors throughout the world. We have also taken measures to ensure the health and safety of visitors during the week’s events in Hong Kong. The masks customised for Sotheby's were provided courtesy of KAZE, who we thank for their generous sponsorship.

From Left: Nicolas Chow and Nathan Drahi.


Bidding Battle for Hongren’s Zen Landscapes

From The Tsao Family Collection, a rare album by Hongren (1610-1664) took the spotlight at the Classical Chinese Paintings sale on Monday. Competition for the lot was lively, lasting for 20 minutes and bringing to final price to HK$128.5 million (US$16.5 million), which is almost three times higher than the pre-sale estimate.

Hongren 1610 - 1664, Landscapes and Calligraphies , lot sold: 128,456,000 HKD

Despite the diminutive size of the Hongren's album, which measures only 18.7 x 12.9 cm, its pages hold monumental landscapes that are profound and deeply moving. Of the four great monk painters, Hongren had the shortest career and his extant works are very rare in the world. The fact that he painted ten landscapes and also included companion pages of calligraphy makes this particular work extremely valuable.

Zhang Daqian the Star of Chinese Paintings Sale

Earlier in the week, Zhang Daqian's Self Portrait with a Tibetan Mastiff brought in an impressive HK$57.2 million (US$7.4 million) as part of the ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space alongside a Song dynasty Bodhisattva and works by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, and Sanyu. Collectors gravitated toward many of Zhang Daqian’s works at the auction of Fine Chinese Paintings, which occurred later in the week. The artist’s abstract ink masterpiece Majestic Mountains in Cloudy Mist would sell in that sale for HKD$24 million (US$3.1million).

Lin Fengmian's charming and energetic painting of three large blackbirds, The Three Musketeers, sold for HK$2.1 million (US$276,000), which was seven times the projected estimates. Lin Fengmian loved painting birds, which reminded him of his childhood memories of playing in the forest, connected with nature. Lotus Pond and Vase of Flowers also far surpassed pre-sale estimate, selling to the winner at HK$6.8 million (US$880,000) and HK$4 million (US$520,000), respectively. All seven of the artist's paintings were 100% sold.

The masterpieces of Wu Guanzhong were also highly in demand. Highlights include Climbing Vines on Wall at HK$8.6 million (US$111,000), and Residence by the Dock at HK$8 million (US$104,000), fetching two times the estimated price.

Three World Auction Records for Jade

During the Thursday auction of Important Chinese Art, an outstanding imperial inscribed white jade “Ji’entang” seal Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period fetched HK$145.7 million (US$18.8 million), achieving world auction records for a white jade and an imperial jade seal. Another superb imperial green jade seal of the Yongle Empress, the only surviving Ming Dynasty Imperial Seal, realised HK$43.4 million (US$5.6 million), far about projected estimates.

For such marvels to appear at auction is a cause for celebration. Each of these revered works would have been meticulously carved to the highest artistic standard with language specific to the Emperor, serving a unique record of his beliefs and the characteristics of the period.

At the Monochrome III sale, an extremely rare zitan-mounted imperial inscribed jade bi from the Eastern Han dynasty with a stand dated to the Qianlong period was sold for HK$53.8 million (US$6.9 million), a world auction record for an archaic jade.

“The record-breaking results reaffirms our market leadership in Chinese works of art. These rare historical works have found illustrious new homes.”
Nicolas Chow, Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia, International Head and Chairman, Chinese Works of Art


'White Glove' Sale of Wine

The Spring Auctions in Hong Kong started strong on 16 April as a wine auction achieved "white glove" status, a rare feat with every lot sold from the Wines from the Cellar of Joseph Lau Part II. The sale was a continuation of Part I last season, presenting a second offering of the finest French wines from the collection of the famed entrepreneur. With a total of 148 lots, the sale realised an overall combined HK$52.6 million (US$6.8 million), which doubled pre-sale projections. The star lot was nine bottles of Romanée Conti 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which sold to the highest bidder at HK$3.5 million (US$451,000). The sale was the first in a three-day series of wine and spirits auctions series.

Auctioneer Paul Wong presides of the white-glove sale of 'Wines from the Cellar of Joseph Lau Part II'. Photo by Egill Bjarki

Black Bowmore Collection, Archive Cabinet

Headlining The Rare Whisky & Moutai sale on Sunday was the Black Bowmore Archive Cabinet, crafted by John Galvin and containing each of the five fabled Black Bowmore releases, coming directly from the distillery. The five archive bottles of Black Bowmore, spanning 1993 to 2016, presented in the bespoke hand-crafted showcase cabinet fetched HK$4.4 million (US$564,000). The winning bidder will be invited to the Bowmore distillery for a tasting of Bowmore’s rarest and oldest single malts, with proceeds from the sale donated to an Islay charity.

The success of the auction, with 68 lots sold and a sell through rate of 98.5%, reflects the rise in the number of new collectors, trending younger and with greater sophistication, adding to the established collectors of rare whiskies. Among other highlights in the auction, the very finest Japanese and Scotch distilleries including Karuizawa, The Macallan and Ichiro’s Card Player Series, were sought after by bidders in Sunday's sale.

Breathtaking Bangles Take the Spotlight

At the Magnificent Jewels sale, a Cartier diamond and rock crystal bangle-bracelet sold for HK$46.9 million (US$6 million). It was one of the star lots of the auction, an architectural masterpiece that combined the legendary artistry and craftmanship of Cartier with a phenomenal 63.66-carat pear-shaped internally flawless white diamond. Taking nearly 2,000 hours to create, the bracelet pays homage to an Art Deco inspiration and features a 63.66 carat D color, internally flawless diamond set amongst rock crystal, a type of quartz celebrated for its ice-like allure.

Not to be outshined, a jadeite bangle weighing 277.673 carats and described by the SSEF laboratory as “a true treasure of nature” fetched HK$30.4 million (US$3.9million). The exceptional piece is named the “Circle of Happiness” in a symbol of perfected unity and fulfilment. It carries a subtle range of green to vivid green colours that is characteristic of the finest green jadeite-jade from Burma (Myanmar), with an outstanding translucency that, when illuminated by a light source, results in a glowing effect.

The jadeite pieces offered in the sale generated significant interest. A unique jadeite bead, diamond and ruby necklace, composed of 47 slightly graduated intense green jadeite beads achieved HK$23.4 million (US$3 million), and a pair of 'imperial green' earrings soared to HK$7 million (US$895,000), setting a record for a cabochon jadeite with the ‘imperial green’ designation. The earrings were also the highest value lot sold to an online buyer in the sale.

The auction was presented in Sotheby’s new innovative format, a hybrid of online advance bidding culminating in the drama of a live auction and with 62% of the bidders participating online. Overall, Magnificent Jewels brought HK$418.6 million (US$53.9 million)


It was another impressive year for the sale of Important Watches, which tallied HK$146 million (US$18.8 million). The auction was led by the Rolex Platinum Zenith Daytona fitted with a Lacquered "Stella" Dial for HK$24.4 million (US$3.1 million). This is now the third platinum reference 16516 to come to market and is the only known one of its kind. This approaches close the auction record set by Sotheby's last year for an automatic Rolex Daytona.

Five limited-edition, stainless-steel wristwatches from F.P. Journe made in 2015 as an homage to some of the brand’s initial designs came to market for the first time. The five pieces that made their auction debut at Sotheby’s were all sold. François-Paul Journe is considered a watchmaking genius whose many technical achievements have quickly propelled him to fame in this competitive industry.

Another highlight was an important pocket watch, The Patek Philippe, reference 823/003, hunting case watch achieved HK$5.6 million (US$724,000). Painted by Madame Marthe, the enamelled pocket watch is one of only three known double-sided miniature enamels made by Patek Philippe. Another exquisite open face watch painted by Helen May Mercier is perhaps one of Vacheron Constantin’s most important miniature enamels, and sold for HK$1million (US$130,000).


Ressence SPYMASTER #008, which went under the hammer to raise money for charitable foundation Make-A-Wish® UK, achieved HK$378,000 (US$49,702) at the auction. The revolutionary timepiece from the SPYMASTER series, the first watch series accompanied by NFT, was created in collaboration with New York-based espionage museum SPYSCAPE and horological pioneers Ressence.


Marquee Sales Exceed HK$2 billion

ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space, Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale, and the Contemporary Art Evening Sale realised a combined total of HK$2.1 billion (US$271 million). These remarkable results signal the resilience of the art market in Asia even in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, but are also due to the top-quality works offered, presenting opportunities too rare for collectors to pass up. Read an earlier recap of the three marquee sales here.

Exhibition of 'ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space'. PHOTO BY JULIA BROAD.

In a tightly curated sale, ICONS presented five masterworks of the utmost rarity, and the auction was a thrilling event that achieved a total of HK$374 million (US$48.1 million). That sale saw new records in Asia by Pablo Picasso's Buste de matador and Alberto Giacometti's Petit buste sur colonne, sold respectively at HK$139.9 million (US$18 million) and 25.6 million (US$3.3 million).

A Record Year for Modern & Contemporary Art

Across five sales this April, Modern and Contemporary Art realised a total of HK$2.2 billion (US$289.5 million), establishing a record high for any Modern and Contemporary Art sale series ever held in Asia. Western art accounts for about HK$894 million (US$114.8 million) of the total. These sales affirm the ascent of Hong Kong as a global platform for modern and contemporary art. We see 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.

Seven Works Sold for More Than HK$100 Million

Modern Art

Mai Trung Thu, Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong , 1930. Lot sold: 24,375,000 HKD

By department, Modern Art sales in the spring auctions came to HK$1.2 billion (US$148.5 million), the second highest total for this category at Sotheby’s Asia. At Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale, Chu Teh-Chun's monumental work Harmonie hivernale sold for HK$229.6 million (US$29.5 million), topping the auction record for the artist set by Sotheby's in just the previous year.

Vietnamese modern art had an impressive showing with brisk bidding for works from the. The paintings from Madame Dothi Dumonteil collection were 100% sold, led by Mai Trung Thu’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong, which fetched HK$24.4 million (US$3.14 million) – a record not only for the artist, but also for any Vietnamese work of art.

"The unrivalled performance of our modern art sales is a true testament of our effort and dedication to spark a cross-cultural dialogue between East and West."
Felix Kwok, Head of Modern Art, Sotheby's Asia

The Contemporary Art auctions pulled off several feats this week. The evening sale was 100% sold by lot, earning it the rare "white-glove" status, with a total of HK$951.9 million (US$123.7 million) combined total, the highest for any contemporary evening sale in Asia. Along with the Contemporary Art Day Sale, which boasted an exceptional sell-through rates of 96%, the two sales achieved HK$1.1 billion (US$141 million), the highest total for this category ever in Asia.

Post-war American titans commanded their highest prices in Asia. Clyfford Still’s PH-568 sold for HK$126.2 million (US$16.4 million), while Gerhard Richter's Schwefel (Sulphur) brought HK$118.1 million (US$15.4 million). Along with these two heavyweights, works by Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and Adrian Ghenie all attracted keen interest and fierce bidding.

Asian masterpieces also saw remarkable results. In a thrilling bidding battle first in New York and then in Hong Kong, Yoshitomo Nara’s Frog Girl achieved a price of more than HK$96.3 million (US$12.5 million). Works by young artists alsocmade a big impact at the auctions.

Works by artists such as Salman Toor, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Avery Singer, Shara Hughes, and Matthew Wong attracted fierce competition.

"Our record-breaking results reflect a new era for the art market in Asia, with seasoned and young collectors worldwide competing at the highest level right here in Hong Kong.”
Yuki Terase, Head of Contemporary Art, Asia at Sotheby’s

Hong Kong Spring Auctions Auction Results

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