T he Hong Kong Spring 2020 Sales series concluded on 11 July with a finale of four Chinese Works of Arts sales. Against the backdrop of uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Sotheby's July auctions might have been seen as a test of the market. If so, the shining success of the series, which prevailed despite travel restrictions and many challenges, signals the strength and resilience of the art market in Asia. This is especially notable with the results of the Chinese Art auctions – including the divisions of Chinese Works of Art, Fine Chinese Paintings, and Fine Classical Chinese Paintings – which concluded the week with a robust total sale of more than HK$790 million (US$101.3 million).
“Our highly successful sales series in Hong Kong once again demonstrates the resilience of the Asian market. Undeterred by travel bans, our clients enthusiastically participated through different channels. The pent-up demand and appetite for top quality materials were abundantly apparent. Sotheby’s first-rate sourcing, world-class curation, and intuitive understanding of the market, is our winning formula to produce such stellar results.”
The success was also due in part to the acknowledgment of the importance of new digital tools in the art world, innovations which for many years Sotheby's has long embraced and adopted early on. The global developments of the pandemic further prompted Sotheby's to introduce a suite of new online features that deliver the full auction experience. According to Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby's Asia: "Finding ourselves up against unprecedented challenges, we quickly adapted and evolved to connect with our clients and serve them in ever more effective ways – with enhanced e-catalogues, videos, live-streaming and social media, transcending global and physical boundaries.”
A combination of technical innovations and Sotheby's expertise in the market, enabled the sales to move forward smoothly. The outstanding results demonstrated the sustained market appetite for top quality Chinese works of art and Chinese paintings.
A Lost Masterpiece Fetches HK$70 million
The combined total of the auctions of Chinese Works of Art brought in a stellar HK$470 million (US$60 million), demonstrating the ongoing strong demand for top quality works. Leading the auctions was a Magnificent and Highly Important Yangcai Reticulated Vase from the Qianlong period. Possessed of a fascinating history, the lost masterpiece of Chinese porcelain was rediscovered in a remote country house in Central Europe and somehow managed to survive unblemished for half a century amid a lively home full of countless cats and dogs. The Harry Garner Reticulated Vase, which represents the apex of Chinese art history, went under the hammer for HK$70.4 million (US$9 million).
“It is such a great privilege for Sotheby’s to find a new home for this unique reticulated vase, a culmination of centuries of ingenuity in Chinese crafts and a masterpiece made for the Qianlong emperor.”
A Standout Moment for Ming Furniture
Ten pieces of Huanghuali furniture from an important collection wowed participants, commanding sale prices that came to a total of HK$167 million (US$21.5 million), with every one of the ten lots selling above their respective high estimates. Among the highlights was a Rare Huanghuali Recessed-Leg Long Table, Qiaotouan Ming Dynasty, 17th Century, which sold at HK$60.2 million (US$7.8 million), ten times its high estimate.
"During the auction, we witnessed fierce bidding for the Huanghuali furniture from Asian collectors across bidding platforms," Nicholas Chow said. "The strong results and eagerness of collectors have demonstrated a sustained market appetite for top quality Chinese works of art.”
Wu Guanzhong takes the top spot at the Fine Chinese Paintings sale
The Fine Chinese Paintings auction achieved total sales of HK$244 million (US$31.5 million), with 179 lots sold at a 88 percent sell-through rate. High points of the auction were the impressive selection of Wu Guanzhong's works, executed at the peak of his artistic career, which were 100 percent sold. The sale was led by the monumental landscape painting Heavenly Lake in Mount Changbai which sold for an above-estimate HK$24.2 million (US$3.1 million).
“At the Fine Chinese Paintings sale today, we were encouraged to see spirited bidding from collectors around the globe. Clients who were not able to attend the auction in person were enthusiastically bidding on the telephones and online – translating into a solid auction total. With over 75% of lots sold achieving prices above their high estimates, the strong result of this season is a testament to the robust demand for top quality material with impeccable provenance.”
During the sale, a new artist auction record was set for Ju Lian’s The Legends of Flowers, which achieved HK$7.4 million (US$951,600). Besides the works of Wu Guanzhong, other highlights of the sale include Pu Ru’s A Pocket-Sized Delight, Pu Jin’s Literary Gathering in Garden, and Wu Hufan’s Scholar Studio by Bamboo Grove, which all went for multiples of their respective upper estimates, and in the case of Wang Zhen’s Virtues of Happiness achieved 47 times its predicted price.
Two Calligraphy Works Each Surpass HK$10 Million
In a sale of HK$76 million (US$9.8 million), two calligraphy works each surpassed the HK$10 million mark. After a 15-minute bidding battle, Dong Qichang’s Stele Inscription in Running Script more than doubled its estimate to sell for HK$20.6 million (US$2.7 million), while Zhang Yu’s Letter to Bo Qing fetched HK$12.2 million (US$1.6 million).
“This season we were thrilled to see two calligraphy works sell for prices in excess of HK$10 million. Collectors responded enthusiastically to the historical and artistic value of an exceptional script by Dong Qichang, and the spirited bidding resulted in a final sale price far exceeding the pre-sale estimate. We are witnessing collectors in our field increasingly strive to deepen their knowledge through extensive study and research, and as their tastes have become ever more sophisticated and diverse, our market has been able to develop in ways that are not only healthy but also a pleasure to observe.”