A s Sotheby’s Hong Kong concludes its Autumn Auctions series, we look back on the week at the phenomenal performance of sales across multiple categories. Sixteen auctions realized a combined total of HK$3.35 billion ($432 million), making it the eighth consecutive season to exceed $400 million – with 1,837 lots sold and 87% sold by lot. It is an exceptional result for the fine art and luxury market in Asia, also notable for the embrace of innovative formats that will continue to make auction history.
“To have achieved yet another outstanding total over US$400 million is extraordinary under any circumstances, but particularly now," Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said. "Undeterred by travel bans, our clients embraced the wide range of digital, virtual and physical channels Sotheby’s was able to offer, their appetite for top quality materials unabated.”
“What we have seen over this last week is a resounding demonstration of how Asia has weathered the pandemic and emerged as strong as ever, its hunger for the best of the best undiminished."
Across two evenings on 5–6 October, a revolutionary sales format pioneered by Sotheby's earlier this year reintroduced live auctions as a multi-camera event live-streamed around the world. Four marquee sales were wholly re-imagined and transformed into an auction format conducted via innovative and seamless video streams, attracting more than two million viewers. “This season, Sotheby’s Hong Kong took center stage on the global art scene," Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said. "But it wasn’t all about watching: collectors and museums were flexing their muscles in our salesrooms – virtual and real – bidding with as much enthusiasm and energy as we have ever seen.”
Below are ten high points that underscore Sotheby’s Hong Kong success in the recent week of auctions.
1. Ren Renfa Scroll: Most Valuable Chinese Ink Painting Sold by Sotheby's Asia
In what may be the longest bidding war in auction history, a 700-year-old rare surviving work by renowned Yuan-dynasty master painter Ren Renfa, Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback, sold for HK$306.6 million (US$39.6 million) in the Fine Classical Chinese Paintings auction (8 October, Hong Kong). The demand for this extraordinary painting was underscored by its history and impeccable provenance. A 75-minute bidding battle broke out, as more than 100 bids were received pushing the final sale price far beyond the original estimate of HK$80 million to HK$120 million. The sum establishes the scroll as the most valuable work sold at auction in Asia year to date, and the most valuable Chinese ink painting ever sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong. For any artwork sold by Sotheby's Hong Kong, Ren Renfa's masterpiece realized a price second only to the landmark sale two years ago ofZao Wou-Ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985. The Long Museum in Shanghai was the winning bidder of the scroll by Ren Renfa.
‘Five Drunken Princes’ – A Rare Surviving Scroll by Master Ren Renfa
The runaway success of Ren Renfa's handscroll capped a triumphal auction, which tallied HK$375.6 million (US$48.5 million). Another high point of the sale was when Landscapes after Si Kongtu by Huang Yue and Zhao Bingchong went under the hammer, exceeding expectations of a HK$8 million high estimate to fetch a sale price of HK$20.7 million (US$2.7 million). The auction also featured works from several important private collections, including Bada Shanren’s Lotus, Wang Hui’s Landscape after Dong Yuan, and Wang Jian’s Landscape after Dong Yuan – all of which far outperformed pre-sale projections.
2. Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild (649-2), a New High for Contemporary Art in Asia
Gerhard Richter’s masterpiece Abstraktes Bild (649-2) was the highlight of the Tuesday night Contemporary Art Evening Sale, inspiring a flurry of bids between Hong Kong, New York, and London – and after a dramatic ten minutes, the work fetched more than HK$214.6 million (US$27.7 million). The successful bidder was the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, one of the most prestigious private museums in Asia. The sale of Abstraktes Bild (649-2) has now set the highest price for any work of Western art sold in Asia, a record previously held by KAWS's The KAWS Album, sold at Sotheby's Spring Auctions in 2019.
Contemporary Art Evening Sale Lot 1118
3. Sanyu, Wu Guanzhong Take Center Stage
Modern Art auctions this October tallied HK$819.5 million (US$105.8 million), a phenomenal result far exceeding the original pre-sale estimates. The sales were led by masterworks of Sanyu and Wu Guanzhong, with three paintings each achieving final sale prices of more than HK$100 million (US$13 million)
In a thrilling bidding battle at the Modern Art Evening sale, Sanyu’s Fleurs dans un pot bleu et blanc sold at more than twice its upper projected estimate of HK$70 milllion, as demand pushed the final sale price to a lofty HK$187 million (US$24.1 million). Later in the auctions, Nu, the masterwork and centerpiece of Sanyu’s final solo exhibition, would go on to achieve HK$168.7 million (US$ 21.8 million).
Another highlight of the marquee evening sale was Scenery of Northern China, Wu Guanzhong’s largest oil painting created before China’s era of Reform and Opening-up as well as a work that had been of great significance to the artist himself. It fetched a stunning price of about HK$151.4 million (US$19.5 million).
Over the course of 26 lots, the Modern Art Evening Auction outpaced expectations – as many works far exceeded their pre-sale estimates, including Chu Teh-Chun’s No.312 which realized HK$60.7 million (US$7.8 million) and Chen Ting Shih’s Day and Night #25 with a sale price of HK$1 million (US$130,000) that is about five times its original estimate. A new world record set of the artist Li Huayi when Lying on Snow achieved a price of HK$8 million (US$1 million).
4. A Shining Moment for the "Maiko Star"
An important 102.39-carat d-color flawless oval diamond was sold in a a stand-alone, single lot auction for HK$121.6 million (US$15.7 million). One of the earth’s rarest and most coveted diamonds, the D-color flawless marvel of nature was offered without reserve, the first world-class diamond ever to have done so. It attracted the most bidders ever seen for a diamond of this caliber and represents the highest value bid ever placed on a jewel online.
The diamond was won by a private collector in Japan who named the gem "Maiko Star" after his second daughter, and the same collector who bought the 88.22-carat "Manami Star" at Sotheby’s in April 2019.
5. Strong Demand for Indonesian Masters
The Southeast Asian Art evening auction kicked off the 5 October live-stream event with a sale that brought in a highly impressive total of HK$32 million (US$ 4.2 million), more than double its pre-sale estimate. Strong sales were driven by demand for seminal works by blue chip artists.
Indonesian Village Life by Sudjana Kerton soared far above the high projection of HK$2.8 million and after the hammer finally fell, the painting achieved a sale price of more than HK$8 million (US$1 million), approaching the existing world record for the Indonesian master and marking the second highest price for the artist achieved at auction.
A new record was set for Handiwirman Saputra when Weekend and Organic Projects from No Roots No Shoots #3 sold for HK$2.5 million (US$343,000).
6. Celebrating the Lifelong Friendship of Two Chinese Masters
Chinese Master Painters Wu Guanzhong and Chu Teh-Chun were firm friends for almost 75 years, inspiring and supporting each other throughout their lifetimes, from their days as young art students to the pinnacle of their dazzling careers.
Paintings exchanged as a gifts by and from the two Chinese masters held particular significance for the two lifelong friends, adding to their value. Important Wu Guanzhong works from the collection of Chu Teh-Chun sold at the Fine Chinese Paintings auction for a combined total of more than HK$91.7 million (US$ 11.8 million). Chongqing, the Mountain City and Primitive Woods realized respectively HK$50.3 million (US$6.5 million) and HK$28 million (US$3.6 million), both soaring far higher than expected in the sale. Meanwhile, Lotus Pond sold for almost double its higher estimate at HK$6 million (US$772,000), and The Lion Grove Garden also saw an impressive price of HK$7.4 million (US$959,000).
The auction also saw spirited bidding for paintings including splashed ink-and-color masterpieces by Zhang Daqian. From the painter’s family collection, On Route Switzerland-Austria fetched HK$45.7 million (US$5.9 million), against a projected sale price of HK$12 million to HK$20 million.
7. Two 'White Glove' Wine Auctions
The week-long autumn sales series in Hong Kong opened with the first of a two-day offering of wines and spirits: Wines from the Cellar of Joseph Lau and The Five-Star Cellar, Iconic Wines of Impeccable Provenance. With every lot sold, both auctions achieved "white glove" status, and an overall combined total of HK$72.8 million (US$9.4 million).
Wines from the Cellar of Joseph Lau, from a pioneering collector who amassed one of the world’s most spectacular wine collections over several decades, brought a total of HK$53 million (US$6.8 million), more than doubling pre-sale expectations, with 78% of the lots achieving prices above their high estimates. The top lot of the sale was twelve bottles of Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1990, which sold for HK$3.8 million (US$510,000)
The Five-Star Cellar, Iconic Wines of Impeccable Provenance featured top-drawer Bordeaux and Burgundy, coming with five-star provenance. The results were led by twelve bottles of Romanée St. Vivant 1998 Domaine Leroy, which sold for HK$812,500 (US$110,401), and 75% of all 172 lots sold achieved prices above their high estimates.
8. Top Quality Ceramics Always in High Demand
For 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 The Important Chinese Art sale, which offered a tightly curated assemblage of imperial porcelains and works of art from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
An extremely fine and rare Yongzheng porcelain bowl fetched HK$26.8 million (US$3.5 million) at the Friday auction. While bowls with the famille-rose peach-and-bat design are exceedingly rare, the bowl that sold at this week's auction appears to possess the unique feature of having five peaches all rendered on the exterior, all without the heavy pink outlines seen on other examples.
An outstanding Ming dynasty blue and white moonflask from the Yongle period realized HK$16.5 million (US$2.1 million). This flask represents one of the archetypal wares created at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen during the early Ming dynasty, a design that appears to have been equally popular with the Chinese rulers as with foreign royalty.
9. Sustained Appetite for Ming Furniture
Outstanding results from the two carefully curated Chinese Works of Art Sales demonstrated the sustained market appetite for top quality works – in particular Ming dynasty furniture. In July 2020, during Sotheby's Hong Kong Spring Auctions series, the phenomenal results of the Monochrome I sale was driven in part by the growing demand for Huanghuali furniture, and this trend continued unabated this October. More than twenty pieces of Huanghuali furniture from an important collection dominated the second installment of the Monochrome II sale by fetching a total of HK$203 million (US$26 million).
The sale opened with a Huanghuali rectangular stand that ultimately sold for more than sixteen times it original projected estimate. This was just a taste of what was to come, as the highlight of the sale went to a rare and large pair of Wanligui, a type of cabinet with multiple open shelves. Striking for their imposing size, this pair of cabinets with open shelves demonstrates the exceptional skill of 17th century furniture makers in their ability to take full advantage of the vivid colors and patterns of precious hardwood. The 17th century Huanghuali square corner display cabinets sold for more than HK$57.2 million (US$7.4 million) which is almost ten times the original high estimate of HK$6 million.
A sumptuously carved Huanghuali six-post canopy bed, a display of 17th century aristocratic splendor, fetched a sale price of $23.2 million (US$3 million). This underscores the continued appreciation and demand for Ming style furniture – especially rare pieces that showcase the technical know-how of Ming artisans and embodies the elegance of that extraordinary era.
10. A Strong Showing for Independent Watchmakers
Sotheby’s Important Watches this Autumn celebrated both heritage brands and independent watchmakers. The sale was led by one of the most important gold Patek Philippe Ref. 1436 to ever appear on the market, which realized HK$5.3 million (US$678,000). This exceptional sale was further elevated by the outstanding performances of timepieces by Philippe Dufour and F.P. Journe, two of the most prominent independent watchmakers in the field. Philippe Dufour Simplicity, Number 100 White Gold Wristwatch soared to three time above its projected sale price to HK$5.1 million (US$663,000), clinching a new record for the a 34mm Philippe Dufour Simplicity. A second record was set for a 37mm Philippe Dufour Simplicity when the Number 68 Platinum Wristwatch sold for at HK$3.5 million (US$455,200).