‘Chicken Cup’ Sets China Auction Record With $36 Million

A porcelain cup sold for HK$281 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong today, setting an auction record for a Chinese work of art.

The sale of the Chengua-era (1465-1487) cup, nicknamed the “Chicken Cup,” follows the HK$214 million auction last night of a jadeite bead necklace, which set a record for such jewelry.

Sotheby’s Asia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Ching made the winning bid for the cup on behalf of a telephone buyer in a packed room, which erupted into applause after auctioneer Quek Chin Yeow announced the record.

“This is the holy grail of ceramics,” James Hennessy, a Hong Kong-based dealer, said after the sale. “People, emperors and collectors have always aspired to own one of these, and the opportunity doesn’t come along often.”

The cup, which was owned by the Philippines-born businessman Stephen Zuellig, who is in his late nineties, measures only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) in diameter and earned the nickname for its depiction of a rooster, his hen and their chicks, an allegorical representation of the emperor, the empress and his subjects.

The previous auction record for a Chinese work of art was set in October when Chinese property developer Zheng Huaxing paid HK$236 million for a bronze Buddha at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A Ming dynasty porcelain nicknamed the "Chicken Cup". Close

A Ming dynasty porcelain nicknamed the "Chicken Cup".

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Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A Ming dynasty porcelain nicknamed the "Chicken Cup".

Zhang Xiaogang

The cup was the latest of several records set during the five-day auction ending today, including an artist record of HK$94.2 million for Chinese contemporary painter Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958) and a Southeast Asian artist record of HK$58.4 million by Indonesian painter S. Sudjojono (1914-1986). The necklace, which consists of 27 green beads and a ruby clasp by Cartier, sold for more than twice the presale estimate of HK$100 million. It was given to Woolworth retail heiress Barbara Hutton by her father in 1933 and last sold at auction in 1994 for HK$33 million. The previous auction record of HK$106 million for a jadeite necklace was set in 2012, Sotheby’s said.

The bidding lasted more than 18 minutes before Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Chairman Daryl Wickstrom made the winning bid on behalf of the Cartier Collection on the telephone.

“This necklace is as famous at it gets,” Quek, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said after the sale. “It ticks all the right boxes in terms of beauty, history, provenance and quality.”

Asian Buyers

Zhang Xiaogang’s painting titled “Bloodline: Big Family No.3,” painted in 1995, sold for HK$94.2 million on April 5, breaking his previous record of HK$79 million, according to Artnet, an online database of auction prices.

Sudjojono’s work titled “Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro,” (1979) smashed the previous record of HK$36 million set by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong at Christie’s Hong Kong in November.

Of the top 10 lots at the April 5 evening sale, nine were purchased by Asians, according to Sotheby’s, suggesting that slowing economic growth in China hasn’t damped regional demand for art. Sotheby’s realized HK$1.08 billion in sales in the first three days of its spring auctions.

Five bidders vied for several minutes to purchase the 1995 Zhang oil on canvas measuring 179 centimeters by 229 centimeters. The iconic three-member family portrait is the only one of his Bloodline series to feature a Little Red Guard wearing a Mao badge, Sotheby’s said.

Records were achieved by Japanese contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara (HK$15.7 million), Indonesians Sudjana Kerton (HK$13.2 million) and Ay Tjoe Christine (HK$4.6 million), and Vietnamese modern painter Le Pho (HK$3 million).

Wine Auction

The Sotheby’s sales kicked off with two days of wine auctions on April 4-5, where HK$100 million of wine was sold. A six-bottle lot of 1990 Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti fetched HK$1.35 million.

Today’s auctions also include fine Chinese ceramics and works of art, furniture, bronzes and watches, where the top lot is a Patek Philippe platinum wristwatch estimated at between HK$5.2 million and HK$6.2 million.

Chinese contemporary artist Cui Ruzhou’s painting set a new auction record of HK$184 million including fees at Poly Auction Hong Kong last night.

The ink and color on paper painting titled “Landscape in Snow” sold to an Asian private buyer, Poly said. The hammer price was HK$160 million and buyer’s commission 15 percent.

It broke the previous auction record for the most expensive Chinese contemporary work set by Zeng Fanzhi’s painting the “Last Supper,” which sold for HK$180.4 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong at fbalfour@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net Iain McDonald, Tomoko Yamazaki

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