Chateau Latour, Chinese Art Snapped Up in $106 Million Auction

A Bottle of 1863 Chateau Latour
A bottle of 1863 Chateau Latour. Wine sales earned $7.76 million, with 95 percent of the lots exceeding their high estimate, in Hong Kong auctions. Source: Christie's International via Bloomberg

Chinese buyers spent HK$821.2 million ($106 million) on vintage bottles of Chateau Latour and modern paintings at the start of a week-long Hong Kong auction.

The three-day total was an increase of about 40 percent on equivalent auctions last autumn. The weekend event raises the chance that the series -- including gems, watches, Chinese ceramics and classical paintings -- will beat an estimate of HK$2.4 billion, which would be a record for Christie’s International for a series of sales in Hong Kong.

“The art market tends to follow wealth and the greatest wealth is being created in Asia,” said Magnus Renfrew, director of the Hong Kong International Art Fair, which ended last night.

Dealers are watching the auction after a HK$3.49 billion marathon by Sotheby’s last month, where some lots achieved prices many times their estimates and others failed to sell. The Chinese antiques trade has an annual value of more than $10 billion. China overtook the U.S. as the biggest auction market for fine art last year, research company Artprice said.

The two top lots at the May 28 Christie’s evening sale were painted by 20th century artist Zao Wou-ki. They were sold to private Asian collectors for $5.27 million and $4.98 million including buyer’s premiums -- more than twice estimates.

Works by contemporary Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi also fetched high prices in the packed auction room, with three works among the 10 most expensive, including a self portrait bought by a European buyer for $4.83 million.

Zhao’s Leopard

Chinese entrepreneur Zhao Zhijun paid HK$36 million, more than four times the high estimate, for “The Leopard,” a new work by Zeng. Zhao will display in his private Beijing museum. Proceeds from that sale, on which Christie’s waived the usual commission, go to support Nature Conservancy.

The sales began with an eight-hour marathon on May 27 in which all 392 lots direct from Chateau Latour sold. Wine earned $7.76 million, with 95 percent of the lots exceeding their high estimate.

A much anticipated item is a Qianlong-era vase, similar to one that last year attracted the highest bid ever for a Chinese artwork, with aggressive bidding expected from mainland collectors keen to purchase their heritage.

The 15 inch (38.1 cm) vase being offered on June 1 is lantern shaped, with scrolling hibiscus flowers on a yellow background. The Qianlong vase is estimated at HK$200 million and has the same pierced decoration as the 18th-century Imperial vase that was bid to 51.6 million pounds ($83.2 million) at Bainbridges, west London, last November.

Deposit Rule

Bainbridges said in February that it hadn’t received payment. It has since refused to comment. Mindful of such reports, Christie’s has introduced for the first time the requirement that bidders pay a deposit of HK$1 million on any items valued at HK$8 million or more.

The number of Chinese millionaires reached 670,000 in 2009 according to the Boston Consulting Group, up from 190,000 five years earlier.

Last year’s equivalent Christie’s sale raised HK$2.29 billion ($294 million), then the second-highest tally for an art sale in the city and beating an estimate of HK$1.5 billion.

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