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Sotheby’s Raises $263 Million in Hong Kong Art, Wine Sale

Record Lee Man Fong Work
A 1951 painting by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong entitled "Fortune and Longevity" that sold for HK$34.3 million ($4.4 million) at Sotheby's in Hong Kong on Oct. 7 setting a record for a Southeast Asian painting sold at auction. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

Sotheby’s five-day autumn auction in Hong Kong ended last night with a total sale of HK$2.05 billion ($263 million) as buyers pushed prices of some top lots to records and shunned others.

The event’s revenue, with fees, compares with a presale low estimate of HK$1.6 billion at hammer prices. The figure was boosted by highlights such as the HK$34.3 million paid for a painting by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong, the most for a Southeast Asian artist.

“There might have been a fear of it all collapsing but in fact people are more selective,” Daniel Eskenazi, a London-based dealer, said in an interview.

In last year’s Sotheby’s autumn marathon, which lasted a day longer, the New York-based auction house raised HK$3.2 billion. Its Hong Kong sale in April raised HK$2.46 billion.

A pair of Qianlong-era double-gourd vases sold for HK$107 million yesterday, nearly twice their presale high estimate, proving that rarity still attracted keen bidding.

A 1992 painting by Chinese artist Liu Wei, entitled “Revolutionary Family Series-Invitation to Dinner,” sold for HK$17.46 million, setting a record for the artist. The work hung for many years in David Tang’s China Club in Hong Kong.

A work by Zhang Xiaogang fetched HK$20.8 million, while three other of his works went unsold, as did paintings by top-selling contemporary Chinese artists Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun.

Market Cracks

“The results of this sale are showing some cracks in the market, with a large number of cornerstone artists’ works going unsold,” Jehan Chu, a Hong Kong adviser who runs Vermillion Art Collections, said.

The contemporary Asian sale, normally the marquee event, raised HK$117 million with 42 out of 153 lots unsold, making less than its presale estimate of HK$130 million. In contrast, the Southeast Asian contemporary sale earned HK$121 million, more than twice its presale estimate.

There were some unanticipated hiccups for Sotheby’s. A work by 20th-century master Zhang Daqian, with a higher estimate of HK$12.8 million, was pulled on the eve of its Oct. 8 sale after a Taiwanese Buddhist nun contested its ownership.

The top lot of that 20th-century Chinese sale was a painting by Chang Yu entitled “Potted Chrysanthemums” which sold for HK$30.9 million, compared with a high estimate of HK$30 million.

Then the owner of 17 portraits from a Qing dynasty imperial collection decided to withdraw them on the morning of their sale yesterday, to offer them in a private sale, Sotheby’s said in a statement.

Romanee Conti

Demand for wine continued to show strength, with 96 percent of lots sold over a two-day period, raising HK$73.6 million. The top lot of nine bottles of Romanee Conti Domaine de La Romanee-Conti 1990 sold for HK$1.7 million, or $24,580 per bottle.

The most expensive watch was a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon wrist watch that sold for HK$10.5 million, compared with a high estimate of HK$12 million.

The highlight of the jewelry auction, the last sale of the series, was an 89-carat D-color diamond necklace that sold for HK$39.9 million compared with a presale high estimate of HK$50 million.

Sotheby’s faced new competition in Hong Kong as the Beijing-based China Guardian auction house ventured outside China for the first time on Oct. 7 with a sale of Chinese painting and calligraphy, and Ming and Qing dynasty furniture.

In an event dominated by mainland Chinese buyers, the auction earned HK$455 million, more than doubling its presale estimate of HK$185 million, with 90 percent of lots sold.

The top lot was a landscape series of colored-ink paintings by Chinese artist Qi Baishi painted in 1922 that sold for HK$46 million compared with a high estimate of HK$26 million.

The next major Hong Kong sale will be held by Christie’s from Nov. 23 to 28 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

Sotheby's stock declined more than 2 percent after the sales total was reported, to $31.05.

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on art, Martin Gayford on art, Richard Vines on food and Zinta Lundborg’s interviews.

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