Chinese Painting Leads $344 Million Sotheby's Asia Sale

  • Results are below record $540 million sale two years ago
  • Auction included wine, watches, Asian art, jewelry, ceramics

Chinese appetite for Qing and bling helped Sotheby’s sell HK$2.7 billion ($344 million) worth of Asian art, watches and jewelry at a five-day sale that ended in Hong Kong on Wednesday evening.

The results exceeded Sotheby’s low estimate of $295 million, yet were below the record $540 million the New York-based auction house sold in Hong Kong two years ago when the Chinese economy was stronger.

“There is a real lull in the market,” said Richard Littleton, a New York-based art dealer who attended Wednesday’s Chinese works of art sale. “We had an amazing few years and now people are being more cautious.”

An 18th century portrait that sold for HK$137.4 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong on Oct. 7.
An 18th century portrait that sold for HK$137.4 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong on Oct. 7.
Source: Sotheby's

The top lot was an 18th century portrait of the consort of emperor Qianlong painted by Italian court artist Giuseppe Castiglione that sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for HK$137.4 million, more than double its low estimate of HK$60 million, a record for imperial portraiture.

Other auction highlights included a Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring that sold for HK$52.3 million and a vintage Patek Philippe watch for HK$7.8 million, the auction house said.

Rarity, Provenance

Collectors from Indonesia said a sluggish economy and a weaker rupiah crimped sales of Southeast Asian art. “Things are not so good back home,” said Alex Tedja, a Jakarta-based real estate developer. “The market for our art is pretty soft.”

Still, rarity and provenance helped buoy prices. All 38 pieces of Ming furniture belonging to renowned collector S.Y. Yip sold on Wednesday, for a total of HK$260 million, compared with a pre-sale estimate of HK$110 million.

“It is so rare to find a collection of this quality,” said Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. “Though obviously people could generally be price sensitive.”

Chow said the Castiglione painting failed to sell at auction in 2003 during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong, when the top bid of HK$12 million didn’t achieve the reserve price. On Wednesday, the bidding lasted for about 20 minutes.

Zeng Fanzhi and Jack Ma in front of Paradise.
Zeng Fanzhi and Jack Ma in front of Paradise.
Source: Sotheby's

Bidding was also fierce on Oct. 5, when Chinese businessman Qian Fenglei paid $5.4 million for a painting that billionaire Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder Jack Ma and Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi collaborated on to raise money for a charity to promote environmental awareness.

Ma toured the Hong Kong highlights from a $500 million collection belonging to A. Alfred Taubman that goes on sale in New York on Nov. 4 but didn’t attend the auction of his own work. He said “it is an honor” to have his painting offered for sale.

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