Sotheby's Hong Kong $400 Million Auction Defies Downturn

The ink painting by Zhang Daqian that sold for $35 million.

The ink painting by Zhang Daqian that sold for $35 million.

Source: Sotheby's
  • Sales up 17 percent from same time last year, Sotheby's says
  • Top lot sold for $35 million to Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian

Sotheby’s beat expectations at the debut of the Hong Kong auction season with HK$3.1 billion ($400 million) in sales of paintings, jewelry, watches, wine and Chinese works of art.

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The sales, which ended Wednesday, were boosted by the HK$270 million purchase of a Zhang Daqian painting by Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, a former taxi driver known for collecting frequent flyer miles by using his AmEx card to pay for his purchases.

"The results seemed to defy expectations," said Edie Hu, art advisory specialist at Citi Private Bank in Hong Kong. "I thought things would be softer."

Sotheby’s salesrooms were full of Chinese buyers whose paddles shot into the air during the five-day auction, Kevin Ching, chief executive officer of Sotheby’s Asia, said in a press release.

"If this is what a correction feels like, then I sure hope we have one in the autumn too, because our sales are up 17% over last spring," Ching said.

Liu, who paid $170.4 million for an Amedeo Modigliani painting in November, also picked up a painting by Japanese 20th century artist Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita for HK$39.4 million at Sotheby’s on Sunday on behalf of the Long Museum in Shanghai he owns with his wife Wang Wei.

The auction house also set a record for the most expensive jewel sold at auction in Asia, with the sale of the 10.10 carat De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 for HK$248.3 million.

Sotheby’s wasn’t the only auction house to see strong results. Mainland China-backed Poly Culture Group Corp. exceeded its pre-sale estimate of HK$700 million by earning HK$1.27 billion, boosted by the sale of a HK$236 million painting by Wu Guanzhong, an auction record for the artist. Bonhams and Seoul Auction also reported strong sales.

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