Sotheby’s Holds First China Sale with Rembrandt, Picasso

Sotheby’s is bringing works by Picasso, Rembrandt and Zao Wou-Ki to Beijing where it will hold its first mainland commercial auction on Dec. 1.

The New York-based auction house said it is offering $212 million worth of western and Chinese art, jewelry and furniture in three private sales and an auction where Zao’s work is expected to set a new artist record.

The 1958 oil-on-canvas abstract work by the Chinese-French artist is being sold by the Art Institute of Chicago with a high estimate of 45 million yuan ($7.4 million) and expected to attract fierce bidding. The existing auction record of $11 million was set on Oct. 5 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. It is common for popular works to sell well above their estimates.

“The provenance of this painting is impeccable,” said Pascal de Sarthe, a Hong Kong-based dealer of works by Zao, who died in April at 92. “Its quality, size, date and his first picture being auctioned by Sotheby’s in China makes a recipe for another record breaking.”

Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two largest international auction houses, have been keen to break into China, where a rapidly growing number of affluent collectors has spurred the fastest growing art market.

They are taking advantage of new regulations that allow them to sell works within virtual free trade zones by treating imported works brought in temporarily as bonded goods.

Sotheby’s received permission in September 2012 to establish a joint-venture auction house with state-owned Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group. Sotheby’s holds an 80 percent stake in the entity, Sotheby’s Beijing (Auction) Company Ltd.

The auction on Dec. 1 also features 144 lots of modern and contemporary Chinese art featuring works by Zeng Fanzhi, the most expensive living Asian artist, Yue Minjun and Zhou Chunya.

Christie’s held its first auction in China in September in Shanghai, where it sold $25 million worth of watches, wine, jewelry and art.