Sotheby’s Offers $45 Million Stradivari Viola, Ming Cup

A Stradivari viola worth HK$351 million ($45 million), a rare Ming dynasty ceramic cup and bottles of Romanee-Conti wine will be featured during a week of sales in Hong Kong.

Sotheby’s, China Guardian (HK) and Poly Auction are offering more than HK$3.7 billion worth of classical and contemporary Asian art, watches, jewelry, ceramics and bronzes during a six-day marathon, beginning today.

The spring sales mark the start of the Hong Kong auction season and will be closely watched as an indicator of the Asian art market’s strength as growth in China slows.

“I think they have a tough week ahead of them,” said James Hennessy, a Hong Kong-based dealer. “China is below its magic 8 percent GDP growth and there is monetary tightening.”

The economic uncertainty is unlikely to damp demand for exceptionally rare pieces, like the Ming cup offered by Sotheby’s, he said. Carrying a high estimate of HK$300 million, its sale would smash the record for a Chinese work of art if it sells on April 8.

The cup is part of the Meiyintang Collection, owned by Philippines-born businessman Stephen Zuellig. Now in his late nineties, he purchased it from London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi in 2000. Eskenazi bought it the previous year from Sotheby’s for about HK$30 million.

“This is the most valuable piece of porcelain in any private collection,” Eskenazi said last month.

Ruling Rooster

The cup is only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) in diameter and was made for the Chenghua emperor (1465-1487). It’s nicknamed the “Chicken Cup” for its depiction of a rooster, his hen and their chicks, an allegorical representation of the emperor, the empress and his subjects.

The existing auction record for a Chinese work of art was set in October when Chinese property developer Zheng Huaxing paid HK$236 million for a bronze Buddha at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The record for the most expensive musical instrument is likely to fall if Sotheby’s sells the viola made by Antonio Stradivari in 1719.

It’s offered in a separate sale based on a worldwide sealed-bid process that closes on June 25 with the minimum starting price of $45 million. It is touring Hong Kong, Paris and New York.

The instrument was purchased by a Dutch patron of musician Peter Schidlof for $81,000 in 1964, said Tim Ingles, founder of Ingles and Hayday Fine Instruments. Schidlof, who played in the Amadeus Quartet for 40 years, later purchased it at cost from his benefactor.

‘Mythical Status’

“This has a mythical status in the violin world,” Ingles told a media briefing, where Hong Kong Philharmonic principal viola player Andrew Ling performed J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite Number 4 Prelude.

Since Schidlof’s death in 1987 his family had stored the viola at a bank.

There are only surviving Stradivari violas, compared with more than 550 violins.

The current record for a musical instrument was set when a 1721 Stradivari violin sold for $15.9 million in June 2011 in an online charity auction in support of Japan’s Fukushima victims.

Poly Auction Hong Kong, which began trading in Hong Kong on March 6 after Beijing-based parent Poly Culture Group Corp. sold shares in an initial public offering, is selling as much as HK$700 million worth of Chinese contemporary ink paintings and classical paintings, jewelry, wine, bronzes and ceramics on April 6-7.

Chateau Lafite

Poly, which held its first Hong Kong auction in 2012, is for the first time offering Chinese Maotai wines as part of its sales at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Across town at the JW Marriott hotel, Beijing-based rival China Guardian is offering Chinese paintings and calligraphy, modern and contemporary Chinese art, ceramics, bronzes and watches on April 8-9.

The Sotheby’s sales kick off with two days of wine auctions on April 4-5, including a six-liter imperial of Chateau Lafite 1982 with a high estimate of HK$220,000 and a six-bottle lot of Romanee-Conti 1990 valued at as much as HK$1 million.

Other Sotheby’s highlights include a jadeite necklace owned by American department store heiress Barbara Hutton, described in the Sotheby’s catalog as “the most important piece of jadeite jewelry known to the world” and expected to sell for as much as HK$100 million including buyer’s premium.

The final day includes fine Chinese ceramics and works of art, furniture, bronzes and watches, where the top lot is a Patek Philippe platinum wristwatch estimated at between HK$5.2 million and HK$6.2 million.

(Corrects watch estimate in last paragraph.)
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