HONG KONG — The second round of Hong Kong’s spring auctions opened strongly over the weekend, dispelling fears that the economic slowdown in China and global financial jitters would blight the season.
The weekend began in the best way possible for Christie’s Hong Kong with a 100 percent sold wine auction on Saturday. The success of this sale of top flight Bordeaux bucked a recent Asian market trend towards the wines of Burgundy, and took in excess of HK$20.29 million ($2.6 million). The top lot was a vertical set of four six-liter imperials of Petrus from the 2005-2008 vintages, which eclipsed their high estimate of HK$700,000 to sell for HK$780,000 ($100, 490.)
The continuing buoyant market for fine wine in Asia had earlier been demonstrated in grand style at specialist wine auctioneer Acker Merrall & Condit with a sale on May 25-26 that also focused on Bordeaux. The top lot in their HK$70 million ($9 million) sale was a rare case of 1947 Cheval Blanc which sold for HK$1.48 million ($189,231). They also set 15 world records for Chateau Latour with a single-owner sale of prized vintages from 1905 to 1985, including a rare case of the 1945 vintage which secured HK$934,800 ($119,846), nearly three times the pre-sale high estimate.
When it came to fine arts, results were more mixed. While Christie’s Saturday evening sale of Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art scored a significant success with 91 percent of the lots sold by volume and 96 percent by value, the day sale of Contemporary Asian Art was a more muted affair, with only 72 percent by volume and 79 percent by value sold. Total sales, which amounted to HK$629,478,750 (US$81,076,863) in this sector, were down 17 percent on last spring. Still, the result looked good against Christie’s pre-sale estimate of around HK$400 million.
Notable among the top lots was “Hearth,” a 1988 work by Chinese contemporary artist Shang Yang, which sold for five times its high estimate at HK$6.38 million ($821,744) during the day sale on Sunday. Also far exceeding expectations was a work by Chinese traditionalist Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) entitled “Opera Series: Beauty Defies Tyranny” (1950s), which sold for HK$11.64 million ($1.5), also five times its pre-sale estimate.
Before the auctions opened, speculation centered on how much Chinese mainland collector participation would be effected by the country’s cooling economy and the recent crackdown by the Chinese customs department on the under-declaration of tariffs payable on art works imported into mainland China from Hong Kong and abroad. In the event, mainland bidders still made their presence felt at Christie’s and also at Bonhams, whose contemporary art department held their first dedicated sale for their sector in Hong Kong on Sunday.
For this first foray, Bonhams played it safe with a fine single-owner sale of works by two of China’s most renowned expatriate artists, Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun. Now in their 90s, both made their careers in Paris in the decades after the Second World War, but this sale largely focussed on works made in the 21st century. Zao Wou-Ki’s “La Mer” (2004), sold for HK 8.18 million (more than $ 1 million), while Chu Teh-Chun’s “Verte Nature, 2005-6” took HK$7.2 million ($927,416) and his “Formes Illuminees” (2006) sold for HK $5.3 million ($682,680). All these works went for prices substantially above their high estimates.
Overall Bonhams took some HK$313 million from their Hong Kong sales, which aside from contemporary art also featured wine, cognac, ceramics, snuff bottles, and Chinese painting. Their standout lot was a portrait of the Emperor Qianlong’s consort Chunhui, attributed to Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), which was knocked down to a Chinese mainland collector for HK$39.86 million ($5.135 million). There was fierce competition for the painting, which is thought to have been looted from the Forbidden City by French forces after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
Still to come this week are the results from Christie’s auctions in the strongest sectors of the Asian market — Chinese traditional modern painting and ceramics and works of art. Christie’s auctions conclude Wednesday.
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