China Guardian Auctions Heads to Europe

Do untapped hoards of Chinese art await them?

A bidder holds up his card at Christie's inaugural auction in Shanghai on September 26, 2013. Courtesy Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.

China Guardian Auctions is looking to expand its presence in Europe. The auction house is the second largest player in China and was founded in 1993. As the FT reported, China Guardian recently hired Frenchman Hadrien de Montferrand, who owns a gallery in Beijing, in order to further infiltrate France’s substantial collections of Chinese art and antiques.

Montferrand previously served as marketing director for Paris’ Artcurial. However, with his Beijing gallery, he has focused mainly on Chinese contemporary art. Thus the move is slightly curious, given that China Guardian has consistently downplayed its presence in the contemporary art sector in comparison to China’s leading house, Poly Culture, according to the FT report.

Montferrand is said to be headed to the French countryside in the coming months. He will be armed with a team of Chinese experts on antiquities, antique furnishings, and Chinese art in hopes of recruiting collectors who have remained untapped by the major French houses. Montferrand hopes to be able to convince them to to sell through China Guardian to Chinese buyers. To some surprise, the team will not make a stop in Paris itself, reportedly due to its already-heavy ties to other players on the secondary market.

If France’s holdings of Chinese art are indeed as strong as the country’s recent market figures suggest, it could be a savvy move. According to a recent report, sales in France of Asian art in 2012 topped €200 million. That accounts for an astonishing 24 percent of the French art market as a whole. French auction houses’ relative reliability regarding authenticity is cited as a factor leading that growth, however, with “90 percent of the visitors at the pre-auction exhibitions of Asian art [coming] from Asia” according to Artcurial’s Isabelle Bresset who spoke to China Daily.

The FT suggests China Guardian’s move may be a move to hedge a position on the European Continent, while its main rival, Poly Culture, looks to the UK. Last month, This is Money reported that British auction house, Bonhams, could be sold to the Chinese giant. Current owners Evert Louwman and Robert Brooks reportedly hired a US firm to find a buyer for the house. However, London’s City AM has subsequently denied claims that said buyer will be Poly Culture.

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