Sotheby’s Takes the Lead During Asia Week with $55 Million Total Sales
Sotheby's sees an uptick from last fall, while Christie's falls back.
Amid ongoing economic turmoil in China and several high profile seizures of ancient statues related to federal law enforcement’s “Operation Hidden Idol” crackdown, Christie’s and Sotheby’s Asia Week auctions yielded solid results for a wide range of objects including Chinese ceramics, jade, modern Indian paintings, and Himalayan bronze and stone statues.
Sotheby’s captured the lion’s share of the market this week with a total of $55 million, comfortably exceeding the high end estimate of $47.6 million, and nearly doubling sales from its September 2015 results. However, a look back at totals of recent seasons shows how volatile this sector has been: a year ago in March 2015, Sotheby’s total was nearly $96 million; in September 2014 it was nearly identical to the current tally at $55 million; and in March 2014 it was $56 million.
This year, Sotheby’s top brass were cautious when they embarked on planning the latest sales. “We tailored our offerings this week to the current climate,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s chairman of Asian arts for the Americas and Europe. He added that clients “across the globe, particularly in Asia and the US, remain actively engaged.”
Meanwhile, Christie’s posted a total of $37.2 million, which was a significant drop from last fall’s $55 million total and a steep plunge from the $161 million realized a year ago when the bottom line was boosted by a prestigious private collection. However, the current total fell within overall presale estimates of $25.4–40.9 million.
As recent data reveals, the art market in China experienced a significant decline in 2015, with sales dropping 23 percent to $11.8 billion. At the moment, it remains unclear to what extent the country’s internal drop is affecting sales worldwide. Investors are now focusing their gaze on the latest premier art fair on the global circuit, Art Basel in Hong Kong, which kicks off this week (March 24–26).
For Sotheby’s, the best performing category was classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy, which doubled the high end of expectations to sell for $16 million. The top lot here was Letters, an album of 61 leaves, by Zhao Zhiqian, which shattered its $150,000 estimate to bring $1.09 million from an Asian dealer. Numerous other works in the list of top lots also sold for multiples of their estimates.
Also a strong performer was the private collection sale of Reverend Richard Fabian’s Chinese classical furniture, which totaled $5.5 million, exceeding the high estimate of $4.5 million.
The modern and contemporary south Asian sale saw solid—if not spectacular—prices with master painter Vasudeo S. Gaitonde leading the sale. Untitled (1960), sold for $2.8 million, which was comfortably within its estimate of $2.5—3.5 million.
Chinese ceramics and works of art was also the top performer at Christie’s, taking in $18.5 million on March 17. The top lot of that sale—and also their highest of the week—was a large repoussé gilt-bronze figure of an eleven-headed bodhisattva that sold for $2.8 million, far surpassing the estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
Christie’s total was bolstered by five private collections that included Asian, Himalayan, Indian, and Southeast Asian works of art. The Van der Wee collection of Himalayan paintings realized $648,000, the bulk of which was accounted for by the highest-selling lot, a 1513 Nepal painting of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, which sold for $545,000 on an estimate of $ 200–300,000.
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