Strong Sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Underscore Art Market Resilience

Record prices defied market expectations.

Portrait_Consort Chunhui by Giuseppe Castiglione-resize

Portrait of the Consort Chunui by Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione) and others.
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Despite the ongoing turmoil in Chinese financial markets and a crackdown on corruption, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales exceeded expectations and yielded several record lots, along with two “white-glove”—100 percent sold—auctions.

The five-day autumn sales, which took place from October 2-7, were undoubtedly a confidence booster for anxious market watchers and definitely a plus for Sotheby’s bottom line. Earlier this month artnet, in collaboration with the China Association of Auctioneers, released an extensive report on the Chinese auction market showing that worldwide sales of Chinese art fell to $7.9 billion in 2014, down from $8.5 billion in 2013. The 7.1 percent decline was even steeper when compared with the peak of $11.5 billion in 2011 (download the free report here).

Though down from record totals of just a few years ago, the week of sales—which included everything from classic Chinese paintings to glittering jewels—realized $342.2 million (HK $2.66 billion), compared with the low estimate of $297 million (HK $2.3 billion).

A Qing Dynasty portrait painting of Chunhui, a consort of the Qianlong Emperor, was the top lot of the week, selling for $17.6 million (HK $137.4 million) against an unpublished estimate of $7.7 million (HK $60 million) at the Imperial Consort sale on October 7. However, the two other Imperial portraits at auction that day failed to garner interest.

Another strong performer was the Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite sale on October 7 that saw an auction record of $5.3 million (HK $41 million) set for a natural grey pearl necklace as well as a record (on a per-carat basis), for a 27.68-carat Kashmir sapphire that sold for $6.7 million (HK $52.2 million). In other words, the buyer was paying $242,145 per carat.

Yayoi Kusama No. Red B sold for $7 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong.  Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Yayoi Kusama No. Red B sold for $7 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The leading lot of the Modern and Contemporary Asian Art sale (October 4) was artist Yayoi Kusama’s No. Red B (1960), which sold for $7 million (HK $54.5 million), on an estimate of $3.9 million to $5.1 million (HK $30–40 million).

SHK-Yoshihara Jiro_Lot 4_Work (1971)

Yoshihara Jiro Work (1971) sold for $637,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Robust sales during the week gave way to two evening sales in which every single lot sold: on October 5, the private collection of Gutai founder Yoshihara Jiro realized $3.5 million (HK $26.7 million), more than quadrupling the presale estimate, and a sale on October 7 of Ming furniture from the collection of Dr S.Y. Yp sold for $33.6 million (HK $260.2 million).

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