Auctions are fast, theatrical and tumultuous affairs, and part of the fun is seeing the most exquisite art pieces on the planet get sold — often for unfathomable, astronomical prices. We’re hot off the heels of the Sotheby’s autumn auctions, which ended on 3 October and earned a total of HK$3.15 billion across the board. Combined with Sotheby’s totals in its spring auctions earlier in the year, the house achieved its highest sales results since 2014.
According to Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, it was yet another record-breaking auction. “Over five days of highly curated sales, we established 16 world auction records, including the highest price ever paid for a piece of Chinese ceramics.”
The ceramic piece in question — the shining showpiece of the auctions — was the Ru ware guanyao brush washer, an extremely rare and “virtually unobtainable” example of a Northern Song Dynasty ceramic dish (one of the very few remaining from the Imperial Ru kiln) used for calligraphy. It sold for a shocking HK$294.3 million, and set a new world auction record for Chinese ceramics, overtaking a previous record set by the famed Ming Dynasty chicken cup, which sold for HK$281.24 million in 2014.
It was apparently one of the most heated bidding battles Hong Kong has ever seen, spanning over 20 minutes to achieve close to HK$300 million for the 900-year-old dish, making history and creating a new benchmark for Chinese ceramics.
The other world auction record during the autumn sales was set by an important Imperial White Jade and Cloisonné Ram-head teapot from the Qianlong period, which sold for HK$75.5 million, triple of its estimated price of HK$20–$30 million.
Another range of surprise successes came in 14 artist records across the genres of classical Chinese paintings and modern and contemporary art, including 100% sell-through rates for themed sections ‘Movimento Punto: A Post-war Legacy’ (on the modern art movement) and ‘Morita Shiryu: Bokujin’ (a spotlight on the esteemed Japanese ink artist) as well as a sold-out evening sale for Western contemporary art. Post-war abstract paintings seem to be as popular as ever.
In particular, one of the most highly anticipated paintings for the autumn sales was Chinese American artist Yun Gee’s 1932 painting Wheels: Industrial New York which sold for HK$105 million (est. HK$80–$120 million), breaking Gee’s previous auction record by almost tenfold. The painting itself is the artist’s largest out of his oeuvre, and was created in response to the invitation to the New York MoMA’s reopening show in 1932.
Over on the Chinese classical painting side, the top lot was Li Keran’s Magnificent Mountains with Gushy Cascades, a vibrant, sensational landscape, sold for HK$122 million to an Asian private buyer. Seeing as the total sales reached only HK$520 million, this was one of the most significant single buys of the week, and indeed, it was already the highest-ever estimated price offered at a Sotheby’s Chinese paintings sale, at HK$78–$79 million.
While the drama of the first wave of autumn auctions has come and gone, there are still a handful of sales coming our way in Hong Kong, so interested folks should be saving up their millions now, obviously. For Sotheby’s, keep your eyes peeled for theses shows rounding off the year: Important Jewels and Jadeite on 12 October; Fine Timepieces sale on 13 October; An Asian Collection of Post Han Jades on 30 November; Chinese Art including selected works of art from the T.Y. Chao Family collection on 30 November–1 December; and Boundless: Contemporary Art on 8 December.