The New York Times‘s Souren Melikian explains what’s going on in the market for Chinese works of art. If you want to understand this weekend’s sales in Hong Kong, you’ll need to read Melikian’s wrap-up of the Asia Week sales in New York. Melikian praises the great Western collections of Asian art:
All that now seems doomed to become a memory of the past. True, for the moment most of the greatest living collectors of Chinese art can be argued to be Westerners, from Zurich — where the Meyintang collection of Chinese ceramics built over many years by two Swiss brothers is unsurpassed — to New York, where the intensely private Leon Black keeps his admirable ancient bronzes.
Judging from last week’s buying binge in New York, which the Chinese attended in such large numbers that Christie’s decided to hold the auction in the vast room usually reserved for Impressionist and Contemporary art, the days when Westerners with a great eye and the required cash could amass fabulous hoards of Chinese art are probably over. Roughly two thirds of the 611 lots that came on the block in a mammoth two-day sale went to Chinese dealers and collectors. They bought across the board, in every category, at every financial level.
The ultimate symbol of the fierce Chinese determination to buy back their art that strayed to the West in the quasi-colonial days of the 19th and early 20th century is the acquisition of a hand scroll titled Chan Yue tu, “Happiness through Chan Practice,” which was signed by Yu Zhiding in the early 1700s. Professional circles are convinced that the buyer is Liu Yiqian, the Shanghai billionaire. Estimated by Christie’s to be worth $120,000 to $150,000 plus the sale charge, the hand scroll made $3.44 million.
Its acquisition epitomizes the complex mix of motivations driving Chinese buyers. The painting was one of many works consigned by the Los Angeles collector Robert Blumenfield. It had earlier been in the possession of Xiang Hanping, a general in the nationalist army whose collector’s seal dated 1934 appears on the frontispiece. This provenance made the recovery of the painting doubly desirable.
Chinese Bidders Conquer Market (New York Times)