Colin Gleadell highlights the Chinese abstract painter both Richard Saltoun and Sotheby’s are hoping will be a breakout find, an arist born on the mainland, who studied painting in Taiwan then moved first to Italy and then to England to paint. Li died in 1994 leaving behind more than 3,000 unsold works (1,000 left in Italy and 2,000 more in the UK at the time of his death.)
Early next month in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s will offer a work (above) by Li Yuan-chia with a HK$20-40k estimate, not much more than Li’s previous four-figure range. If that sale significantly outperforms, the stage will be set for Frieze Week. That’s when Richard Saltoun will push the painter’s prices with a show for Frieze week that will be split between his gallery and the Frieze Masters fair.
Why is Saltoun confident he can create a market for Li’s work?
The turning point came in Asia, says Saltoun, with a retrospective at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Although Li’s work rarely appeared at auction, one example, which sold for £1,500 in 2014, reappeared at Christie’s in Hong Kong 18 months later, when the impact of the Taipei show was being felt, selling for £28,200. “The Chinese have realised that he has been omitted from their cultural history, and that there is nothing by him in Taiwan,” says Saltoun.