Christie’s Asia Week sales were anchored by the Irving Collection which did exceptionally well at $31.2m, well above the initial estimates. To get a better sense of what lay behind some of the big prices achieved, we asked Christie’s Olivia Hamilton to tell us a little more about the house’s strategy. Olivia Hamilton originally trained as a lawyer in Hong Kong after graduating from Oxford with a degree in Classics. She studied Mandarin in Beijing and earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art with distinction from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
The $2.895m jade Twin Fish washer sold well above estimates but it doesn’t seem like the work’s appeal was a surprise to you. Was the estimate set to attract bidders or a function of the market or an opportunity because of the Florence and Herbert Irving Collection being sold at one time?
We certainly knew that this washer would attract a lot of attention, both because it is extremely rare and beautiful, and because of the Irving provenance. The estimate was set to reflect the importance of this piece, while also attracting as many bidders as possible.
This red lacquer Daoist scripture box sold for $1,035,000, against a low estimate of $150,000. Imperial objects have a lot of appeal to collectors. Nonetheless, there was a huge gap between the estimates and the bidding. Do you have thoughts on where the demand came from?
As a collecting area, lacquer tends to fetch more modest prices than areas such as porcelain, jade and bronze, and reasonable estimates are one of the best ways of attracting buyers in this category. Nevertheless on the day of the auction, the bidding was truly intense, and the Imperial quality, rarity and Irving provenance of this scripture box were all factors which pushed the price to a very high level.
The Irving’s also had works from South Asia like this rare bronze figure of Shiva Nataraja, that sold for ten times its estimate, achieving $1,035,000. Is this a different group of buyers than the bidders on Chinese works of art?
The Irving’s interest in Asian works of art was broad in scope. Their extensive collection spanned objects from throughout Asia, including works of art from South Asia, Japan, and Korea, in addition to their comprehensive collection of Chinese works of art and Chinese painting. Their pan-Asian collecting made this sale especially exciting for the specialist departments at Christie’s as it allowed us to partner with colleagues across all areas of Asian art. I spoke to my colleague Tristan Bruck, specialist for Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art, who described the collecting base for South Indian bronzes as typically a mix of North American and European clients and collectors of Indian descent based in other countries (NRI), as well as a smaller group of clients from South and East Asia. On the whole, it is a different buying base than those that typically bid on Chinese or Himalayan works of art.
Fu Baoshi’s Lithe Like A Crane, Leisurely Like A Seagull, sold for $1,815,000. Fu is a much sought after artist and his work has a great deal of value, as your estimates indicate. But this work did particularly well. Do you have sense whether the subject matter or the provenance had an influence on the bidding or was it simply the image itself?
For this work, I spoke with our specialist of Chinese Paintings, Jennie Tang, who mentioned that the subject of the prominent historical figure, Shao Sengmi, is a rare topic by the artist, and furthermore, the composition is extremely exceptional. There was a lot of attention on this work prior to the auction, due to the quality and rarity of the piece. The prominent Irving provenance further enhanced interest in the painting.