After last week’s blockbuster live-streamed remote modern and contemporary auctions, on Wednesday, Sotheby’s staged its modern evening sale at the Hong Kong Convention Center. The sale brought in HK$826 million ($107 million) across 35 lots, seeing an almost perfect sell-through rate with just one lot failing to find a buyer.
The auction reached the second highest outcome for the sale category at Sotheby’s, topping last year’s result for the March evening sale that brought in $102.4 million for 39 lots. The July evening auction also realized four new artist records.
Unlike the New York evening auction which brought a new level of art market hype to global audiences— likened by viewers to a televised game-show— this auction went back to basics, featuring a flat one-camera view focused solely on the sale’s auctioneer, Ian McGinlay, Head of Sotheby’s Asia Client Strategy. McGinlay conversed with masked colleagues in the televised live stream before announcing the withdrawal of just one lot before the sale began.
The leading lot of the night was by French-Chinese postwar artist Sanyu, whose 1950s masterwork Quatre nus (Four Nudes) announced for sale in the Fall. It sold for HKD 258.3 million ($33.3 million), the result of a growing value for Sanyu’s work, particularly this series of nudes which appeals to the growing Asian’ collecting base. Bidding for the piece began at HKD 160 million, and after a long period drawn out by the auctioneer that realised 21 bids, the work hammered at HKD 225 million, below its pre-sale expectation of HKD 250 million. The masterpiece last sold for HKD 16.36 million ($2.1 million) at Christies Hong Kong sale in 2005 and is one of just six of Sanyu’s paintings featuring nudes in a group of three or more.
The sale comes second to Sanyu’s comparable work Five Nudes, once in the property of Taiwanese mega-collector, Pierre Chen, which established the artist’s current record price of HKD 303 million ($38.72 million) set in a Christie’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong in November 2019. Elsewhere in the sale, a single buyer also bought two small-scale paintings on mirror by Sanyu.
“To set a new benchmark for Sanyu with another of his iconic masterpieces, across two consecutive seasons, is a measure of the artist’s stature among collectors” said Vinci Chang, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Asian Art in a statement. Chang noted the sale’s results were a “testament to the market’s undiminished appetite for top quality masterpieces.” Sanyu leads the market for modern Asian artists who have historically seen higher figures and rates of appreciation over longer holding periods than artists in the region’s contemporary auctions.
Bidders also competed for the leading artist of the Asian market. Zao Wou-Ki’s 20.03.60 from his seminal hurricane series was the focus of a protracted bidding war, which drove the hammer price far above its high estimate, eventually realizing HKD 114.8 million ($14.8 million). Zao’s record price was established in October 2018 at HK$510 million ($65 million) with the sale of Juin-Octobre 1985, which remains the most expensive painting to sell in a Hong Kong auction.
A second work, Zao’s blue abstract 19.11.59 drew 30 bids and sold for HKD 110.8 million($14.3 million), against an estimate of HKD 60 million to HKD 80 million ($7,725,000-10,300,000). The work last came to auction in November 2009 at a Christie’s Hong Kong sale where the seller acquired it for HKD 3.3 million ($390,962), more than twice the pre-sale estimate.
Overall, seven works by Zao were offered in the sale, which together brought in a total of HKD 318.5 million ($41 million).
Chu The-Chen’s scroll titled La Lune broke a record for the artist’s work of calligraphy, which brought in HKD 4.7 million, besting its pre-sale estimate of HKD 300,000 to $600,000. Another work by the artist from 1983-84 Les éléments confédérés sparked a battle between four collectors, who brought the artist to a new high going for HKD 114 million ($14.7 million) against an estimate of HKD $300,000 to $500,000 ($38708-$64,514). The work surpassed the previous record of HKD 91.8 million record ($1.2 million).
Chinese octogenarian painter known for his fantastical scenes, Pang Jiun’s Monet’s Garden fetched HKD 7.4 million ($951,596), beating the artist’s record price of $818,296 set at Sotheby’s in 2019.
Sino-American artist Che Ting-Shih saw a new record with a large-scale pentaptych titled Four Seasons selling for HKD 1.5 million ($387,090). Contemporary Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong’s serene 1985 canvas Hometown of Lu Xun hammered at HKD 20 million ($2.58 million), besting its high estimate of HKD 7 million ($901,250-1,545,000) by three times after collecting 29 bids. It made 11.5 times its original selling price set in 2004 for HKD 1.74 million ($223,968 USD) in Sotheby’s Hong Kong, where it was purchased by the seller, doubling its low estimate of HKD 550,000 ($70,697).
Female Chinese painter Guan Zilan’s realized a record price with the sale of Portrait of a Girl from the 1930s. Held in just one private collection before coming to the market, the work more than doubled it pre-sale low estimate, reaching a total selling price of HKD 9.8 million ($1.26 million). The work was last exhibited in 1999 in a Taiwan exhibition.
George Mathieu, French painter and member of the Parisian postwar Tashime movement, had a horizontal abstract from 1982 come to auction for the first time, opening the sale as the first lot hammering at HKD 3.3 million. The painting tripled its low estimate after collecting 32 bids from buyers online and on the floor.
Following Sanyu’s Quatre Nu, Foujita’s Les Deux Seours saw a high level of interest with fast bids moving the final hammer price to HKD 8 million (1.1 million), surpassing the high estimate of HKD 600,000 ($774,180).