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Bonhams Hong Kong celebrates its 5th anniversary with quarter-billion Hong Kong dollar auction
Chu Teh-Chun. L'odeur du ciel no.1, 1982. Photo: Bonhams.

HONG KONG.- Bonhams held its first-ever auction of Chinese art in Hong Kong in May 2007. Last week from 23 to 27 May 2012, it definitively celebrated its emergence as a major regional auction force in Asia with a series of auctions which totalled well over a quarter of a billion Hong Kong dollars. The final sales total of HK$312 million (UKP25.6 million; US$40 million) represents a near 50% increase over the equivalent sale last year, and is the first time that Bonhams Hong Kong has broken through this milestone total. This comprises the blend of auctions we have now established as the optimum programme offering top quality Chinese Works of Art and Paintings, Fine Wines and Whisky, Watches, and important European and Asian jadeite jewellery. The Bonhams house brand of transparent, straightforward auctioneering procedures uncomplicated by issues of running complementary retail businesses now extends consistently across our Asian, European, American and Australian auction operations.

The auctions were particularly notable in that three of the eight sales were distinguished by selling 100% of the catalogue content, an exceptional achievement at a time of perceived economic uncertainty in the region. For the first time ever, Bonhams Hong Kong sold out specialised auctions both of Chinese works of art (the Bloch collection of Chinese snuff bottles: Part V was 100% sold for a total of over HK$42 million) and of Chinese Contemporary Paintings (the private collection sale was 100% sold for a total of over HK$63 million). Chinese Works of Art, Classical and Contemporary Paintings proved consistently in strong demand from an international audience mostly representing buyers from the mainland China and South East Asian region, but also included notable figures from the European and American art world.

The most expensive single lot sold in the sale achieved an unprecedented price of just under HK$40 million. This was an extraordinary and unique Imperial 18th century painting depicting the famous Consort Chunhui, a much-loved wife of the emperor Qianlong, who almost certainly commissioned the portrait from his well-known Italian painter based in the Beijing court, Giuseppe Castiglione. The portrait is most unusually painted in the Western medium of oil but in this case on paper rather than canvas. Widely published as an important relic of Imperial Court life in 18th century China, the picture exceeded expectations to sell to a private Asian buyer at HK$39,860,000.

Following the unprecedented success of sales from the Mary & George Bloch Collection of Important Chinese Snuff Bottles, the latest dispersal from the world’s most famous private collection achieved yet again a 100% sold total of over HK$42 million, attracting buyers all the way from as far apart as China and California. The finest bottle was the 18th century Imperial enamel on copper bottle depicting an elegant European lady and hence of great interest to a Chinese court fascinated by foreigners, which exceeded expectations to sell to a European buyer at a record HK$4.8 million.

Bonhams’ auctions included many interesting collections from Asia and Europe, none more so than in the specialised auction of Yixing stoneware, which had been assembled from private owners as far distant as London and Taipei. A new world record price was achieved for a spectacular slip-decorated brushpot, dated from the 18th century, which exceeded an optimistic estimate of HK$2-3million to sell to a Taiwanese buyer at HK$6.7 million, following on the world record price for a Yixing vessel achieved at Bonhams Hong Kong in November 2011. In an unpredictable market, the biggest surprise came with an Yixing teapot and cover signed by the Qing dynasty potter She Wang, which hugely exceeded the estimate of HK$70,000 – 90,000, achieving a round of applause from the large audience when it finally sold for just under HK$2.2 million.

The most important single consignment to Bonhams auctions on this anniversary occasion was sourced by Bonhams staff in the face of great competition from other international auctioneers from a private collector in Lisbon, historic capital of Portugal, where he had systematically assembled a remarkable group of not merely fine contemporary Chinese oil paintings by two distinguished Chinese artists Chu Teh-Chun and Zhao Wou-Ki (both now resident in Europe), but also outstanding antique Chinese works of art mostly from famous old collections. Both sections of the sale attracted immense pre-sale interest during their exhibitions in Lisbon, Paris, London, New York, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and finally Hong Kong. This elaborate promotional world tour was entirely justified by the results of the auctions, which saw a total exceeding HK$90 million (over UKP 7.4 million). This is the most important single-owner collection ever sourced by Bonhams to sell in Hong Kong. It demonstrates Bonhams’ ambition to sell the finest collections it is offered, wherever the specialists genuinely feel the property will achieve the highest prices for sellers.

Commenting on the success of the 5th anniversary programme of Hong Kong auctions, Bonhams Asia Chairman Colin Sheaf remarked: “Bonhams has come of age in Asia. It is an exceptional pleasure to mark the passing of yet another milestone in our regional growth. Whatever may happen, as the regional economies of mainland China and South East Asia rise and fall, Bonhams will always remain a key player in the art market of this uniquely growing sector in the world economy. The Bonhams brand is based on clear-cut auction practice; we do not offer exotic financial engineering: and our robust registration procedures ensure that our sellers get paid.”

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