Defying a widespread concern that the art market might continue the uncertainty visible at auctions of Chinese art in the later months of 2012, Bonhams
wrapped up its impressive series of auctions in Hong Kong from 22 to 26 May 2013. Bonhams achieved a very substantial sold total of HK$172 million, large audiences for the six different auctions held at the Island Shangri-la Hotel ballroom, and a buoyant mood among the buyers who attended, or bid on the phone and Internet from around the world.
Commenting on the overall results, Bonhams Asia Chairman Colin Sheaf remarked: As auctioneer for several of the sales, I saw some of the most enthusiastic bidding I can remember since we opened our auction business in Hong Kong in 2007. Several of the sales had sections almost entirely covered in advance by absentee bids left by collectors and dealers keen to participate from abroad. We also welcomed new bidders from South East Asia, the UK and the US, drawn by the wide range of attractively estimated property we sourced from around the world for these special Hong Kong auctions. Following the exceptional prices we achieved in our major London Spring auction of important Chinese art last week, I think we can feel confident that the spring is back in bidders steps when buying at Bonhams around the world.
The series of sales got off to a buoyant start with the sale of fine wines, single malt whisky and cognac which saw a 90% sold rate and high prices for outstanding French wines and Scottish whiskies mostly sourced from Western cellars. Particularly popular were the parcels of Romanee-Conti which saw prices at the upper end of recent auction results, despite a reported weakness last year among Chinese buyers drawn to these superb wines.
Traditional and modern Chinese paintings saw a satisfyingly increased percentage sold to buyers drawn by the fine range of works by modern masters. Top price in the auction was a splendid painting by Wu Guanzhong (1919 2010), View of Yulong Mountain, which doubled expectations to sell for the highest price in the sale at HK$6.6 million. A striking study of A lady seated beneath bamboo, by an artist more famous for his horse paintings Xu Beihong (1895-1953), achieved one of the highest prices seen at Bonhams for a work by this French-trained mainland Chinese artist, realising well over estimates at HK$6 million.
Classical paintings always provide one or two lots where scholarship suggests our estimates are very cautious; in this case a landscape In the manner of Wang Wei, attributed to Wang Hui (1632-1717) hugely exceeded the estimate of HK$200,000 300,000 to soar to HK$2,780,000. Perennial auction-favourite artist Qi Baishi (1863-1957) saw his study of Seven chicks out from a cage sell for four times the estimate, attracting a final bid of nearly HK$1.3 million. The sale totalled HK$50 million.
The auction of Fine Jewellery and Jadeite was the first one organised by new Hong Kong head of department Graeme Thompson, and the finest lots in the sale demonstrated his specialist expertise in sourcing outstanding jewels by distinguished makers Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston. The top lot was a very striking Art Deco ruby and diamond necklace by Cartier, which exceeded the high estimate to sell to an Asian collector for HK$4.8 million. A fine Art Deco sapphire and diamond bracelet by the same maker attracted heavy previewing and keen bidding before selling to an Asian private for HK$2.3 million. Finest of the single-stone rings was a Kashmiri 8.39 carat sapphire and diamond example which sold to a private buyer near the high estimate at HK$1.6 million.
The Modern Wristwatches sale continued a tradition established since the early days of Bonhams Hong Kong by offering exceptional tourbillon watches by the outstanding Swiss-based watchmaker Richard Mille. A very fine and rare gold dual time zone watch achieved the highest price of the sale, bought by an Asian buyer for HK$1.1 million. Patek Philippe, F.P. Journe, and the ever-popular Rolex also achieved strong prices for fine and rare wristwatches.
Sunday was entirely devoted to auctions which included fine private collections of Imperial Chinese ceramics, snuff bottles, exquisite jade carvings and scholars objects, mostly sourced from Western collectors and specially shipped to Hong Kong to appeal to some of the worlds most sophisticated and experienced collectors in Greater China. An exceptional and auspicious Imperial blue and white longevity vase, hugely appropriate in 18th century China where a long-lived Emperor ensured prosperity and stability for his subjects, headlined the sale. Finely potted and decorated at the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, lot 245 in the auction generated feverish bidding from eight different active international buyers and finally sold for a record price of HK$7.8 million (estimate HK$3.5 to 4 million). An extensive range of unusual Buddhist and secular bronze figures and vessels saw the highest price paid for a magnificent and gilt-lacquered 18th century bronze figure of Dipankara Buddha which quadrupled its estimate to sell for HK$2.9 million. Other highlights in the 450-lot Chinese Works of Art sale saw a 100% sold total for a collection of very fine Chinese snuff bottles formerly in the Mary and George Bloch Collection; and a 100% sold total for a remarkable group of 85 lots of fine jadeite and nephrite jade belt hooks and other costume accessories, which on many occasions attracted more than 10 bidders to each lot. The Chinese Works of Art sale totalled nearly HK$70 million, a core part of the sale success totalling over HK$170 million.
Carson Chan, Managing Director of Bonhams Asia, concluded: This represents another stage in Bonhams programme of developing a major auction business in Asia. We now have a mature platform in the region, based on our key offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei and Tokyo. We anticipate a substantial expansion in our Hong Kong auction turnover in the near future, as our investment in the region clearly begins to bear fruit. Hong Kong continues to establish itself as the key Asian centre for auctions of Chinese art, where even the mainland auctioneers are looking to create a permanent presence. This is the most exciting moment for Bonhams in Asia since we opened our auction business here six years ago.