Auction houses remain optimistic about upcoming sales in Hong Kong

No shortage of lots for sale in the second wave of Hong Kong’s annual autumn auctions but valuations are conservative given market uncertainties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 1:47pm

Art investors are watching nervously as auction houses prepare to sell billions of dollars worth of art and collectables in Hong Kong this week amid challenging market conditions.

On November 13, Sotheby’s, the New York-listed auction house, announced a round of voluntary redundancies as it struggles to cut costs amid losses and a decline in revenue. Despite Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian’s US$170.4 million purchase of a painting by Amedeo Modigliani at Christie’s New York on November 9, the sell-through rate of that evening’s sale was a paltry 71 per cent, a sign that collectors are becoming very selective.

But there has not been a significant drop in the volume of art and collectables presented for sale this week in the second wave of the annual autumn auctions in Hong Kong.

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Lots worth an estimated HK$3.1 billion will be offered for sale at Christie’s upcoming auctions from November 26 to December 2, about the same amount as it sold a year ago if buyers’ premiums are included.

Eric Chang, international director of Christie’s Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Department, said market conditions required a conservative approach to valuations.

The estimate for one of the auction highlights – Sanyu’s Vase de chrysanthèmes sur une table jaune – is HK$10 million to HK$15 million, a far cry from the HK$81.9 million that his Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase, albeit a bigger work, fetched in Christie’s spring sale in Hong Kong.

Christie’s said that the downturn was still drawing out quality pieces, such as Bada Shanren’s Egret on Rock, estimated at HK$18 million to HK$28 million. The painting has been in the hands of a private collection in Japan and is believed to have been executed after 1700 and is hence a late work by the Ming-dynasty Chinese master.

Following this month’s US$48 million sale of a blue diamond at a Christie’s auction in Geneva to Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung, the auction house is pushing to connoisseurs “The Crimson Flame”, a 15-carat Burmese pigeon’s blood ruby. Christie’s says it is by far the most important pigeon’s blood ruby to be offered at auction in Asia; it is valued at HK$78 million to HK$120 million.

Of the Chinese works of art on sale, the highlight is a falangcai “prunus and bamboo” bowl that used to belong to the Qing emperor Yongzheng and is being sold by London collector Paul Freeman. Christie’s is also seeking to fill what it believes is untapped demand in Asia for Singaporean art and Buddhist art, for both of which it is holding dedicated sales, and for antique musical instruments - the subject of a private sale. Jacqueline du Pre’s first cello is included in the sale.

Those interested in politics can get view personal effects of the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, such as her despatch box and clothes she used to wear. The items are being shown by Christie’s in Hong Kong ahead of their sale in London later this year.

The coming week will also see Phillips’ first Hong Kong auction. The New York-based seller is testing the waters with a watch sale on December 1.

Bonhams will hold sales of Chinese paintings, Chinese ceramics and works of art, watches and jewellery from November 28 to December 3 at its Hong Kong gallery in Pacific Place.

Tokyo Chuo Auction is offering Chinese paintings, imperial ceramics and Japanese tea wares and scholars’ objects in its annual Hong Kong sales, while Taiwan’s Ravenel will hold a modern and contemporary art sale.

South Korean auctioneers remain some of the most aggressive in the market, partly because of the strong demand for Korean monochrome paintings, with both Seoul Auction and K Auction coming back after successful sales in October.