Multibillion-dollar Hong Kong spring auction season begins on uncertain note

Sotheby’s shows highlights from its five days of sales, including a Zhang Daqian scroll, porcelain from a prized collection, and a Qing dynasty imperial seal. But recent sales have been lacklustre

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 5:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 12:28pm

Hong Kong’s spring auction season begins on Saturday, with Sotheby’s, Poly Auction and Seoul Auction offering thousands of lots for auction in the face of lacklustre recent sales.

There are more than 3,000 lots in its April 2-6 sales, with a combined value estimated at HK$2.2 billion. In April 2015, the auction house offered 2,600 lots worth an estimated HK$2.3 billion.

Sotheby’s may appear to be selling more lots for less, but the auction house explained that over a thousand lots are in the wine category. Of the 1,974 non-wine lots, the average estimate is higher than in 2015, when there were 2,152 lots. Sotheby’s said they were happy with this season’s consignments.

The fall in the number of non-wine lots may have to do with the fact that collectors are less willing to part with their top treasures in the current climate because they think they can get better offers when the market improves.

It could also be considered a challenge to decide where to invest the proceeds if they sell items now.

Christie’s unveils spring auction highlights, and voices confidence in Asian demand

The Hong Kong auction scene will be quieter this April anyway. China Guardian, China’s second-biggest auction house after Poly, moved its sales to the end of May and new entrant Phillips is only showing highlights of its upcoming New York and Geneva sales rather than holding any auctions in the city.

Still, there will be plenty to check out. At Sotheby’s, which began its sale preview on Friday, visitors will be compelled to stop and stare at a 2.6 million-year-old mammoth skull that is estimated to sell for HK$650,000 to HK$750,000. This unusual item is part of a quirky “Cabinet of Curiosity” sale put together by Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s deputy Asia chairman, and which features items so eclectic they might occupy the study of a very eccentric collector: Peter Paul Rubens’ Anatomical studies of three male figures, estimated to sell for HK$4 million to HK$6 million, and a limestone sculpture of the mythical Tianlu from the Eastern Han or Jin dynasties and valued at up to HK$6.5 million, for example.

Other Sotheby’s sale items that stand out include an imperial seal used by Qing Emperor Kangxi, who ruled China from 1661 to 1722, around 100 pieces of Chinese porcelain collected by the late British connoisseur Roger Pilkington, a member of the Pilkington glass family, and Zhang Daqian’s Peach Blossom Spring, estimated at HK$50 million to HK$65 million.

The Asian contemporary art departments have put up a number of eye-catching works, such as Liu Wei’s Revolutionary Family Series (Triptych) and Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan’s Ali Sadikin Gunawan pada Masa Perang Kemerdekaan (or Ali Sadikin during the struggle for independence).

Over at the jewellery and watches departments, Sotheby’s is selling the De Beers Millennium Jewel 4, a 10.10-carat blue diamond estimated at HK$235 million to HK$280 million, and a complete set of 12 engraved wristwatches from the Vacheron Constantin “Métiers d’Art – Les Masques” collection (estimated at HK$7.8 million to HK$12 million).

Outside the auction halls, Sotheby’s has a selling exhibition of works by Asian designers. There is a section from Chinese brand Kanjian, founded by singer-songwriter Dadawa, which produces everything from steel teaware to an electric guitar made with lacquer.

Visitors will also be able to preview highlights from the May 9 sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York, which include works by Claude Monet, Paul Signac, Francis Bacon and Cy Twombly.

Diary dates

Sotheby’s spring sales

April 2-6, 2016, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai

Poly Auction’s spring sales

April 2-5, 2016, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong hotel, Wan Chai

Seoul Auction’s autumn sales

April 4, 2016, 8/F, Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View hotel, Wan Chai

Bonhams’ sale of the Sze Yuan Tang collection of Chinese jades

April 5, 2016, Suite 2001, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty

Christie’s Pavilion Sale - Chinese ceramics and works of art

April 5, 2016. The James Christie Room, 22nd Floor, Alexandra House, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong