Hong Kong's status as an art auction powerhouse was underlined yesterday with record prices and frantic bidding at two sales.
In its debut sale in the city, China Guardian, a major mainland auction house, performed beyond expectations, reaping HK$354 million, which was almost three times the predicted HK$120 million.
At another auction, Sotheby's set a record, despite pulling one item from sale because of an ownership dispute. China-born artist Lee Man Fong's painting Fortune and Longevity, which had a pre-sale estimate of HK$12 million, sold for HK$34.26 million.
Sotheby's said it was a record for the artist, now based in Singapore, and for any Southeast Asian paintings at auction.
China Guardian's sale of about 300 fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy was held at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central.
The star of the show was a 1922 landscape painting series by Qi Baishi called Album of Mountains and Rivers.
It went for HK$46 million, nearly double the pre-sale estimates.
A 1936 work by Xu Beihong, The Eagle and the Pine Tree, was sold for HK$21.275 million.
Ren Yi's Birds and Flowers, from 1891, sold for HK$17.25 million, while The Sun after the Rain, a highly coloured work dating from 1965 by Li Keran, fetched HK$16.1 million.
China Guardian, a national auction firm, was set up in 1993 and is now believed to be the world's fourth largest art auctioneer. A spokesman for the company described the response to the auction as "very good".
The Sotheby's auction at the Convention and Exhibition Centre was part of an autumn sale that started on Friday and ends tomorrow.
But Sotheby's cancelled the sale of a painting by Chinese ink master Chang Dai-chien, also known as Zhang Daqian, which was estimated to fetch at least HK$12.8 million, following a dispute over its ownership.
Last week, Lu Chieh-chien, a Taiwanese Buddhist nun, filed a writ at the High Court against the auctioneer, claiming the painting, To Paint a Tang Dynasty Gentleman Holding a Horse's Rein in the Suburbs at Autumn, belonged to her late father and would seek compensation from the auction house if the work was sold.
Sotheby's regional chief executive Kevin Ching Sau-hong said the work had been withdrawn from its fine Chinese paintings sales today.
"Sotheby's takes issues of title seriously," Ching said. "In view of the present situation, we will withdraw from the auction [the Zhang painting]."
Ching added Sotheby's had already contacted the person who put forward the painting and would not be involved in the dispute.
"This has nothing to do with us. They have to deal with it on their own. If they fail to resolve it, they will have to bring it to the court," he said.
Ching said Sotheby's had procedures to check the provenance of auctioned items and it was not uncommon to see objects being withdrawn.
Lu says the painting, presented by Chang to her father in the 1950s, was given to her on her marriage. She passed it to her brother when she became a nun, and it was then entrusted to an employee of their family, Shu Dun-sie, when her brother moved to Shanghai in 1996.
Lam To-sang, a friend of the Lu family, said Lu believed in the loyalty of Shu, who had worked for the family for more than 20 years and was now in his 80s. Shu's daughter told police in Taipei that her father had a mental illness and was now living in a home for the elderly. Lam said Shu's daughter had told Lu she was only a distant relation of Shu when she found him last month.
Lam said if Lu succeeded in getting the painting back she might donate it to Hong Kong. The planned museum for the West Kowloon Cultural District, M+, is one of the considerations.
"Lu was born in Hong Kong. Chang gave the painting to her father in Hong Kong and now it has been put up for auction in Hong Kong. She thinks this has a lot to do with Hong Kong," Lam said.