Chinese imperial and Western classical art items fetched record prices yesterday at art auctions in Hong Kong as buyers focused on top-quality pieces despite the grim economic outlook.
However, highly priced items - including a Jeff Koons sculpture with a HK$75 million upper estimate - and mid-range works by up-and-coming artists did not fare as well.
An Asian phone bidder paid a record HK$25.3 million for an 18th century Chinese snuff bottle at the Bonhams autumn sale yesterday, shattering the previous HK$9.28 million benchmark for a snuff bottle achieved at the Bonhams sale in May last year.
The 8cm-high imperial enamelled glass bottle from the Qianlong period (1735-1796) had a pre-sale estimate of HK$4.9 million to HK$9 million, excluding buyer's premium. The bottle is among the pieces being sold from the renowned Mary and George Bloch Collection. Buyer's premium is an additional percentage charge to cover auctioneers' administrative costs.
Bonhams also did well with Yixing stoneware from the Mr and Mrs Gerard Hawthorn Collection, with an imperial stoneware inkstone from the Yongzheng period (1722 to 1735) fetching more than HK$8.42 million, more than 10 times its pre-sale low estimate, not including buyer's premium.
Tiancheng International concluded its inaugural auction with the sale of an early cast of Auguste Rodin's sculpture The Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant, bringing in HK$64.9 million, including an 18 per cent buyer's premium. An Asian collector bidding on the phone bought the piece for more than triple the pre-sale low estimate of HK$20 million, excluding buyer's premium.
Zhang Daqian's Raincloud over Wushan, with a pre-sale estimate of HK$9 million to HK$12 million, was sold at the Tiancheng sale for HK$17.7 million. Wu Guanzhong's Spring fetched HK$6.49 million, falling within the pre-sale estimate of HK$6 million to HK$7 million.
Buyers took to works by modern masters at Christie's sales over the weekend, where three paintings by Zao Wou-ki went for well over the pre-sale estimates. Zao's Cerf volant et oiseaux fetched more than HK$35 million, more than double the high estimate of HK$15 million.
While imperial and modern works performed well, celebrated American contemporary artist Jeff Koons' Smooth Egg with Bow failed to sell at yesterday's SeoulAuction, among the 40 per cent of the 49 lots that did not find a buyer. The piece had a pre-sale estimate of HK$55 million to HK$75 million. Bidding stopped at about HK$54 million.
Nevertheless, Edgar Degas' 1897 cast of Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans fetched more than HK$13.6 million, a price within the pre-sale estimate of HK$12 million to HK$18 million. Zeng Fanzhi's Mask Series No5 went for more than HK$10 million, slightly higher than the high estimate of HK$9 million.
SeoulAuction acknowledged that mid-priced works by up-and-coming artists did not do well.
The auction results reflected buyers' cautious and conservative choices amid a grim global economic outlook, Hong Kong-based art dealer Calvin Hui said.