IT'S A LOT OF MONEY to pay for a former brolly stand, but at a Sotheby's auction later this month, an exceptionally rare, underglazed, blue and copper-red jar is expected to fetch more than $40 million. At the same auction, collectors are expected to dig deep also for a rare screen painting by Zhang Daqian, which could fetch a record price for modern Chinese paintings of more than $15 million. In 1972, upon realising the value of the piece, the former owner of the jar - a member of a Dutch aristocratic family who used it to hold umbrellas in their house - consigned it to Christie's in London. It sold for 210,000 guineas to a Japanese collector. This broke auction records for Chinese ceramics at the time. The jar, made in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), has no official seal, minor surface damage and is less intricate in appearance than much of the ceramic bearing imperial markings from the Qing and Ming dynasties, but is extremely coveted because of its historical significance. According to experts, it is one of the earliest examples of experimentation in colouring techniques, such as adding cobalt blue and copper pigments using complex methods. This technique wasn't completely refined until the 18th century, so such an early example is considered extremely rare. According to Nicholas Chow, Christie's deputy director of Chinese ceramics and works of art for China and Southeast Asia, collectors are expected to bid enthusiastically for this piece because it is one of a kind in the market. 'We have already exhibited it in New York and London and received tremendous interest from collectors,' he says. 'Once the auction is over, there is no telling when the piece will come on the market again. It's now or never.' Chow says the jar was probably produced in the Yangtze region for senior officials. The current record for a piece of Chinese porcelain is $40 million for a Jiajing fish jar, also sold through Sotheby's, in 2000. Collectors of master painter Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) are expected to fight over a monumental work entitled Crimson Lotuses On Gold Screen, created in his semi-abstract style. Zhang, a native of Sichuan, is widely considered the most influential Chinese painter of the 20th century, known for his versatility from traditional ink to modern splash paintings. The screen, produced during his stay in California, has its unique East-West influence executed in a remarkable splashed ink style. CK Cheung, senior director of Chinese paintings at Sotheby's, says: 'You can't really have an auction of modern Chinese paintings without featuring works by Zhang Daqian. He has almost become a benchmark of auctions.' The large screen, more than three metres long and painted in 1975, was consigned by a renowned Chinese film director and collector of Zhang's works. In the past few years, Hong Kong has become the auction hub for Chinese and Asian antiquities. Auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's host two sales a year of paintings, porcelain, imperial goods and jadeite. However, there is speculation about how well the forthcoming auctions will perform in the current economic climate. The first Asian art auctions of the season in New York performed dismally, with many of the lots unsold. But Henry Howard-Sneyd, managing director of Sotheby's for China and Southeast Asia, remains cautiously optimistic. 'I expect the top-end items to still do extremely well, but we have chosen carefully to reflect the sentiments of the market,' he says. 'The sales in New York feature works from much earlier periods, and Hong Kong is a different market with different focus.' Despite overall sale results, items such as porcelain, generally the auction highlight in Hong Kong, still performed very well. 'This is an indication that there is still interest among collectors,' Howard-Sneyd adds. The auctions will take place from Oct 28 to 30 at the Island Shangri-La Hotel, Admiralty.