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Pablo Picasso’s Buste d’homme dans un cadre (1969), from the estate of actor Sean Connery was sold for US$22 million at the recent Christie’s auction. Photo: Christie’s

Christie’s Hong Kong spring auctions set records for art, wine and watch sales, with Sean Connery’s Picasso reaching US$22 million

  • Total sales revenue was up nine per cent on 2021, at US$428 million, with Zao Wou-ki’s painting 29.09.64 fetching US$35.6 million
  • A Picasso from actor Sean Connery’s estate sold for US$22 million, while a live auction of almost 15,000 bottles of wine raised US$17 million (including fees)

Total sales from Christie’s spring Hong Kong auctions, which coincided with the Art Basel Hong Kong art fair, reached US$428 million, 9 per cent higher than the spring sales in 2021, with a number of record prices set in the wine, watches and 20th and 21st century art categories.

However, paintings by Zhang Daqian, Claude Monet and a non-fungible token (NFT) by Takashi Murakami and Nike-owned collectibles brand RTFKT failed to sell, which the auction house’s Asia president, Francis Belin, blamed on China’s border closure and volatility in the cryptocurrency market.

“We think the works were rightly estimated. The Zhang Daqian, like the Monet, suffered from a lack of touring in mainland China. Collectors need to see the paintings themselves at this [price] level,” Belin said following the conclusion of the 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale on May 26, which featured Monet’s Saule Pleureur (1919) with an estimate of US$12.1 million to US$17.2 million, and Zhang’s Temple by the Waterfall (1963), estimated at US$7.6 million to US$10.2 million.

Josh Baer, an art adviser in the United States, said that bids for Impressionist masterpieces would also suffer from the “market fatigue” that followed the US$2.5 billion auctions in New York earlier in May.

Christie’s Asia president Francis Belin says the demand for art remains strong in China. Photo: Christie’s

Despite concerns about China’s economic slowdown, Belin said recent indications suggest demand for art remains strong in China. “Our March auction in Shanghai was the highest grossing in history, with 95 per cent of the lots sold,” he said.

The evening sale was live-streamed online and attracted bidding from all over the world, he said, adding that the decision to sell Pablo Picasso’s Buste d’homme dans un cadre (1969) in Hong Kong paid off.

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“It was sold to an Asian collector. The Picasso came from the estate of Sean Connery and we knew it would stand out here. In New York, it would be competing against other works. Here, we put it in the spotlight,” he said.

Auctioneer Georgina Hilton even donned a white suit and black tie to highlight the “007” provenance of this painting of a matador, before striking a hammer price of US$19.1, or US$22 million including fees for the auction house. (The identity of the buyer is unknown, as the bid was placed on the phone through Christie’s contemporary art specialist Cristian Albu.)

It was the second-highest price paid for a Picasso sold in Asia, albeit far lower than the US$67.5 million fetched by Femme nue couchee (1932) in a Sotheby’s New York sale on May 17. The most expensive Picasso sold at auction is The Women of Algiers (Version ‘O’) (1955), which went for US$179.3 million at a Christie’s New York sale in 2015.

Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014), by Adrian Ghenie, fetched US$10.4 million. Photo: Christie’s

Other highlights from the Hong Kong evening sale include Zao Wou-Ki’s 29.09.64 (1964), which sold for a final price of US$35.6 million, making it the top lot across all categories in the spring series.

Eleven world records were set for artists, including Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie, whose Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014) sold for US$10.4 million, and for Scott Kahn. The American artist, now in his 70s, began to attract a lot of attention recently in auctions, initially because of his friendship with the late Matthew Wong, whose paintings have been much in demand at auctions since his death at a young age.

Evelyn Lin, co-head of the 20th and 21st century art department for Christie’s Asia-Pacific, said the buyer who paid a record price of US$1.4 million for Kahn’s Big House, Homage to America (2012) was an Asian client new to Christie’s who does not own any of Wong’s paintings. “In the end, they are two very different markets,” she said.

Weight (2013), by Firenze Lai Ching-yin, was sold for just over US$637,000. Photo: Christie’s

A new record was also set for Hong Kong-born Firenze Lai Ching-yin, whose Weight (2013) was sold for just over US$637,000 including fees. The buyer is in Hong Kong, Lin said, and the price showed collectors are increasingly of the view that Hong Kong art is underpriced compared with mainland Chinese art.

There was healthy bidding in other categories during the 10-day annual sales, including for wine and watches. “The Visionary’s Spectacular Cellar Sale”, an online and live auction on May 21 of 14,815 bottles of wine, fetched a total (including fees) of US$17 million.

The top lot was 12 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti 1999 burgundy, which sold for US$382,000 including fees. Proceeds will go to the seller’s alma mater, the London Business School.

Big House, Homage to America (2012), by Scott Kahn, sold for US$1.4 million. Photo: Christie’s
This is the highest-value single-owner wine collection sold by Christie’s anywhere in the world, and followed last month’s US$8.1 million sale of Joseph Lau Luen-hung’s wine collection.

Twenty-one world records were set for watches during the week. The top lot in that category was a Patek Philippe 18-carat pink gold wristwatch made in around 2010 that sold for US$3.1 million against a presale low estimate of US$1.3 million.

As for the unsold Clone X – X Takashi Murakami (2021) NFT (estimated at US$637,000 to US$892,000), Belin said it was because of the volatility in the cryptocurrency market and a natural price adjustment after the runaway growth of the market since 2021.

“We believe in the work. When a work doesn’t sell we don’t think it’s a problem with the work itself. Prices for nascent technology go through ups and downs. The market may go through price adjustments – we never said it would never happen. But that’s what happened to the early tech companies during the dotcom bubble, too,” he said.