Sotheby’s Asia expects to weather market turmoil and has a few choice lots in its autumn sales

Hong Kong auction pieces include 18th century imperial paintings and extemely rare Ming brush washer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:01pm

Sotheby’s is hoping that the inclusion of some rare items in its autumn Hong Kong sales, set for October 3-7, will help ward off the effects of the recent market turmoil. Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman for Sotheby’s Asia and head of its Chinese works of art department, admits the global share sell off and August’s devaluation of the yuan had made the auction house “more cautious than usual”. At the same time, he did not expect total sales to be lower than last season.

“It is a test, but in times like these, people want to put their money in something very solid. I am not sure we will feel the effect of the market fall,” he says.

Summer is a fairly quiet period on the international auction scene, and so far, there has been little sign of a slowdown since the Shanghai stock market began its fall in June.

A  Southeast Asian bidder paid HK$918,750 for one bottle of 1960 Karuizawa whisky at a Bonhams sale in Hong Kong last week, setting a record for a Japanese whisky.

The October Sotheby’s sales will include a full-length portrait of Emperor Qianlong’s  favourite consort by Giuseppe Castiglione, the Milanese court painter who served three Qing dynasty emperors in Beijing from 1715 until his death in 1766. The calm and elegant seated figure was rendered more lifelike with the use of European-style shadowing while the costume was painted with exquisite attention to detail.

Few of Castiglione’s imperial portraits remain in private hands, and this sale  will feature three such works, says Sam Shum, senior specialist in Chinese works of art. The portrait of consort Chunhui  is expected to fetch more than HK$60 million, excluding the buyer’s premium.

Another work in the sales that Sotheby’s specialists describe as extremely rare is a Ming dynasty blue-and-white brush washer from the period of Emperor Xuande. Two carp are seen swimming among wonderfully stylised seaweed and the quality of the underglaze-blue is very high, according to Chinese art specialist Julian King.  

An almost identical dish without the metal-bound rim seen in this version was sold for HK$51 million, including the buyer’s premium, in Sotheby’s 2011 Meiyintang sale in Hong Kong. The brush washer that is going under the hammer in October has an estimate of HK$20 million to HK$40 million. The conservative range was partly due to a couple of small flaws at the back,  says Chow.

Apart from the regular auctions by category, the October sales feature a number of special sales that include the Castiglione portrait, a selection of Ming dynasty furniture owned by local collector Dr Yip Shing-yiu, nine works of art commissioned for palaces in the Qing  dynasty and a collection of Buddhist sculptures in the Vajrayana  tradition.