2017 Retrospective: Key Events at Auction World|First Half of the Year

The auction world is welcoming another exciting year as the peak season approaches. While we are looking forward to more record-breaking, breath-taking moments in 2018, The Value team has picked out some monumental events at auctions in the past year to refresh your memory. Here is our selection from the first half of 2017.


The Mind-Blowing Auction of the Year
Christie's New York - Important Chinese Art from the Fujita Museum

The sale achieved an eye-watering total of more than US$262m with important Chinese works of art offered by The Fujita Art Museum, one of Japan's leading cultural institutions. Six Dragons by Chen Rong, the top lot of the sale, fetched nearly US$49m, 40 times its low estimate. The painting was recorded in Shiqu Baoji, the famous catalogue ordered by the Qianlong emperor so as to systematically organise court objects. A bronze ritual wine vessel (fangzun) from late Shang dynasty fetched US$37.2m, breaking the record for bronze wine vessel. This sale is considered by many connoisseurs and collectors as the most mind-blowing auction in recent years or even decade.


Most Expensive Indian Buddhist Figure
Christie's New York - A Black Stone Figure of Lokanatha Avalokiteshvara, 12th Century

Made in the 12th century, the 147cm-tall figure, cast in the size of a human being, was carved from a complete, raw black stone. The seated Buddhist deity represents Lokanatha, revered as the embodiment of compassion. As depicted, Lokanatha naturally leans her body slightly to the left, with a lotus flower blossoming in her hand. Though its forearms and feet are lost after being handed down for 900 years, the figure attracted discerning collectors with its rich historical value and exquisite craftsmanship. The figure sold for US$24.6m, an auction record for Indian Buddhist figure.



Second Most Expensive Ming Porcelain
Sotheby's Hong Kong - Blue and White Lobed 'F
ish Pond' Bowl Mark and Period of Xuande

Estimated at HK$100m, the Blue and White Lobed 'Fish Bond' Bowl from the Xuande period was offered at its single-lot sale. Exquisitely potted, the ten-lobed mallow-shaped bowl is depicted with a dense and dynamic scene of four fishes swimming amidst water plants. There are two similar bowls in the collection of National Palace Museum in Taipei but they are smaller than this one. The bowl fetched HK$229m, the second highest price for any Ming porcelain, following the recording-smashing Doucai 'Chicken Cup' from Chenghua.


Most Expensive Diamond or Jewel
Sotheby's Hong Kong - CTF Pink Star

The Pink Star, a 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut Fancy Vivid Pink Internally Flawless diamond, sold for HK$553 million (US$71.2 million). The Pink Star was acquired by renowned jeweller Chow Tai Fook, with the winning telephone bid placed by Dr. Henry Cheng Kar-Shun, Chairman of the company. It has been renamed CTF PINK STAR.



Christie's London - A Pair of Famille Rose 'Butterfly' Double-gourd Vases, Qianlong period

Inscribed with six-character seal marks, the pair of Famille Rose enamelled double-gourd vessels are decorated with butterflies and flowers. Only four other single vases of this type appear to have been published. The pair of vases sold for £14.7m, far exceeding its estimate £2m-3m.


Cambi Casa d'Aste Milano - A Gilt Bronze Figure of Standing Amitayus, 17th Century

Composed of the body and the pedestal, the 68.5cm-tall figure is a typical sculpture from Zanabazar school. The facial expression is relaxed and strong at once: the arched eyebrows meet at the tip of the nose to frame the eyes, that are elegantly curved in deep meditation. The body is proportioned according to the standards of Tibetan iconography, allowing a sense of naturalness to shine through. The figure sold for a staggering €39m.


Most Expensive Artwork Created After 1980
Sotheby's New York - Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled

Untitled, created by Michel Basquiat in 1982, achieved a record-shattering US$110.5m, the highest price paid at auction for a work by an American artist and for any artwork created after 1980. The work was acquired by Yusaku Maezawa, aged 42, a Japanese entrepreneur who founded the company Start Today and online fashion retail website, Zozotown. According to Forbes in 2017, Maezawa is estimated to have a net worth of US$3.6 billion and ranks the 14th richest person in Japan.


Most Expensive Chinese Monochrome Porcelain (if the buyer had settled the payment)
Christie's Hong Kong - A Tang-Style ‘Double-Dragon’ Celadon-Glazed Amphora, Yongzheng Period

Impressed with Yongzheng six-character seal mark in underglazed blue, the Tang-Style “Double-Dragon” Celadon-Glazed Amphora” has a baluster body that moulded with three sets of double bowstring bands, the uppermost band on the shoulder is overlaid with six tear-drop shaped appliqués with further two below each of the double-strap handles. There are four other similar amphorae, three in museum collection while one in private hands with damage on the handle. The one offered at the sale, well-preserved in good condition, sold for HK$140m with buyer's premium. It set the world record for Chinese monochrome porcelain. The transaction later evolved into a lawsuit as the buyer failed to pay the outstanding payment. As the lawsuit took place in the second half of the year, we will discuss in details in our next article.


The then auction record for Zao Wou-ki
Christie's Hong Kong - Zao Wou-ki's

29.09.64, 230 x 345cm in size, the painting offers a dramatic battle of large dark brushstrokes structuring the composition together with splashes of brilliant white fighting an underneath rusty orange in the middle. The painting elicited an intense bidding and sold to a Southeast Asian collector for HK$152m, setting the auction record for the artist at the time until it was superseded by a higher record made at Christie's Hong Kong in the second half of 2017.



Most Expensive Work of German Expressionism
Christie's London -
Max Beckmann's Hölle der Vögel (Bird's Hell)

Larry Gagosian, owner of the Gagosian Gallery

Hölle der Vögel (Birds’ Hell), created by Max Beckmann before WWII, is an allegory of Nazi Germany. It is a direct attack on the cruelty and conformity that the National Socialist seizure of power brought to Beckmann’s homeland. The painting sold for £36m with buyer's premium to Larry Gagosian, making it the most expensive work of German Expressionism. Rumor has it that Larry Gagosian, the owner of the Gagosian Gallery, was acting on behalf of Leon Black, an American businessman specializing in leveraged buyouts and private equity.