Bonhams' Hong Kong Spring Auction Week has just wrapped up, and it was a huge success, drawing in eager biddings from collectors from 26 different countries and regions. Notably, Mainland Chinese collectors were the most enthusiastic, ranking at the top of the bidding charts with a remarkable 37.6% increase from last season.
This season marks a milestone for Bonhams' Modern and Contemporary Art Department in Hong Kong. Two sales combined brought in HK$61 million, the highest-ever achieved since the international auction house established its presence in Asia, and a figure went well beyond the pre-sale total high estimate.
Other categories also had their share of memorable moments, such as the sale of a 3,000-year-old jade gui, a Qianlong imperial calligraphy couplet, highly sought-after Patek Philippe watches, a one-of-225 limited edition Highland Park 54-year-old whisky, and a stunning 7-carat Fancy Vivid Yellow diamond ring.
On the occasion, let us take a look at the key figures and highlight sales from each department.
Preview exhibition at Bonhams Hong Kong
Marcello Kwan | Head of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bonhams Asia
Bonhams Hong Kong Spring Auctions this year attracted a diverse range of collectors. Impressively, 34% of its clients were first-time buyers. With the rapid digitization of the industry in the wake of the pandemic, online bidders accounted for 31% of collector this season. Millennials also made up 8% of its total client base.
"Bonhams Hong Kong 2023 Spring Sales recorded an impressive increase of over 10% in total sales compared to last year’s Autumn Sales. The Modern and Contemporary Art Department secured a historic record high, while the total sales of Chinese paintings and calligraphy almost doubled. We sincerely thank our collectors and friends for their support and trust.
Through hosting exhibitions in Singapore, Taipei, and Shanghai, we furthered our brand-building efforts and expanded our reach to new collectors in the Asian region. While going global, Bonhams remains dedicated to our local collectors. For the past Spring Auction Preview, we also included 20 carefully selected artworks from the Alain Delon Collection, which is to be sold this June in Paris, showcasing the strength of our global network.
Thanks to our strategic approach, 34% of the buyers this season were new comers, and the total sales were up 12% from last season. Committed to providing the best service to our collectors, we will strive to explore and expand our business and opportunities in the Asian region."
– Julia Hu, Managing Director, Bonhams Asia
Julia Hu | Managing Director, Bonhams Asia
Blair Zhang | Head of Business Development, Asia and Deputy Chairman, Bonhams
Post-war and Contemporary Art
The record-breaking success of this season is largely thanks to the single-owner sale of Manfred Schoeni's collection of Chinese contemporary art. Carefully curated, the grouping of 14 paintings tells the story of a trailblazing generation of Chinese art that came to the forefront of the global art stage in the 1990s and 2000s.
Biddings were robust across the dedicated sale, with all but one lots finding a new buyer. The top two lots went to pieces of significance by celebrated Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, whose Mask 2000 No. 3 and Class One Series No. 2 achieved HK$24.7 million and HK$4.13 million respectively.
Other top-selling lots of the sale included works by renowned Chinese artists Liu Xiaodong and Liu Wei. Testimony to Asia's strong appetite for Chinese contemporary art, works by Chen Danqing, Zhang Gong, and Yang Shaobin all garnered heavy interests, selling for multiples of estimates.
Zeng Fanzhi | Mask 2000 No.3, Oil on canvas
Created in 2000, 180 x 150 cm
Meanwhile, the demand for young contemporary art is showing no sign of slowing down.
Across the Modern & Contemporary Art and Southeast Asian Art Sale, works by post-80s artists were hotly contested, such as the top lot – Ayako Rokkaku's Untitled, the largest-yet canvas by the artist to appear at auction. Attracting fierce bidding, it eclipsed high estimate and achieved HK$4.1 million.
Apart from that, auction record was set for Australian artist Glendon Cordell, whose Five Trees Standing Watch exceeded estimate by five times and fetched HK$537,400. Hong Kong artist Stephen Wong Chun Hei is also enjoying growing momentum, with his local landscape painting Tao Fung Shan selling six times the estimate for HK$537,400.
Equally coveted, post-90s Mainland Chinese artist Zhang Zipiao's Lily 03 demanded more than four times its estimate, reaching HK$1.21 million – a record price for the artist at auction.
Ayako Rokkaku | Untitled, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2007, 260 x 350 cm
While Chinese and Western contemporary art has already risen to the fore in Asian market, in recent years Southeast Asia is emerging as a new force with enormous potential.
Indicative of the new market trend, Bonhams' Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Sale saw over half of the section soar above high estimate, raking in HK$7.63 million.
Notably, Vietnamese works of art continue to see thriving interests among collectors, with all 20 lots of Vietnamese Art sold at the sale. The headliner for this section was Nguyen Phan Chanh’s Retour au village, which achieved HK$2 million, surpassing the estimate by eight times. Avant-garde artist Mai Trung Thu’s L'Écharpe Bleue came in second place, selling for HK$1.4 million and exceeding high estimate.
Nguyen Phan Chanh | Retour au village, Ink and colour on silk laid on board
Created in 1955, 85 x 65 cm
Gigi Yu | Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Bonhams Hong Kong
Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art
The star of Chinese Works of Art Sales was a white jade ceremonial blade, gui, dating back to the Shang dynasty.
With concern over the authenticity and the proper dating of jades offered in the market, archaic jades with illustrious provenance became highly sought-after by collectors and connoisseurs in recent years, many a time eliciting fierce bidding wars.
And such was case for the present lot, which surpassed the estimate by nearly two times and realised an impressive HK$11.3 million. Boasting an exceptional provenance, the lot came from The Sze Yuan Tang Collection, owned by Anthony Hardy, a famed Hong Kong collector and the founder of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.
A white jade ceremonial blade, gui
As the Shang belived in afterlife, ritual ceremonies and ancestor worship played an essential part in their lives. Standing as a symbol of power, the jade gui ceremonial blade were held by kings, dukes, and princes on ceremonial occasions.
The present jade gui is noteworthy for the unusual inclusion of cicada-formed notches. Since cicadas spend years underground before emerging, the insect was used by the Shang as a symbol of rebirth in the afterlife.
An underglaze-blue and copper-red double-gourd vase
Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period
Height: 18.5 cm
For ceramics, leading the section was an imperial underglaze-blue and copper-red double-gourd vase of Yongzheng mark and period, which fetched HK$5.46 million.
A revolutionary creation in the Imperial workshop, the present piece is very rare, with only an almost identical blue and white vase with copper red of the same shape from the Qing Court Collection published.
Another stellar lot was a pair of imperial underglaze-blue and puce-enamelled brush handles, which sold for HK$2.4 million, tripling the estimate. In the antiques circle, pieces that could fit into the palm are highly valued, especially writing brushes that symbolize the emperor's scholarly spirit.
And the oustanding provenance of the present pair of brush handles speaks for itself – it came from the collection of Robert Chang, a legendary collector and dealer in the field of Chinese art.
A pair of imperial underglaze-blue and puce-enamelled brush handles
Iron-red Qianlong seal marks and of the period
Iris Miao | Senior International Consultant of Chinese Paintings, Bonhams
Rex Lin | Senior Specialist, Chinese Paintings, Bonhams
A major highlight of the sale was an extremely rare calligraphy couplet written by the Qianlong Emperor himself in running script. After nearly 60 competitive bids from interested collectors, it was sold for HK$9.71 million, surpassing its estimate by more than two times.
Despite having graced the walls of the Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony within the Forbidden City for more than 250 years, the couplet is preserved in a near-perfect condition with its original frame retained, making it a true collector's item.
Through the calligraphy of an imperial poem, the Emperor reveals his administrative ambitions: the first line stresses on the significance of the arts, while the second emphasizes the importance of agriculture as the foundation of the country.
Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) | Calligraphy couplet in Running Script
Rarity aside, strong provenance remains important to collectors, as demonstrated by the strong performances of several private collections offered at the sale.
All four works from the collection of Malaysian rubber magnate Shum Yip Leong were sold, including two paintings by Xu Beihong, and works by Zhang Dannong and Guan Shanyue. Under the spotlight was a rare floral painting by Xu Beihong, White Plum Blossoms. Attracting a lot of eager biddings, it soared nearly five times the estimate to achieve HK$3.87 million.
Hailed as the Father of Modern Chinese Painting, Xu was a pioneer of 20th century Chinese art, best known for his highly expressive ink-and-wash paintings. Besides being a talented artist, Xu Beihong was also a patriot at heart.
During the Anti-Japanese War in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the master painter donated all the funds raised from his art exhibitions to support the war effort. And the present lot, painted in 1939, conveys his deep concern for the country and people through white plum blossoms, which symbolize purity and nobleness.
Xu Beihong (1895-1953) | White Plum Blossoms
The sale also saw all four paintings from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lin Hsin Man sell, led by Song Wenzhi's Spring Morning at Donting Lake.
Passionate about art, the couple embarked on their collecting journey in the late 1970s. With frequent visits to gallery and museum, they became familiar with Tsi Ku Chai, a famous antiques dealer in Hong Kong, and were able to gather classical masterpieces by contemporary Chinese artist.
Painted in 1977, Spring Morning at Donting Lake was created by the artist as a gift to the couple. Making its auction debut, the lot brought in HK$766,000, surpassing the estimate by 7.6 times.
Other impressive private collections that generated remarkable sell-through rate included Treasured Works by the Ingenious Pu Ru from Taiwan; Mark S. Pratt, Washington D.C.; and Mingzhai from Malaysia.
Song Wenzhi (1919-1999) | Spring Morning at Donting Lake
Stewart Young | Director of Jewellery and Head of Jewellery, Bonhams Asia
Recent years have witnessed a surge of interest in coloured diamonds from collectors and investors alike. With its global production taken a hit influenced by the outbreak of the pandemic, coloured diamonds often demanded even higher prices that those of traditional white diamonds at auctions.
Riding on the momentum, Bonhams presented a wide array of coloured diamonds this season. Among them, a Paraiba-type tourmaline weighing 103.4 carats exceeded expectations, achieving HK$1.9 million, more than three times the estimate.
The most expensive lot went to an exquisite 7.09-carat Fancy Vivid Yellow Diamond ring, which fetched HK$2.54 million.
7.09-carat Fancy Vivid Yellow Diamond and Diamond Ring | Internally Flawless clarity with Excellent Polish
Glowing rich in a captivating yellow hue, the centerstone weighs 7.09 carats, and was graded by GIA as Fancy Vivid Yellow, the highest level of Fancy grading for yellow diamonds. It receives a clarity grade of Internally Flawless, meaning it is eye-clean without visible imperfections.
Paraiba-type tourmaline, on the other hand, is prized for its vivid blue-green hue, which comes from the presence of copper in its composition. This impurity gives the gemstone its vibrant color, which ranges from a bright turquoise to a deep ocean blue.
Kat Florence: Paraiba-type tourmaline and diamond pendent necklace
Sharon Chan | Director of Watches, Bonhams Asia
Bonhams prides itself on a unique positioning in the core market, which focuses on items priced under HK$10 million. Attesting to the strength of its strategic curation, Bonhams Watches reached a 16-year high in Asia last year, while taking out an auction record for Cartier’s first-ever mystery clock “Model A”.
This season, Cartier continues to take the spotlight, with a Crash yellow gold wristwatch sparking spirited competition before selling above estimates for HK$1.27 million.
Reaffirming the market’s strong demand for luxury sport watches, the sale also saw two Patek Philippe Nautilus models attract heavy interests from collectors and fetch over HK$1 million.
Catier, Paris | Crash, A limited production yellow gold wristwatch
Made in 1991
Straight out of the Swinging Sixties, the Crash was first conceived in Cartier’s London boutique and released in 1967. An avant-garde design that’s rightly considered a Surrealist work of art, the timepiece was an instant sensation, beloved by connoisseurs for its daring, innovative style.
Due to its asymmetrical, distorted case shape, the watch had to be made by hand, resulting in limited quantities in its original production. After the initial batch, Cartier went on to produce a small number of variants over the following decades, and the present piece is one of only 400 watches created by Cartier Paris in 1991.
Patek Philippe | Nautilus "Jumbo" – Retailed by Tiffany & Co., Ref. 3700/11, A stainless steel bracelet watch with date
Introduced in 1976 in a counter response to Quartz Crisis, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was designed by legendary Swiss watchmaker, Gerald Genta, who also gave birth to Audemars Piguet's classic Royal Oak Collection in the 1970s.
When Ref. 3700 was launched as the very first model of the Nautilus family, it was billed by the Maison as possibly the world’s costliest watch made of stainless steel, a material that was previously associated with more utilitarian watches.
And the present watch, bearing the reference 3700/11, is a variant launched after the Maison built the manufacture of cases and bracelets in their Ateliers Réunis workshops. It was retailed and stamped by Tiffany & Co., making it an incredibly rare find in the market. In fact, the present watch is only the fourth example ever appears on auction market for all these years.
Patek Philippe | Nautilus, Ref. 5711/1R-001, A pink gold bracelet watch with date
In 2006, the brand launched a series of new models for the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus series – including the Reference 5711/1A, one of the most popular models with a sapphire crystal display back and an iconic rounded octagonal case.
Based on its simple and timeless design, the Maison further introduced different versions made with precious metals and gemstones, such as the present piece. Highlighting the model’s understated luxurious style, it is fitted with an 18k pink gold case and bracelet, complemented by a charming “chocolate” brown dial.
Wine and Whisky
Bonhams has always taken pride in the category of whisky. In 2020, Bonhams Hong Kong made waves in the market when it sold a bottle of first edition Yamazaki 55-Year-Old for HK$6.2 million (nearly US$800,000), setting a new auction record for a Japanese whisky.
Cementing its leading position in the market, Bonhams also holds the record for a Japanese whisky collection, with HK$11.89 million (US$1.53 million) for the Hanyu Ichiro's Full Card Series.
This season, Bonhams presented yet another pleasant surprise to the market – the Highland Park 54-year-old single malt scotch whisky, the brand’s oldest release to date and a limited edition of 225 bottles to celebrate the Orkney-based distillery’s 225th anniversary this year. Sold to benefit Save The Children Fund, the bottle yielded HK$375,000.
The winning bidder for the bottle at Bonhams auction will also receive a unique experience in the home of Highland Park. The lucky buyer later shared his bidding experience on social media, generating quite a buzz on the internet.
Highland Park-54 year old
As for Japanese whisky, this season's sales was spearheaded by 'ghost' distillery Karuizawa, with two pairs of the Geisha series selling above HK$360,000.
The first set, featuring blue and gold Geisha respectively, were casked in sherry barrels since 1974, and both bottled in 2014. The Gold Geisha is one of 392 bottles, while the Blue is one of 192 bottles.
Karuizawa-1974-40 year old | Cask #3626-Gold Geisha and Cask #4560-Blue Geisha
Karuizawa-29 year old-Cask #8897-Aika Geisha and 30 year old-Cask #5347-Aika Geisha
In 2014, this second pair of whiskies in the Karuizawa Geisha range – 29-year-old Cask #8894 and 30-year-old Cask #5347 – was launched at The Whisky Exchange's Whisky Show. Each of the bottles features a mirror-image label of a fully-fledged geisha hiding behind her fan.
This was the first pair in the Geisha series to feature the now iconic mirror-image labels designed by Elixir Distillers creative director Raj 'Mr C' Chavda.