Zao Wou-ki Heats Up Tepid Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale at Christie’s Hong Kong

Christie’s had a rough time during the first half of its Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale. The reception from buyers was tepid and a number of high-valued lots ended up being sold below estimates while some even went unsold. The sale stayed lethargic until Zao Wou-ki’s 29.01.64, the leading lot of the sale, appeared in the saleroom. The painting was sold for a record-smashing price of HK$202m (US$26m), a new auction record for the artist. Serving as a strong boost,  Zao Wou-ki’s 29.01.64  turned the table around by heating up the bidding of the remaining sale.  

As an old proverb says, “Well begun is half done.” It is also true when it comes to auctions. An ideal scenario for a well-begun auction is one having most of the lots hammered down at satisfactory prices during the first half. For the first part of the sale, Christie’s presented four paintings by Wu Guanzhong, a contemporary Chinese painter who was widely recognized as a founder of modern Chinese paintings.

White Birch


Yulong Mountain Under Moonlight was bought in.

A Village of Xishuangbanna

Golden Field

These four paintings were estimated at over HK$10m each. White Birch was hammered down at HK$11m, below its estimate of HK$12m-15m; estimated at HK$15m-20m, Yulong Mountain Under Moonlight was bought in at HK$10m; A Village of Xishuangbanna was hammered down at HK$14m, below its estimate of HK$16m-26m; Golden Field was hammered down after 10 bid increments at HK$19.5m, below its estimate of HK$22m-28m.

Sanyu, a painter hailed as the 'Chinese Matisse'

Another highlight was Sanyu’s Bouquet de Marguerites, carrying an estimate of HK$50m-60m. Started at HK$30m, the bidding continued until the price reached HK$43m.

The auctioneer waited for a long while but no subsequent bid followed. The painting was hammered down at HK$43m (US$5.5m) and sold to the client of Vickie Sek, Deputy Chairman and Director of Jewelry Asia.

The gloomy mood in the sale was lightened up by the arrival of a star lot – Zao wou-ki’s 29.01.64 with an estimate of HK$85m-125m. The painting sparked an intense bidding battle lasted for 15 minutes and was hammered down at HK$178m (US$22.89m). It was sold for HK$202m (US$26m), setting a new auction record for the artist and the world record for an oil painting by any Asian artist.

Buyers were more enthusiastic during the second half of the sale. Another painting by Zao Wou-ki, 8.11.79, offered an opening bid of HK$8m and received 35 bid increments before the hammered put down at HK$420m. The painting was sold for HK$49.6m (US$6.38m), far exceeding its pre-sale estimate HK$12m-18m.   

Midnight Vampire


The enthusiasm extended to the end of the auction. Some highlights from the later part of the sale also achieved great results. Yoshitomo Nara’s Midnight Vampire and MIA were sold for HK$17.5m and HK$22.9m, almost a double of their estimates. The sale achieved a total of HK$604m (US$77.7m) despite its bumpy start.

Paintings with prices realized over HK$20m

Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013). 29.01.64

Lot no.: 24
Created in: 1964
Size: 260 x 200cm
Signed in Chinese, signed ‘ZAO’ (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed ‘Zao Wou-Ki 29.1.64 260 x 200. ne pas vernir’ (on the reverse)
Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist by the present owner)
Note: This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki.
Estimate: HK$85,000,000 - 125,000,000
Hammer price: HK$178,000,000
Price realized: HK$202,600,000

Sanyu (1895-1966). Bouquet de Marguerites.

Lot no.: 21
Created in: 1931
Size: 81.2 x 45cm
Signed in Chinese, signed ‘SANYU’ (upper left); signed ‘SANYU’ dated ‘1.1931’ (on the reverse)

  • Collection of Henri-Pierre Roche, Paris, France
  • Collection of Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris, France
  • Dimensions Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Taipei, 22 March 1992, Lot 29
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 60,000,000
Hammer price: HK$43,00,000
Price realized: HK$50,725,000

Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013). 8.11.79.

Lot no.: 32
Created in: 1979
Size: 90 x 116.7cm
Signed in Chinese; signed ‘ZAO’ (lower right); signed and titled ‘ZAO WOU-KI 8. 11. 79’ (on the reverse)

  • Anon. sale; Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November 2006, Lot 243
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
  • Private Collection, Asia

Note: This work is referenced in the archive of the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).
Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer price: HK$42,00,000
Price realized: HK$49,600,000

Yayoi Kusama. Untitled.

Lot no.: 38
Created in: circa 1960
Size: 102 x 142.2cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist and thence by descent to the present owner
  • Private Collection, USA

Note: This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist’s studio.
Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 32,000,000
Hammer price: HK$28,00,000
Price realized: HK$33,700,000

Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010). Golden Field.

Lot no.: 8
Created in: 1977
Size: 61.3 x 46cm
Provenance: Private Collection, Asia
Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer price: HK$19,500,000
Price realized: HK$23,500,000

Yoshitomo Nara. MIA.

Lot no.: 54
Created in: 2001
Size: 180 x 180 x 26cm
Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Private Collection, Europe
Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 16,000,000
Hammer price: HK$19,000,000
Price realized: HK$22,900,000

Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014). Poussée Cristalline (Unrevealed Crystal).

Lot no.: 34
Created in: 1998-1999
Size: 200 x 200cm
Signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘CHU TEH-CHUN. 98-99.’ (lower right); signed and titled in Chinese, signed, titled, and dated ‘POUSSÉE CRISTALLINE CHU TEH-CHUN 1998’ (on the reverse)

  • Anon. sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 31 October 2004, Lot 651
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
  • Private Collection, USA

Note: The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by The Chu Teh-Chun Foundation, Geneva.
Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 16,000,000
Hammer price: HK$18,500,000
Price realized: HK$22,300,000


Auction result

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Asian 20th Century and Contemporary (Evening Sale)
Date: 2017/11/25
Sale total: HK$604,522,500
No. of lots: 58
Sold: 48
Unsold: 10
Sell-through rate: 83%
Average price per lot: HK$12,594,218