HK$58.6m Zhang Daqian Painting Leads Christie’s Chinese Modern Paintings Auction

Christie’s Fine Chinese Modern Paintings auction totalled HK$325m, achieving a 71% sell-through rate. The centrepiece of the sale was the Zhang Daqian’s Red Lotus and Mandarin Ducks featured on the catalogue cover, which was hammered down at HK$50m and sold for HK$58.6m (US$7.5m) with premium included.

Red Lotus and Mandarin Ducks

Zhang Daqian

Zhang Daqian, a celebrated Chinese painter, has always dominated the top spots when his works are offered at auctions, and there is no exception for this sale. The top two lots were both paintings by Zhang Daqian. Let’s start with the winning lot, Red Lotus and Mandarin Ducks from 1943.

Zhang Daqian was a prolific artist and his lotus paintings are not uncommon. Yet, there exists only two examples that feature both his gold-outlined red lotuses and meticulously painted mandarin ducks. The first one was treasured in the Meiyuntang. This second example was gifted to an entrepreneur who was an important sponsor of the artist while he was in Dunhuang, Mr Li, and his wife.

Zhang Daqian studied Buddhistt mural paintings in Dunhuang

Red Lotus and Mandarin Ducks was painted during the summer of guiwei year (1943), right at the time when Zhang Daqian left Dunhuang to return to Chengdu. The span of two years and seven months in Dunhuang proved to be a pivotal experience in his development. Emerging from Zhang Daqian’s artistic renaissance were examples of his most exquisite and magnificent meticulous bird-and-flower paintings of the 1940s during the artist’s prime.

The painting is also noted for its large size, measuring 165 x 82 cm. It is rare to see a large painting with gold-outlined red lotuses from Zhang Daqian’s transitional period like the present one. It was estimated at HK$30m-50m.

The gentleman in blue knitted vest was competing with another room bidder in the front row

After the auctioneer started the bidding at HK$20m, the bidding was mainly between a gentleman in blue knitted vest and an absentee bidder on the book, until another room bidder in black shirt entered the bidding battle with a bid of HK$28m.

The two bidders were both tenacious and pushing the price up to the low estimate HK$30m and beyond. The auctioneer brought the hammer down at HK$50m, a winning bid offered by the room bidder in black shirt, followed by a round of applause in the saleroom. The painting sold for HK$58.6m with premium included.

Zhang Daqian’s Landscape at Sunset, estimated at HK$8m-12m, realised the second highest price at the sale. After Zhang Daqian relocated to São Paulo in 1954, he developed a deep friendship with Li Zizhang, who was the artist’s neighbour in Brazil. The marriage of the artist’s youngest daughter and the son of the Li family had brought the two families closer than ever. Zhang had gifted several high-quality paintings of his to Zizhang, including the present one. The painting was hammered down at HK$12m and sold for HK$14.5m.

Qi Baishi

Beside Zhang Daqian’s paintings, Qi Baishi’s Hongxian Stealing a Box also elicited intense bidding battle at the sale. Qi Baishi studied painting by imitating the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden in his early years, as a result, his lady figures was deeply influenced by Qing Dynasty meticulous brush (gongbi) style. The artist favoured historical stories and folklores as subjects for this style of paintings, the fine examples of which had garnered him the name of “Belle Qi.”

Due to the few number of extant examples of the same subject-matter by Qi, Hongxian Stealing a Box is rare and precious. The painting tells the story of Hongxian, a fictional heroine from the Tang Dynasty, who steals the golden box of the opposing commander at war, Tian Chengsi, to prevent a war from happening. Qi appreciated both the story and the image of Hongxian, thus created works of the same theme many times.

Hongxian Stealing a Box was hammered down at HK$10m and sold for HK$12.1m, far exceeding the presale estimate of HK$5m-8m.

Top five paintings at the sale

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Red Lotus and Mandarin Ducks

Lot no.: 1376
Size: 165 x 82cm
Created in: 1943
Inscribed and signed, with two seals of the artist
Important Hong Kong Private Collection
Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - $50,000,000
Hammer price: HK$50,000,000
Price realised: HK$58,600,000

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Landscape at Sunset

Lot no.: 1231
Size: 63.5 x 128.3cm
Created in: 1969
Inscribed and signed, with three seals of the artist
Dated eighteenth day, fifth month, fifty-eighth year (of the Republic), jiyou year (1969)
Dedicated to Zizhang and Madame Maowen
Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Fine Modern and Contemporary Chinese Paintings, 28 October 1993, Lot 908.
Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 10,000,000
Hammer price: HK$12,000,000
Price realised: HK$14,500,000

Qi Baishi (1863-1957). Hongxian Stealing a Box

Lot no.: 1441
Size: 136.5 x 33.5cm
Inscribed and signed, with three seals of the artist
Dedicated to Bojin
Further inscribed and signed, with one seal of the artist
Dated renwu year (1942)
Directly acquired from the artist, hence by descent.
Estimate: HK$5,000,000 - 8,000,000
Hammer price: HK$10,000,000
Price realised: HK$12,100,000

Lu Yanshao (1909-1993). Landscape Inspired by Poetic Sentiments

Lot no.: 1381
Size: 34.3 x 45.5cm
Important Hong Kong Private Collection
Estimate: HK$3,500,000 - 4,000,000
Hammer price: HK$9,500,000
Price realised: HK$11,500,000

Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010). Various subjects

Lot no.: 1487
Size: Ten leaves approximately measure 33 x 33 cm; two leaves approximately measures 29.6 x 34.6 cm
Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Fine Modern Chinese Paintings, 16 November 1989, Lot 176.
Estimate: HK$1,200,000 - 2,200,000
Hammer price: HK$9,200,000
Price realised: HK$11,140,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Fine Chinese Modern Paintings
Sale date: 26 – 27 November 2018
Lots offered: 345
Sold: 247
Unsold: 97
Sold by lots: 71%
Sale total: HK$325,512,500