Sanyu still life sold for HK$191m at Christie’s HK$607m evening sale

Unfazed by the pandemic, sales momentum continued well into the second half of the auction marathon this week. 

At tonight’s Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Sanyu’s White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardinière fetched HK$191million, a new record for the artist's still life; while three abstracts by Zao Wou-Ki brought in a combined HK$194million after premium. 

The sale, orchestrated by Georgina Hilton, scored a respectable total of HK$607m, with two lots breaching the HK$100m mark. Of 45 works on offer (one was withdrawn before the sale), 43, or 95.5 percent, sold. The sale achieved a hammer total of HK$513.8m against its HK$467.7m high estimate.

A mysterious telephone bidder via Elaine Holt, senior director of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie's, won the lot against a telephone bidder and a floor bidder sitting in the back row.

After a 10-minute showdown with 25 bids in mostly HK$500,000 slow increments, the hammer finally fell at HK$167m to Holt's client, more than double its high estimate, eliciting a burst of applause in the room. 

The 116-cm-tall Sanyu is part of his iconic floral-themed series appeared only between the '40s and '50s. A brocades of chrysanthemum in crisp white takes up most of the upper part of the canvas against a vivid crimson-hued background.

On the bottom part, a blue and white porcelain jardinière is rendered from a visual perspective commonly employed in Western paintings. 

Chrysanthemum had been a recurring subject in Sanyu’s still life over the course of three long decades. Of the 133 floral-themed oil paintings in his oeuvre, 55 of them portray chrysanthemums.

The leading lot bears a striking resemblance to yet another chrysanthemum-inspired work by Sanyu – Potted Chrysanthemums and Butterflies. The work now resides in the National Museum of History, Taiwan, and is very unlikely to come onto the market. 

Potted Chrysanthemums and Butterflies (Left) and White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardinière

Animal is also a subject commonly found in Sanyu's paintings. His Rooster and Serpent, which was slotted right after the sale’s headlining lot, sold for HK$21.7m after premium.

The Chinese-French painter was a big winner at this auction season. His Quatre Nus (1952) was, again, the biggest lot at a Sotheby’s evening sale just a day ago, achieving an impressive HK$259m. 

The second biggest lot – 18.11.66 by Zao Wou-Ki – also incited a heated battle between five bidders, all over the phone. Starting at HK$60m, the price rocketed to HK$99m in mostly HK$2m increments, except for the bidder via Christie's Asia President Francis Belin, who bid more generously from HK$4m to HK$8m increments.

After eight minutes, the hammer finally fell at HK$99m, being sold to Francis' client for HK$114m after premium.

Brimming with vibrancy, Zao’s imposing 18.11.66 articulates a compelling and engulfing vision of the universe that replete with a flood of emotions. The thrilling tension of the white brushstrokes, informed by the flowing lines of Chinese calligraphy, is set against a vast backdrop of gradating blues, from inky blue, dark cerulean to bright turquoise.  

Other works by the artist also fared well tonight. The 130-cm-wide 23.03.68 (1968), for instance, went for a premium-inclusive HK$47.5m; while the Ptite Ville Hollandasie (1952) fetched HK$32.5m including premium. 

Ptite Ville Hollandasie (1952)

Meanwhile, an auction record was achieved for Javier Calleja, whose WHAT? (2018) was hammered down at HK$3m, six times its high estimate. With premium, the lot realised HK$3.7m. Chen Ke’s 1955.New York.29 Years Old (2016) also set a record for the Chinese artist, at HK$3.6m after premium. 

WHAT? (2018)

Top five lots:

Lot 121 | Chrysanthèmes blanches dans un pot bleu et blanc (White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere) by Sanyu 
oil on panel, 110 x 60 cm


  • Raymond Toupenet, Paris, France
  • Axel de Heeckeren, Paris, France
  • Eric Edwards, Paris, France
  • YAGEO Collection, Taiwan
  • The Inception of A New Era – The YAGEO Foundation Collection, Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2005, lot 210
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 80,000,000
Sold for: HK$191,620,000

Lot 127 | 18.11.66 (1966) by Zao Wou-Ki
oil on canvas, 97 x 195 cm


  • Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki, dated 17 May 2017.
  • This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki)

Estimate: HK$68,000,000 – 88,000,000
Sold for: HK$114,440,000

Lot 126 | 23.03.68 (1968) by Zao Wou-Ki
oil on canvas, 89 x 130 cm


  • Galerie At Home, Toulouse, France
  • Private Collection, France
  • Private Collection, France
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Anon. Sale, Zhong Cheng Auctions, 9 December 2007, Lot 56
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Anon. Sale, Poly Beijing, 2 June 2012, Lot 2117
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$24,000,000 – HKD 36,000,000
Sold for: HK$47,475,000

Lot 135 | On the Road to Tarascon 2 (2013) by Adrian Ghenie
oil on canvas, 210 x 160 cm


  • Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp
  • Acquired at the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$27,000,000 – 37,000,000
Sold for: HK$33,725,000

Lot 128 | Petite Ville Hollandaise (Dutch Town) (1952) by Zao Wou-Ki
oil on canvas, 65 x 92.5 cm


  • Galerie Loeb, Paris, France
  • Acquired from the above thence by descent to the previous owner
  • Private Collection, France
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 24 May 2014, lot 5
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
  • This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki. A certificate of authenticity can be requested for the successful buyer.

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000
Sold for: HK$32,525,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 10 July, 2020
Lots offered: 45
Sold: 43
Sold by lots: 95.5%
Sale total: HK$607,172,500