Basquiat's painting garners US$20 million at Christie's Evening Sale

Last night saw Christie's Hong Kong deliver stellar results during their 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale.

Amongst 75 lots offered, 72 were sold and achieved a sale total of HK$1.49 billion (around US$191.8 million) dollars.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 masterpiece, Donut Revenge, was the sale's most expensive lot. It was sold for HK$163.3 million (around US$20.9 million) dollars, with buyer's premium.

Alongside Basquiat's painting, the second and third most expensive lots were sold for more than HK$100 million (around US$12.8 million) dollars. They were by two renowned artists from the East and West – Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild 747-1 and Sanyu's Vase de lys sur fond marron.

During the sale, 13 artist auction records were broken – including Huang Yuxing, Yayoi Kusama, as well as the popular Ghanaian artist, Amoako Boafo.

Basquiat's Donut Revenge was hammered at HK$140 million (around US$17.9 million) dollars

Lot 53 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Donut Revenge, Acrylic, oilsticks, and paper collage on canvas

Created in 1982
243.2 x 182.2 cm

  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
  • Christie’s New York, 6 November 1985, Lot 72
  • Marlborough Gallery, New York
  • Christie's, New York, 13 May, 1995, Lot 52
  • Blake Byrne, Los Angeles (acquired from the above sale)
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Private Collection

Estimate: HK$140,000,000 190,000,000 

Hammer Price: HK$140,000,000

Sold: HK$163,300,000 (around US$20.9 million)

The focus turned to Basquiat’s masterpiece, Donut Revenge.

Among the many famous Western artists, Basquiat is the most popular in Asia – his paintings have repeatedly broken the HK$100 million dollars mark in Hong Kong. Among them, Warrior was sold at at Christie's Hong Kong earlier this spring for HK$323.6 million (around US$41.5 million) dollars, which also became the most valuable Western artwork auctioned in Asia:

1. Warrior|1982|183 x 122 cm|Sold: HK$323,600,000 (around US$41.5 million)|Christie's Hong Kong, March 2021

2. Untitled (Wooden Board Triptych)|1985|217.2 x 275.6 x 30.5cm|Sold: HK$289,316,000 (around US$37.1 million)|Sotheby's Hong Kong, June 2021

3. Untitled|1982|182.9 x 121.9 cm|Sold: HK$234,290,000 (around US$30.1 million)|Christie's Hong Kong, May 2021

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$90 million dollars. After six bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$140 million dollars. The winning bid was by Eric Chang, Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art Department, Asia-Pacific; for his client with paddle number 8454. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$163.3 million (around US$20.9 million) dollars, with buyer's premium. 

Donut Revenge's final sale price of HK$163 million (around US$20.9 million) dollars was higher than Untitled (Red Warrior), which changed hands for HK$162.9 million dollars at Sotheby's in Hong Kong in October this year. It became the fourth most expensive Basquiat painting in the history of Hong Kong auctions.

Eric Chang with the winning bid

Basquiat's Warrior (1982)

Basquiat's Untitled (Wooden Board Triptych), 1985

Basquiat's Untitled (1982)

Towering at more than two metres, Donut Revenge (1982) is a monumental figure painting from the pinnacle of Jean-Michel Basquiat's career.

Amid a background formed of radiant, gestural swathes of pink, white, black, yellow and red paint; a striking character floats like an angel. Arcs of energy crackle from the protagonist's outstretched limbs – one arm glows purplish blue, while the other emits smoky lines as if sizzling with heat.

Above his head, a luminous halo emits sparks, and a large speech-bubble blares with an illegible black scribble. This element highlights the figure's intensity, which is indebted to comic books and cartoons as much as to the Abstract Expressionists and Old Masters. 

His goggle-eyes, overlaid features and rotund body create a humorous impression – heightened by the inscription little fat man with a chicken leg on his chest. Whether he makes for a martyr, voodoo figure, self-portrait or a jab at the overstuffed 1980s art world is an open question; like the speech bubble’s unreadable marks, he is loud yet ultimately ambiguous.

1982 marked a pivotal year for Basquiat. At 21 years old, and already famed for his personal charisma as much as his creative prowess, he completed his transition from street graffitist to fully-fledged sovereign of the New York art scene. Since late 1981, he was working in a studio beneath the SoHo gallery of Italian-born art dealer, Annina Nosei. There is a photograph of Donut Revenge in progress there, alongside other major paintings including Red Skull (1982).

Nosei (left) was Basquiat's first art dealer

Donut Revenge (far left) and Red Skull (far right) found in the studio 

Basquiat posing next to Donut Revenge in his studio

Lot 6 | Gerhard Richter | Abstraktes Bild 747-1, Oil on canvas

Created in 1991
200 x 200 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Galerie Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert, Paris
  • Massimo de Martino, Lugano
  • Galerie Guy Ledune, Brussels
  • Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1994)
  • Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 7 February 2007, Lot 17 (Sold: £2.8 million)
  • Seomi Gallery, Seoul
  • Schoneward Fine Arts, Dusseldorf / Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
  • Private Collection, New York

Estimate: HK$128,000,000 – 166,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$120,000,000

Sold: HK$140,400,000 (around US$18 million)

RIchter's Abstraktes Bild 747-1 painting was hammered at HK$120 million (around US$15.4 million) dollars

A representative from Christie's London with the winning bid

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$100 million dollars. After three bids competed between Christie's Hong Kong and London, the hammer was dropped at HK$120 million dollars – below its estimate. The winning bid was by the London team, for their client with paddle number 936. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$140.4 million (around US$18 million) dollars, with buyer's premium. 

Created in 1991, this painting is an example of Richter's celebrated Abstraktes Bild series. Since their inception these canvases have become one of the most celebrated series in late-20th century painting, their colourful and highly active surfaces depicting not only physical beauty, but also interrogating the form and function of the art form itself.

Measuring two meters square, this monumental painting resonates with painterly energy. High-keyed passages of sizzling red  with hues ranging from scarlet and crimson to ruby ​​and Imperial red – coalesce into pools of colour across the surface. Along with the almost physical feeling of warmth given off by these reds, there is also a visual tension between the different concentrations of colour. This is particularly evident in the areas where different tones meet.

Richter's squeegee technique allows the colours to intermingle. In the central portion of the canvas, through the smears of red, hints of verdant green, yellow, and pale creams, emerge, hinting at a mysterious corporeal body submerged in the pools of red. It is these combination of receding cooler colours, alongside the 'advancing' reds, that give this painting a great sense of depth.

Gerhard Richter

Richter's squeegee technique

In 1991, the same year as Richter completed this present lot, he held his first retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. Among many masterpieces, he selected Abstraktes Bild 747-1 as the opening, which shows the importance of this work.

In 2007, this painting was sold for £2.8 million pounds (around US$5.5 million dollars) at Sotheby's London. During this sale, it was sold for HK$140.4 million (around US$20.9 million) dollars with buyer's premium – its value rising by more than US$15 million dollars in 14 years.

Lot 10 | Sanyu | Vase de lys sur fond marron, Oil on masonite

Created in the 1940s
91 x 50 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Collection of Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris
  • Dimensions Art Center, Taipei
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2010, Lot 01016 (Sold: HK$25.3 million)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$100,000,000 – 150,000,000 

Hammer Price: HK$85,000,000

Sold: HK$100,325,000 (around US$12.8 million)

Sanyu's Vase de lys sur fond marron painting was hammered at HK$85 million (around US$10.9 million) dollars

Francis Belin with the winning bid

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$75 million dollars. After two bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$85 million dollars – below its estimate. The winning bid was by Francis Belin, President of Christie's Asia-Pacific, for his client with paddle number 8473. In the end, the painting was sold at HK$100.3 million (around US$12.8 million) dollars, with buyer's premium. 

This painting was appeared at Christie's Hong Kong for the first time in 2010, and it was sold for HK$25.3 million (around US$3.2 million) dollars. 11 years later and during this year's sale, it was sold for HK$100.3 million (around US$12.8 million) dollars – its value rising by around four times.

A still life painting of Sanyu's lilies that has been lost

Sanyu's "Lilies on Green Background"

Since his arrival to France in 1921, Sanyu spent much of the rest of his life in Montparnasse, an area in Paris. Having studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Sanyu was not confined by the conservative and rigid academic system of art creation. Instead, he embraced the spirit of modernism and openness by a group of foreign artists, known as the School of Paris

But he never departed from his native culture in aesthetics and cultural identity throughout his entire artistic career; rather he maintained the independent spirit of Chinese literati. Sanyu absorbed the essence of Western modernist artists, combined with Eastern aesthetics, and thus blended this synergy into his own artistic style.

Records of Sanyu's entire oeuvre indicate that three paintings produced in his lifetime featured lilies as their subject.

Apart from this present lot, one of them is known through a black-and-white photo taken by his good friend, photographer Robert Frank. No other information, including its name, medium and size is known. Because the photo dates from 1949, we can assume the painting was produced in the 1940s.

Another painting of lilies, against a green background, is known to also date from the 1940s. It is now in a private collection. 

Other highlight lots: 

A total of nine lots were sold for more than HK$50 million dollars – most notably Huang Yuxing’s seven-panel painting, Seven Treasure Pines. It was hammered at nearly 20 times of its low estimate, and was sold at HK$64.8 million (around US$8.3 million) dollars. 

It was a new auction record for the Chinese artist, and was more expensive than renowned Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama's artworks.

Lot 2 | Huang Yuxing | Seven Treasure Pines, Acrylic on canvas (seven panels)

Created in 2016-2019 
Overall: 200 x 696.5 cm | Each: 200 x 99.5 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist's studio)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$2,800,000 – 4,800,000

Hammer Price: HK$54,000,000

Sold: HK$64,830,000 (around US$8.3 million)

Lot 52 | Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkin (LPASG), Acrylic on canvas 

Created in 2013
130.3 x 130.3 cm

  • Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo
  • Private collection, Asia
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$45,000,000 – 65,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$52,000,000

Sold: HK$62,540,000 (around US$8 million)

Lot 9 | Adrian Ghenie | Charles Darwin at the Age of 75, Oil on canvas 

Created in 2014 
200 x 270 cm

  • Pace Gallery, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$32,000,000 48,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$48,000,000 

Sold: HK$57,850,000 (around US$7.4 million)

Lot 72 | Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkin, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and urethane paint sculpture in two parts

Created in 2017
215 x 180 x 180 cm

  • David Zwirner, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$28,000,000 – 38,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$46,000,000 

Sold: HK$55,450,000 (around US$7.1 million)

Lot 40 | Zao Wou-ki | Sans titre (Bateaux au claire de la lune) 

Created in 1952
105 x 120 cm

  • Patti Birch Gallery, New York
  • Harrold B. Cohen Collection, New York
  • Sotheby's New York, 18 January 1980
  • Private Collection
  • Pierre Hubert Gallery, Geneva
  • Private Collection, Switzerland
  • Sotheby's London, 10 February 2005, Lot 27
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 24 May 2009, Lot 530
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2 April 2017, Lot 1003
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$35,000,000 – 55,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$45,000,000 

Sold: HK$54,250,000 (around US$6.9 million)

Lot 49 | Pablo Picasso | Homme au chapeau, Oil and ripolin on canvas

Created in 1964 
91.4 x 64.8 cm

  • A gift from the artist to a family member, and thence by descent
  • Private collection, by whom acquired in the 1980s
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012

Estimate: HK$48,000,000 – 70,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$43,000,000 

Sold: HK$52,450,000 (around US$6.7 million)

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Christie’s Hong Kong

Sale: 20th and 21st Century Evening Sale 

Date: 1 December 2021

Number of lots: 75

Sold: 72

Unsold: 3

Sale Rate: 96% 

Sale Total: HK$1,495,002,500 (around US$191.8 million)