Led by a US$35m Modigliani, Shanghai Long Museum's founder sale achieves US$70m at Sotheby's

In celebration of Sotheby's 50th anniversary in Asia, this autumn the auction house brought five back-to-back evening sales on 5 October in Hong Kong, with all eyes on the A Long Journey: A Selection from the Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei Collection – an auction dedicated to the single collection of the billionaire couple behind Shanghai's Long Museum. 

Anchoring the much-hyped sale was Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani’s portrait of Paulette Jourdain, which sold for HK$273 million (US$35 million) to the client of Patti Wong – co-founder of art advisory firm Patti Wong & Associates, and former International Chairman of Sotheby's.

Another high-selling work was Surrealist master René Magritte's nude painting Le miroir universal, setting the artist's auction record in Asia at HK$77.5 million (US$9.9 million).

Of the 39 works on offer, 10 failed to find new homes, bringing the sale total to HK$544 million (US$69.8 million) with a modest sell-through rate of 74 per cent.

The co-founders of the Long Museum in Shanghai, Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei

Patti Wong, co-founder of Hong Kong-based art advisory firm Patti Wong & Associates (PW&A), and former International Chairman of Sotheby's

Lot 8512 | Amedeo Modigliani | Paulette Jourdain, Oil on canvas
Created circa 1919
100.3 x 64.5 cm

  • Leopold Zborowski, Paris (acquired from the artist)
  • Paul Guillaume, Paris (acquired by 1929)
  • L.C. Hodebert (Galerie Barbazagnes), Paris
  • Marcel Fleischmann, Zurich (acquired by 1931)
  • Justin K. Thannhauser, New York (acquired from the above through Max Hirschberg after September 1941)
  • Mr. & Mrs. M.L. Hermanos, New York (acquired from the above by 1951)
  • Private Collection, United States
  • Acquavella Galleries, New York
  • A. Alfred Taubman, New York and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (acquired from the above in September 1983)
  • Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 2015, Lot 12 (consigned by the estate of the above)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate upon request (expected to fetch in the region of HK$350 million / US$45 million)
Hammer Price: HK$235,000,000
Sold: HK$272,905,000 (US$35 million)

One of Liu Yiqian's most famous big buyings, Amedeo Modigliani's Paulette Jourdain was sold to the tycoon in 2015 for US$42.8 million at Sotheby's, marking the beginning of Liu's rise on the global auction stage (Liu snapped up the US$170.4 million Modigliani, Nu couché, just a week later at Christie's).

This time hitting the block with an irrevocable bid, the work's final sum with fees came to HK$272.9 million (US$35 million), which was a US$7.8 million decrease in value over eight years.

Bidding for the lot opened at HK$180 million and saw a cautious back-and-forth between Patti Wong and a telephone bidder represented by Sotheby's Asia Chairman Nicolas Chow. By the time it climbed to HK$230 million, Sotheby's Europe Chairman Helena Newnan stepped in for her client on the phone, and the three went on to push the price by HK$1 million at a time. 

After a prolonged bidding war, the lot was eventually hammered for HK$235 million, going to Wong's client with paddle number 8831.

Wielding the gavel for the sale was star auctioneer Oliver Barker

Amedeo Modigliani

Paulette Jourdain

Amedeo Modigliani | Nu couché, Sold: US$170,405,000 at Christie's in 2015 | Now in the collection of Shanghai's Long Museum 

In fact, Modigliani's works are hard to come by on the market. An embodiment of a brilliant yet tragic artist, Modigliani passed away at the young age of thirty-five, leaving behind only a lifetime creation of around 350 art pieces, with many belonging to important museum collections.

Towards the end of his brief and turbulent life, between 1916 and 1919, the matured artist became increasingly interested in the subject of youths, especially those who came from humble backgrounds. By painting common people in large formats, he ennobled them with grandeur, majesty, and dignity.

The sitter in this work, Jourdain, was the 14-year-old housemaid and later lover of his dealer Léopold Zborowski. When they first met at Zborowski's apartment, Modigliani was immediately intrigued and invited her to his studio to have her portrait painted. 

Modigliani was clearly taken with her, for not only was she painted on one of the largest canvases used by the artist, but her name has also remained in the title, while his other youthful sitters have not. 

After finishing this work, Modigliani would love to paint another portrait of her, but his rapidly declining health and untimely death prevented that from happening – making this work his only known portrait of Jourdain, as well as one of his final paintings. 

Lot 8510 | René Magritte | Le miroir universel, Oil on canvas (Artist's auction record in Asia)
Created between 1938 and 1939
116 x 89 cm

  • Robert de Keyn, Brussels (acquired from the artist)
  • Claes de Keyn, Brussels (acquired by descent from the above)
  • Sotheby's, London, 29 November 1972, Lot 81 (consigned by the above)
  • Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (acquired from the above sale)
  • Private Collection, Japan
  • Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 1985, Lot 80
  • Private Collection (acquired in 1985)
  • Christie’s, New York, 12 November 2015, Lot 22C (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$70,000,000 - 95,000,000 (US$8.9 -12.1 million)
Hammer Price: HK$65,000,000
Sold: HK$77,575,000 (US$9.9 million)

Surrealist master René Magritte's Le miroir universel is another work that Liu bought during the 2015 New York Autumn Sales, for which he paid US$6.7 million at Christie's.

The auctioneer opened the bidding on this work at HK$58 million and attracted three interested buyers: one in the saleroom, and two on the phone respectively with Nicolas Chow and Sharon Kim, Deputy Chairman of Modern Art.

With the three placing bids in steady HK$1 million increments, the work eventually hammered for HK$65 million to Kim's client with paddle number L0006. With fees, that number rose to HK$77.6 million (US$9.9 million), setting the artist's auction record in Asia.

Sharon Kim won the lot for her client with paddle number L00006

The present work belongs to a seminal group of works in which Magritte painted his wife Georgette Berger nude in an unidentified landscape during the mid-1930s and 1940s. In this series, Georgette's image is depicted in a classical manner, abiding by the laws of conventional beauty and proportion, resembling a Renaissance sculpture or a mythical figure as much as a live model.

He varied the position of the nude, depicting her frontally or in profile, sometimes holding a rose, or with a dove resting on her shoulder, and almost always with one hand resting on a block of stone.

Over a metre in height, Le miroir universel is the largest of the representations on this theme.

René Magritte and his wife Georgette Berger

While deliberately evoking other famous nudes in the history of art, especially Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Magritte wittily juxtaposed the traditional representation with the unexpected colouration of the figure, whose upper body gradually acquires the tone of the night sky. As the artist explained, "Black magic. It is an act of black magic to turn woman’s flesh into sky."

The crisp edge that separates this outside world from the warmly lit interior is a jagged line that emphasizes the tension conjured by these two worlds. In this, Magritte evokes another of his most celebrated motifs – the uncanny combination of nighttime and daytime worlds.

Other highlight lots that sold above HK$10 million:

Lot 8517 | Mark Bradford | L.A, Mixed media on canvas
Created in 2019
304.8 x 304.8 cm

  • Hauser and Wirth, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000 (US$3.3 - 6.4 million)
Hammer Price: HK$24,000,000
Sold: HK$29,490,000

Lot 8507 | Nicolas Party | Still Life, Soft pastel on linen
Created in 2015
170 x 180 cm

  • The Modern Institute, Glasgow
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 10 July 2020, Lot 2
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000 (US$2.6 - 3.8 million)
Hammer Price: HK$19,500,000
Sold: HK$24,050,000

Lot 8516 | Kazuo Shiraga | Kaien, Oil on canvas
Created in 1999
194 x 130 cm 

  • Private Collection 
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 22 November 2014, Lot 53
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$17,000,000
Sold: HK$21,020,000

Lot 8506 | Jonas Wood | M.S.F. Fish Pot #4, Oil and acrylic on canvas
Created in 2014
165.1 x 165.1 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$9,500,000 - 14,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$12,500,000
Sold: HK$15,575,000

Lot 8513 | Matthew Wong | The Golden Age, Oil on canvas
Created in 2018
203.2 x 165.1 cm

  • KARMA, New York
  • Private Collection
  • Gagosian Gallery
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$14,000,000 - 22,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$10,000,000
Sold: HK$12,550,000

Lot 8509 | Alex Katz | On Time, Oil on linen
Created in 2001
259.1 x 548.6 cm

  • Gladstone Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$9,000,000
Sold: HK$11,340,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Sale: A Long Journey: A Selection from the Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei Collection
Date: 5 October 2023
Number of Lots: 39
Sold: 29
Unsold: 10
Sale Rate: 74%
Sale Total: HK$544,548,100 (US$69.8 million)