400+ East-West masterpieces from late Sir Joseph Hotung’s art collection to shine at Sotheby's

During October and December 2022, Sotheby’s will stage auctions in Hong Kong and London of the late Sir Joseph Hotung Collection. A descendant of a prominent Hong Kong family, he was a distinguished art collector and philanthropist. As a trustee of the British Museum, he donated many antiques and sponsored the refurbishment of exhibition halls named after him – where Queen Elizabeth II came to its inauguration in 2017.

Featuring more than 400 works from his collection, the sale will offer a wide range of oeuvres – Chinese art and furniture, Old Masters and Impressionist paintings, as well as European furniture and silverware.

In Hong Kong, a 13th to 14th century blue-and-white 'fish' jar leads the sale and is estimated between HK$20 and 25 million (around US$2.5 to 3.1 million) dollars. Moving westwards, in London, French painter Edgar Degas’ Portrait of Eugene Manet, heads the sale and is estimated between £4 and 6 million pounds (around US$4.6 to 7 million) dollars. 

Following this article, readers can check out The Value’s upcoming exclusive interview with Ellen – Sir Joseph’s daughter – unveiling a more intimate side to the family and their collection.

Buddhist sculptures and Chinese works of art were displayed at Sir Joseph's London home

Born in mainland China in 1930, Joseph was Sir Robert Hotung Bosman’s grandson and Edward Hotung’s son. Together, the Hotung family in Hong Kong were influential businessmen and many descendants are still recognised today – most notably late Hong Kong-Macau casino billionaire, Stanley Ho.

Having received a secondary education in Shanghai and Tianjin, Sir Joseph later received a law degree from the University of London. He then worked as a securities analyst for the Marine Midland Bank in New York, went to Hong Kong and was primarily involved in the development of commercial properties. He became an influential leader in the city’s business and art industries, having served as director of HSBC and the first chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

In 2021, Sir Joseph passed away aged 91. 

Degas' Portrait of Eugene Manet was housed in Sir Joseph Hotung's home (top centre)

During the early 1970s, Sir Joseph’s love for art collecting was sparked. Due to a flight delay, he acquired a pair of perfectly matched Qing dynasty (1644-1911) white bowls from a gallery in San Francisco. Since this first purchase, his passion for art became a lifelong passion and assembled oeuvres from different periods and places.  

His extensive collection was displayed in the London household he personally curated and designed – such as Chinese and English furnitures, Old Master and Impressionist paintings, ancient jades, bronzes, and porcelains.

In 2017, the British Museum's Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia officially re-opened, and Queen Elizabeth II was accompanied with Sir Joseph Hotung 

Devoted to the arts and a generous philanthropist, he invested in various cultural institutions. In 1992, Sir Joseph funded the establishment of the British Museum’s The Joseph E. Hotung Gallery of Oriental Antiquities, and later donated a large collection of Chinese art. Then, in 1993, he was knighted by the Queen.

Alongside being a trustee of the British Museum from 1994 to 2004, he was also well-respected as a board member of distinguished American art museums – such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

After its first refurbishment in 1992, the British Museum's Room 33 called Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia was again revamped in 2017. It was officially re-opened and Queen Elizabeth II came to the inauguration ceremony in person. 

Chinese Buddhist works are displayed at the British Museum's Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia 

At the British Museum, visitors can check out nearly 1,700 pieces from Sir David's Chinese ceramics collection. Originally housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London; many pieces were at stake due to financial difficulties. Fortunately, Sir Joseph provided funds for new galleries to display at the British Museum. In 2009, the galleries opened and are part of the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies, which includes facilities to use the collection for teaching and research. 

During the final stages of his life, Sir Joseph bequeathed different works of art – such as Chinese blue-and-white porcelains, jades and bronzes – to the British Museum. Collectively, these donations were one of its most generous donations ever received by the museum.  

Blue and White ‘Fish’ Jar, Guan

Created during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368)
Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 25,000,000

In the Hong Kong sale, many different types of Chinese works of art are featured. A 13th to 14th century Chinese ‘fish’ jar heads the Hong Kong sale. Decorated with a dynamic and realistic scene of four different fish swimming, it ranks among the most iconic porcelains of the innovative Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Its size indicates the skill and production process its creation required.

Alongside this jar, a 11th to 12th century gilt bronze Avalokiteshvara (the One Who Hears the World’s Suffering) figure is also featured. Exuding a calm countenance, it is the only example in this form known to exist from the Dali Kingdom in southwest China.

A 14th to 17th century huanghuali folding horse-shoe back armchair is also offered. In 2021, a similar type of armchair fetched HK$65.9 million (around US$8.5 million) dollars – which set a new auction record for a huanghuali folding armchair

Gilt Bronze Seated Figure of Avalokiteshvara | Dali Kingdom

Created during the 11th-12th century
Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 20,000,000

Huanghuali Folding Horse Shoe Back Armchair

Created during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)  
Estimate: HK$10,000,000 – 15,000,000  

Large Cinnabar Lacquer Box and Cover

Created during the Yongle period (1402-1424)
Estimate: HK$8,000,000 – 12,000,000

Archaic Silver Inlaid Bronze Corner Piece

Created during circa Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-256 BCE) to Warring States period (475-221 BCE)
Estimate: HK$5,000,000 – 7,000,000

Junyao Purple and Blue Glazed Tripod Narcissus Bowl

Created during the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Estimate: HK$4,000,000 – 6,000,000 

In the London auction, Old Masters and Impressionist oeuvres are offered. Inspired by his contemporary's masterpiece, Breakfast on Grass, Edgar Degas depicts Edouard Manet's younger brother, Eugene, as a well-dressed figure sitting on the ground outdoors.

Alongside Degas, Sir Joseph also admired Edouard Vuillard’s works. A core member of the Nabis and inspired by Japanese prints, Vuillard experimented with textures and patterns through colour distinctions – approaching his brushwork through a mediated flatness of colour. In this upcoming sale, his works such as Les Messieurs en noir (Gentlemen in Black) and Au Divan Japonais (At the Divan Japonais) are offered.

In terms of Old Masters paintings, a portrait by Dutch Renaissance Master Frans Hals and a still-life by Spanish artist Luis Melendez are also included.

Edgar Degas | Portrait of Eugene Manet, Oil on paper laid down on board

Created in 1874
Estimate: £4,000,000 – 6,000,000

Edouard Vuillard | Les Messieurs en noir (Gentlemen in Black), Oil on board  

Created in circa 1895-1899
Estimate: £2,000,000 – 3,000,000

Edouard Vuillard | Au Divan Japonais (At the Divan Japonais)

Created in circa 1890-1891
Estimate: £1,500,000 – 2,000,000

Frans Hals and Studio | Portrait of a Man, three-quarter in length, Oil on canvas  

Estimate: £600,000 – 800,000

Luis Melendez | Still Life with a basket of apples, boxes of sweetmeats and a honeyjar, Oil on canvas  

Estimate: £500,000 – 700,000

Pair of late George III carved mahogany armchairs, attributed to Thomas Chippendale

Created in circa 1755-1760
Estimate: £80,000 – 120,000

Many pieces from 18th century Britain and France are also offered in the London sale – such as a pair of George III carved mahogany library armchairs, as well as a pair of neoclassical candelabra from Robert-Joseph Auguste's famous dinner service supplied to George III. 

From 31 August to 20 September, selected works from Sir Joseph Hotung's Collection will be exhibited around the world namely in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and New York. Readers can refer to the schedule below for more details. 

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s
Sale: Hotung | The Personal Collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung
Auction Dates and Time:

  • Hong Kong | 8 – 9 October 2022 
  • London | 7 – 8 December 

Exhibition Dates:

  • Shanghai | 31 August – 1 September 2022
  • Beijing | 4 – 5 September 2022
  • Taipei | 17 – 18 September 2022
  • New York | 15 – 20 September 2022
  • New York | 5 – 19 November 2022