Hockney still life fetched HK$115m at Sotheby’s, the second highest price for Western art sold at auction in Asia

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong saw three new records set and a knockout result for David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers, which sold for a hammer price of HK$99 million, or HK$114.8 million (US$14.8m) with buyer's premium, having become the second highest price for any Western art sold at auction in Asia.

(Update: The auction house announced yesterday the lot was the highest valued Western art sold at auction in Asia. After verification, however, it should be the second-most expensive work by a Western artist sold at auction in Asia, following THE KAWS ALBUM, which sold for HK$115.9m at Sotheby's spring sale last year.)

Tonight’s sale of 48 lots brought more than HK$595 million. The sell-through rate, meanwhile, was a solid 94 percent by lot, only three lots failed to find a buyer.

Starting at HK$78m, the lot was pursued by mainly two telephone bidders via Patti Wong, Sotheby's Asia Chairman and Carrie Li, senior specialist of Chinese Works of Art at Sotheby's. The bid went up in steady HK$1m increment before being sold to Carrie Li's client for HK$99m hammer price. 

Guaranteed by third party, the 30 Sunflowers, measuring 182.9 by 182.9 cm, is one of the only two grand-scale paintings from a set of 25 floral-themed series that the artist conceived in 1996, where the artist examines the recurring subject of sunflower in reference to his favourite artist Van Gogh. 

Hailed as one of the most talented and prolific artists in the 21st century, the British painter rose to stardom in 2018 when Christie’s sold the Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), painted in 1972, for a staggering US$90.3m. Today (9 July ) also marked the 83th birthday of the artist.

David Hockney

This February, Hockney’s yet another sun-drenched swimming pool image The Splash (1966) fetched £23.1m (HK$225.8m) at a Christie's sale in London. The pop art work is one of a trio alongside A Little Splash (1966) and A Bigger Splash (1967). Last March, his 1969 portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott sold for £37.6m (HK$367.6m) at a Christie's London sale. Eight months later the auction house sold Sur la Terrasse (1971), a life-size scale painting portraying his lover gazing out from a terrace, for US$29.5m.

His largest work by far – an oil painting spanning 50 canvases with a title Bigger Trees near Warter (detail) – is now being showcased at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in collaboration with Tate.

The night’s second biggest lot was Clyfford Still’s PH-306, which sold for HK$54.5m under the hammer against its HK$54m low estimate to a telephone bidder via Yuki Terase, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Asia.

Her main competition on the lot— which was also guaranteed by third party – was Michele Chan, specialist and head of research of contemporary art at Sotheby's Asia. Starting at HK$48m, the bid climbed to HK$52m within seconds, before being sold to Yuki’s bidder after only four bids. After premium, the result was HK$114.8m.

The 136.5-cm-tall Clyfford explores the intensity of nature on an emotional level. Executed with a palette knife, his landscapes are often composed of irregular craggy forms in think paint that express a vibrant, if not threatening, force inspired by the harsh environment where he grew up – the terrain of North Dakota, Washington, and Alberta, Canada.

He may not have been a household name but demand for his work has certainly been rising. His PH-144 (1947-Y-NO.1) (1947), for instance, sold for US$28.7m including buyer's premium at a virtual New York sale last week. 

The bidder on the phone with Sotheby's Asia Chairman Nicolas Chow, bought the night’s third biggest lot, Liu Ye’s Leave Me In The Dark (2008), for HK$45.4m with buyer's premium.

It was a hard-won victory after a 9-minute bidding war between five telephone bidders. Starting at HK$29m, the bidding climbed to HK$32m in HK$1m increment in the first few minutes, before lowering to a painstakingly HK$500,000 increment until the hammer fell at HK$38m.

Measuring 219.7 by 299.7cm, the work is the largest figure painting by Liu ever available for auction. His solitary protagonist takes centre stage against a mythical backdrop comprised in shades of dark violet, forming a cavernous space that stimulates viewers’ imaginations. An eerie quiet pervaded the painting, as the character stands in the middle of nothingness with remarkable equanimity, seemingly impervious to the cold. The suitcase in dark grey suggests she is on the move — perhaps departing, perhaps arriving — rendered in gentle brush strokes that convey calmness and serenity.

A year after the completion of Leave Me in the Dark, the artist created a second version nearly 13 times smaller than the original one, in which his mysterious protagonist, in the exact same pose and outfits, takes up most of the space. It has been sold for HK$20.5m, more than double its estimated price.

The lot marks the artist's fourth grand-scale figure painting, following the bright-hued trinity composed of Sword (180 x 360 cm), Gun (180.4 x 359.9 cm) and Smoke (178 x 356.5 cm) back in 2001 to 2002.

A smaller painting by Liu, dubbed Mystery (1999-2000), on which a crimson-hued stage curtain occupies most of the canvas, sold for HK$8m after premium.

Three artist auction records were set tonight, including Firenze Lai’s Happily Ever After, which realised HK$2.6m with fees; Hao Liang’s Poison Buddha 2, being sold for HK$16.9m with buyer's premium; and MR.’s True to Myself, Poyo Mix, Append, which went for HK$5.2m after premium.

Meanwhile, two lots sold significantly above high estimate – an Eddie Martinez painting and a François-Xavier Lalanne sculpture. The Love Letter #20 by Eddie Martinez sold under the hammer for HK$4m, pulverising the high estimate of HK$1.2m. The lot fetched HK$4.9m with premium, while François-Xavier Lalanne’s sculpture Gorille de Sûreté I was hammered down at HK$15.2m, well over its HK$7.5m high estimate. It brought HK$18,4m after premium.

Top five lots:

Lot 1118 | 30 Sunflowers (1966) by David Hockney 
oil on canvas, 182.9 by 182.9 cm


  • Annely Juda Fine Art, London
  • Private Collection
  • Phillips de Pury & Co., New York, 12 May 2011, Lot 31
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate upon request, expected to fetch HK$80m in the region
Sold for: HK$114,827,000

Lot 1122 | PH-306 (1946-7) by Clyfford Still
oil on canvas, 136.5 by 71.2 cm


  • Personal Collection of Clyfford Still
  • Sandra Campbell Still (gift from the artist)
  • Diane Upright Fine Art, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$54,000,000 – 84,000,000
Sold for: HK$64,141,500

Lot 1122 | Leave Me in the Dark (2008) by Liu Ye
acrylic on canvas, 219.7 by 299.7 cm


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

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 – 35,000,000
Sold for: HK$45,348,000

Lot 1135 | Three Stars (2014) by Yoshitomo Nara
acrylic on jute mounted on board, 180.5 by 158.5 cm


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

Estimate: HK$26,000,000 – 36,000,000
Sold for: HK$28,975,000

Lot 1121 | Chitaisei Honkōshin by Kazuo Shiraga
oil on canvas, 130 by 162 cm


  • Private Collection, Asia 
  • Sotheby’s, Paris, 7 December 2010, Lot 26 
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 April 2014, Lot 137 
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$22,000,000 – 32,000,000
Sold for: HK$26,575,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Sale: Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 9 July, 2020
Lots offered: 48
Sold: 45
Sold by lots: 94%
Sale total: HK$595,186,500