Led by Picasso, Western artists take center stage at Sotheby's modern art evening sale in Hong Kong

Following the single-lot sale for Zhang Daqian's one-of-six lotus on Japanese gold screen, Sotheby's Hong Kong presented the 50th Anniversary Modern Evening Auction on 5 April, which saw 33 of 38 lots on offer sell, totalling HK$463.1 million (around US$59.37 million) with a sell-through rate of 86.8%.

Reaffirming Asia's growing appetite for Western art, the top two lots of the sale were works by Spanish masters Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró – the former’s richly coloured portrait of his partner for a decade Françoise Gilot, Femme dans un fauteuil, went for HK$93.1 million (around US$11.9 million); while the latter’s Sans titre, a work hidden from the public for 50 years, sold for HK$50.6 million (around US$6.48 million).

Records were also set for two artists, including Vietnamese artist Le Pho and Chinese '‘literati expressionist' Pang Jiun. 

Lot 1032 | Pablo Picasso | Femme dans un fauteuil, Oil on canvas
Executed on 30 October and 25 December 1948
92 x 73 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Marina Picasso (the artist's granddaughter; by descent from the above)
  • Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel 
  • Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above in 1987)
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel 
  • Russeck Gallery, Palm Beach
  • Distinguished Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2006) 

Estimate upon request (Expected to fetch in excess of HK$100 million)
Hammer Price: HK$78,500,000
Sold: HK$93,086,500 (around US$11.9 million)

Heading to the auction block with an irrevocable bid, this headline lot was hammered at HK$78.5 million against an opening bid of HK$70 million. With buyer's premium, the painting sold for HK$93.1 million (around US$11.9 million) to a bidder on the phone with paddle number L0053 represented by Deputy Chairman Jen Hua.

Praised today as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Picasso's relationship with women are intricately woven into his art – his artistic style would undergo a radical change when a new muse entered his life. 

Having left behind the sensual portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter and the distorted depictions of Dora Maar as the Weeping Woman, Picasso found a new style influenced by Françoise Gilot, his muse and partner of a decade – widely known as the only woman who dared love Picasso and leave him.

The present lot was hammered at HK$78.5 million

Jen Hua won the lot for her client on the phone

Picasso and Gilot spent a decade together

The 21-year-old Gilot and 61-year-old Picasso crossed paths in May 1943, when the giant of art was still entangled in a turbulent relationship with Dora Maar. Despite so, the two were head over heels in love with each other, and together they settled in Vallauris in the south of France from 1946 until 1953.

Femme dans un fauteuil, Picasso's richly coloured and joyful portrait of Gilot, was completed on Christmas Day of 1948, not long after Picasso returned from the first World Peace Congress in Wroclaw in 1948.

At the time, Gilot was pregnant with the couple's second child, and yet Picasso had left her alone for several weeks. As a gift of appeasement, he got back to Vallauris with an exquisite embroidered red jacket, which Gilot was seen wearing on occasions. 

While Picasso often depicted his muses seated in an armchair, Gilot's position is one that exudes power. Depicting the strong woman almost like a Renaissance Queen on her throne, the artist attributes his lover with a regal quality that is heightened by the extravagance of her outfit, the full frontal way that the sitter looks out at the viewer and the strength of line with which Picasso delineates her. 

Gilot is wearing the polish coat given to her by Picasso at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953

Lot 1033 | Pablo Picasso | Homme portant un enfant, Oil on canvas
Executed on 22 February 1965
100 x 81.5 cm

  • Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired by 1966)
  • Mr and Mrs William Falencki, New York (acquired from the above on 11 January 1968)
  • John J. Falencki, New York (acquired as a gift from the above and until 2004)
  • Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired by descent from the above)
  • Russeck Gallery, Palm Beach (consigned by the above)
  • Distinguished Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2005)

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 40,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$25,000,000
Sold: HK$30,700,000 (around US$3.9 million)

Coming from the same collection as the above lot, Homme portant un enfant is a work from the final decade of Picasso's life, showcasing the complexity that defines the artist's mature period. 

In the mid-1960s, when Picasso was in his eighties, he combatted his thoughts of aging with a burst of youthful and creative expression, delving deep into the themes of virility, vitality and rebirth. This resulted in a profusion of musketeers, matadors and a greater focus on male figure – particularly children. 

The present lot belongs to a series of têtes and half-portraits featuring unidentified young men, some of which are portrayed with children. These paintings took on a protean nature, hailing from a diverse array of sources: sometimes they adopted elements of self-portraiture, at other times they represented his father and often they referred to the paintings of Old Masters.

Lot 1030 | Joan Miró | Sans titre, Oil on canvas
Executed on 12 October 1947
91.5 x 121.7 cm

  • Thomas and Diane Bouchard, New York (acquired directly from the artist on 12 October 1947)
  • Sotheby's, New York, 7 May 2014, Lot 19 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above)

Estimate: HK$32,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$41,500,000
Sold: HK$50,573,500 (around US$6.48 million)

While Hong Kong Museum of Art is currently presenting Joan Miró — The Poetry of Everyday Life to celebrate the Surrealist artist's legacy, Sotheby's Hong Kong brought us with the master's Sans titre, a work created during his first trip to the United States in 1947, when the artist received considerable critical acclaim internationally. 

Bidding for the lot opened at HK$24 million and was rapidly followed by an intense 10-minute face-off between two telephone bidders represented by Jen Hua and Nicolette Chou (Specialist, Taipei). With HK$250,000 increments, the bid was propelled steadily from HK$33 million to the hammer price of HK$41.5 million – a bid placed by Hua's client with paddle number L0078.

After fees, the lot sold for HK$50.6 million (around US$6.48 million), becoming the sale's second most expensive painting sold. 

Nicolette Chou (Specialist, Taipei)

Jen Hua won the lot for her client

Sans titre was the most recently executed work by the artist to be included in Clement Greenburg's seminal monograph published in 1948.

Combining bright primary colors with calligraphic forms, the work evokes the cosmic imagery found in the artist's earlier Constellation series, whilst encompassing many key poetic elements found in the artist’s Surrealist oeuvre.

Miró’s creative process of the work was recorded by the well-known filmmaker Thomas Bouchard

The highest-selling artworks from the East at the sale was a series of four paintings by Chinese abstract master Zao Wou-Ki.

Going to the same buyer, 11.08.99 - Après l'éclipse and 25.03.85 – which went for HK$48.9 million (US$2.26 million) and HK$22.2 million (around US$2.85 million) respectively – are demonstrative of the artist’s Infinity Period, a new stage in his career which the artist entered into in the 1980s.

The other two, 05.11.62 and 17.01.60, were from his Hurricane Period – where the artist's stylistic maturity peaked, resulting in a bold, powerful and wildly cursive style on canvases. The two paintings sold for HK$22.3 million (around US$2.85 million) and HK$16.2 million (around US$2.1 million) accordingly.

Lot 1024 | Zao Wou-ki | 11.08.99 - Après l'éclipse, Oil on canvas
Executed on 11 August 1999
250 x 200 cm

  • New York, Marlborough Gallery
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above)

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$40,000,000
Sold: HK$48,850,000 (around US$6.26 million)

Lot 1025 | Zao Wou-ki | 25.03.85, Oil on canvas
Executed on 25 March 1985
130 x 162 cm

  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist)
  • Galerie Artcurial, Paris 
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2009, Lot 918 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above) 

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 58,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$37,00,000
Sold: HK$45,220,000 (US$5.8 million)

Lot 1026 | Zao Wou-ki | 05.11.62, Oil on canvas
Executed on 5 November 1962
81 x 116 cm

  • Laing Galleries, Toronto
  • Private Canadian Collection
  • Ravenel, Taipei, 2 December 2007, Lot 78 (consigned by the above) 
  • Private Collection
  • Ravenel, Taipei, 3 June 2018, Lot 220 (consigned by the above) 
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above)
  • Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$18,000,000
Sold: HK$22,230,000 (around US$2.85 million)

Lot 1023 | Zao Wou-ki | 17.01.60, Oil on canvas
Executed on 17 January 1960
60 x 81 cm

  • Galerie de France, Paris
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Sotheby's, New York, 15 November 2000, Lot 367 (consigned by the above)
  • Galerie Elegance, Taipei
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired by the above in 2002) 

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 20,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$13,000,000
Sold: HK$16,180,000 (around US$2.1 million)

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 1031 | Marc Chagall | Fiancée avec bouquet, Oil on canvas
Executed in 1997
130 x 81.5 cm

  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York 
  • Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco
  • Distinguished Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2004)

Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 40,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$22,000,000
Sold: HK$27,070,000
(around US$3.47 million)

Lot 42 | Le Pho | La famille dans le jardin, Ink and gouache on silk (Auction record for the artist)
Executed circa 1938
91.3 x 61.5 cm

  • Christie's Singapore, 28 March 1999, Lot 153
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above by the present owner)

Estimate upon request
Hammer Price: HK$15,000,000
Sold: HK$18,600,000

Lot 1017 | Pang Jiun | Spring in Blossom, Oil on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Executed in 2020
Overal: 200 x 600 cm

  • Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the artist)

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,700,000
Sold: HK$8,509,000 (around US$1.1 million)

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Sale: 50th Anniversary Modern Evening Auction
Date: 5 April 2023
Number of Lots: 38
Sold: 33
Unsold: 5
Sale Rate: 86.8%
Sale Total: HK$463,061,500 (around US$59.37 million)