Sotheby’s Pulls Off a Solid HK$638m Modern Art Evening Sale Led by Zao Wou-ki

Sotheby’s Hong Kong kicked off its spring auction with a solid Modern Art Evening Sale. Even though top lots at the sale could not reach the HK$100m price point, the sale achieved a notable total of HK$638m and 98 percent sold by lot, only one of all 54 lots offered was bought-in.

Leading the sale was Zao Wou-ki’s 26.04.62. It is a typical painting of Zao Wou-ki's Mad Cursive period. The composition of 26.04.62 resembles the opening frame of a film, with a black lightning-like line dashing from left to right. At the same time, jade-green light flashes from right to left. The clash between the two colours break open the amber-coloured background, creating a tripartite composition of top, middle, and bottom. The bright light in the middle, suggesting cosmogenic energies, not only attracts the eye but also unifies the tripartite composition as a space of three levels of abstraction.

10 years ago, the painting sold at Christie’s Hong Kong for HK$12.64m with premium. This time, estimated at HK$60m-80m, the painting was given an opening bid of HK$50m. It led to a duel between two telephone bidders, respectively represented by Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, and Esther Seet (image above), who runs the Singapore office.

The painting was hammered down for HK$74m and sold to Esther Seet’s client for HK$85.3m (premium included), six times its previous price fetched at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2008.

Zao Wou-ki's Quand Il Fait Beau

Zao Wou-ki's 08.10.84

The abstract master also contributed to the success of the sale with his other paintings. The fourth and fifth highest prices were realized by Zao Wou-ki's works, a HK$44.6m Quand Il Fait Beau and a HK$35.5m 08.10.84. 

Nonetheless, Zao Wou-ki works are not fail-safe at auctions all the time. It is especially true for this sale since the only bought-in lot was, surprisingly, also a Zao Wou-ki’s work, 01.05.92 with an estimate of HK$7m-10m.

Realizing the second highest price at the sale was Rouge Lourd Et Vert Leger by Chu Teh-chun. Estimated at HK$50m-60m, Rouge Lourd Et vert leger was hammered down for HK$53m and sold for HK$61.5m with premium.

The painting’s composition is rigorous yet lively. Using a large horizontal canvas, the artist has designed a partition, creating an arrangement that resembles a taichi symbol. The top half of the tableau is rich and refined, the lines and blocks of colour mutually intermingling. The bottom half, on the other hand, is boldly left blank, allowing a large expanse of the coral background to come face-to-face with the viewer. This arrangement fully communicates the Taoist wonder of the real and the unreal.

The third spot was taken by Sanyu’s Léopard Rose, estimated at HK$30m-40m. Started at HK$20m, the bidding was joined by bidders in the room and telephone bidders. The painting was finally hammered down for HK$42m and sold for HK$49.1m to the telephone bidder represented by Patti Wong (image above).

In Léopard Rose, Sanyu projects broad spaces within a work of modest dimensions, placing the leopard against a scenic backdrop with an unusual atmosphere in what might be a broad desert plain. Sanyu frequently chose similar combinations, showing horses roaming in the wilderness or eagles soaring against an empty sky. Sanyu's animal paintings from the 1950s in particular employ such themes, which has been taken by many commentators as a reflection of his personal mood and circumstances during that decade.

Winning two bids in a row, the successful bidder gained a preceding victory in the contest of another Sanyu’s work, Nu Endormi. Carrying a pre-sale estimate of HK$20m-30m, the painting depicting the artist’s lover at the time was hammered down for HK$40m and sold for HK$46.8m with premium included.


Top five lots

Zao Wou-ki. 26.04.62.

Lot no.: 1034
Created in: 1962
Size: 97.4 x 194.8cm

  • Kootz Gallery, New York
  • Private Canadian Collection
  • Sotheby’s, New York, 9 November 1989, Lot 145
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s, London, 1 December 1994, Lot 159
  • Private Asian Collection
  • Christie’s, Hong Kong, 24 May 2008, Lot 203
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 - 80,000,000
Hammer price: HK$74,000,000
Price realized: HK$85,263,500

Chu Teh-chun. Rouge Lourd Et Vert Leger.

Lot no.: 1035
Created in: 1959
Size: 87 x 116cm

  • Galerie H. Le Gendre, Paris
  • Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Poly Auction, Hong Kong, 24 November 2012, Lot 104
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 60,000,000
Hammer price: HK$53,000,000
Price realized: HK$61,554,500

Sanyu. Léopard Rose.

Lot no.: 1012
Created in: 1940s
Size: 65 x 80cm

  • Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1966
  • Collection of Yves Bideau (Jean François Bideau)
  • Collection of Jean-Claude Riedel
  • Sotheby's, Taipei, 10 April 1994, Lot 50
  • Private Asian Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 29 May 2010, Lot 1017
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 40,000,000
Hammer price: HK$42,000,000
Price realized: HK$49,135,500

Zao Wou-ki. Quand Il Fait Beau.

Lot no.: 1033
Created in: 1955
Size: 73 x 92cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by a private collector
  • Sotheby’s, New York, 17 March 2008, Lot 78
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer price: HK$38,000,000
Price realized: HK$44,619,500

Zao Wou-ki. 08.10.84.

Lot no.: 1040
Created in: 1984
Size: 200 x 162cm

  • Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo
  • Private Asian Collection
  • Christie’s, Hong Kong, 27 November 2005, Lot 240
  • Private Collection
  • Kingsley Art Auction, Taipei, 28 November 2008, Lot 26
  • Private Collection
  • Ravenal, Taipei, 5 June 2011, Lot 156
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 35,000,000
Hammer price: HK$30,000,000
Price realized: HK$35,587,500


Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Modern Art Evening
Sale date: 2018/3/31
Lots offered: 54
Sold: 53
Unsold: 1
Sold by lot: 98%
Sale total: HK$638,377,500