After a week of fierce battles, Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2022 Spring Sales Series went out with a bang, despite the murky global economic trend. This season, with an overall total of HK$3.852 billion (US$496 million), Sotheby’s Hong Kong established the second highest total ever achieved at Sotheby’s in Asia. A total of seven lots sold for over HK$100 million (US$13 million) and over 30 new auction records were set, showing spectacular performance.
Below is the summary of the auction house’s results this season and the top seven 100-million-dollar-selling lots:
The robust result of this season has far surpassed the pre-sale estimate of HK$3.1 billion (US$397 million), and was second only to the landmark 40th Anniversary Sale in Autumn 2013. The sale series saw strong results across all board, with a combined sell-through rate of 88% and 53% of the lots sold achieved prices in excess of high estimate.
The breakdown of sales by department is as follows:
- HK$908,592,360 (US$116.5 million)｜Contemporary Art
- HK$773,117,890 (US$99.1 million)｜Jewelry
- HK$651,404,800 (US$83.5 million)｜Modern Art
- HK$517,923,300 (US$66.4 million)｜Fine Chinese Paintings
- HK$435,219,060 (US$55.8 million)｜Chinese Works of Art
- HK$352,115,680 (US$45.1 million)｜Watches
- HK$131,298,755 (US$16.8 million)｜Wine
- HK$54,315,680 (US$6.9 million)｜Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy
- HK$22,043,700 (US$2.8 million)｜Handbags and Accessories
- HK$5,751,270 (US$0.74 million)｜Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles
Amid the sluggish market clouded by the pandemic, Contemporary Art managed to rise over the past seasons. Unsurprisingly, the department remained the strongest this season, achieving a total of HK$908 million. Another highlight was Watches, which marked the highest single-season figure for Sotheby's Watches in Asia, speared by the “white-glove” result for The Nevadian Collector, and the new auction record set fora Patek Philippe Reference 2499 (HK$60.3 million, US$7.7million).
The remarkable result of Contemporary Art is perhaps due to the active participation of young collectors, which boosted market sentiment. Millennials (under 40) accounted for one-third (34%) of bidders this season, the highest since 2020.
With a record proportion of young collectors and the rapid digitization of the industry in the wake of the epidemic, online bidding has become the new norm, with 78% of this season's lots sold by online buyers.
This season, Sotheby's saw seven lots sell for over $100 million, including one each for Jewellery, Fine Classical Chinese Paintings, and two each for Modern and Contemporary Art.
The De Beers Cullinan Blue
15.1-carat Fancy Vivid Blue diamond, internally flawless
Sale: The De Beers Cullinan Blue Auction
Sold: HK$450,925,000 (US$57.5 million)
Tied for the most expensive blue diamond in the world
A new benchmark for the diamond market was set, as the De Beers Blue went well beyond its presale estimate of HK$380 million (around$48.7 million) to sell for HK$451 million (US57.5 million), marking one of the highest prices achieved for diamonds of any colour on the open market.
The spectacular result is a near tie with the current record-holder for a blue diamond, achieved in 2016 when The Oppenheimer Blue (14.62 carats) sold for CHF 56.8 million, $57.5 million in US dollars.
Mined at the Cullinan Mine in South Africa in 2021, this 15.1-carat fancy vivid blue diamond is the largest of its kind to ever appear at auction, and the highest Fancy Vivid Blue grade – awarded to 1 per cent of blue diamonds by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Boasting exceptional clarity, it is also the largest internally flawless step cut vivid blue diamond that the GIA ever graded.
Zhang Daqian | Landscape after Wang Ximeng, Ink and colour on silk
Created in 1948
133.6 x 72.8 cm
Sale: Fine Chinese Paintings Auction
Sold: HK$370,495,000 (US$47 million)
A new world record at auction for the artist
The most valuable Chinese ink painting ever sold by Sotheby’s
The second highest price for any artwork sold at Sotheby’s Asia
Painted in 1948 at the pinnacle of Zhang Daiqian’s career, this blue-green landscape outlined in gold painting is a superlative reinterpretation of the panorama by the Song dynasty landscape master. Beside being on temporary exhibition at the Shanghai Museum and the National Art Museum of China in 1983, the masterpiece has not been shown to the public for forty years.
Fetched HK$370,495,000 (US$47 million), the work sets an auction record for the artist, beating the HK$270.6 million paid in 2016 for Peach Blossom Spring.
Pablo Picasso | Dora Maar, Oil on panel
Created in 1939
60 x 45.5 cm
Sale: Modern Evening Auction
Sold: HK$169,420,000 (US$21.6 million)
Second highest price for the artist in Asia
In 1939, as Europe was on the brink of war, Picasso painted this portrait of Dora Maar, his muse and lover during the 1930s and 1940s. Compared with most of his other portraits of Maar from the same period, where her face was distorted and disembodied under a Cubist treatment, Maar appears with a complete and beautiful face and exudes an air of elegance in this work.
During World War II, this painting was plundered by the Nazi Germans and was only returned to its owner after the Axis Powers surrendered.
The work brought in HK$169 million (US $21.6 million), far surpassing its presale estimate of around US$17.5 million and reaching the second highest price for a work by Picasso at auction in Asia.
Imperial soapstone seal
Inscription: “Qianlong yulan zhi bao” (“admired by his Majesty the Qianlong Emperor”)
Created in Qing dynasty, the 'lion' finial, Kangxi - early Yongzheng period, the seal face, Qianlong period
7.8 x 7.8 x 10.7 cm
Sale: A Journey Through China’s History: The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection
Sold: HK$153,334,000 (US$19.5 million)
The most expensive seal sold at auction in Asia
The seal was carved by a skilled craftsman working for the Qianlong Emperor’s father Yongzheng or grandfather Kangxi. After ascending the throne in 1735, Qianlong selected this seal for the all-important purpose of recording the finest works in his art collection.
This soapstone seal can be found notably impressed on countless important Chinese paintings, including the two most revered classical masterpieces, namely Fan Kuan’s Travellers among Mountains and Streams and Guo Xi’s Early Spring, both dating from the Northern Song dynasty.
Louise Bourgeois | Spider IV, Bronze
Created in 1997
203.2 x 180.3 x 53.3 cm
Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Sold: HK$129,205,000 (US$16.5 million)
The most valuable sculpture sold in Asia
The wall-mounted spider was executed in 1996 and is one of the six limited editions of Spider IV created by Bourgeois. Of these, one is owned by the Louise Bourgeois Foundation, another is in the collection of Museo Jumex in Mexico City, and the remaining four – including this work – are in private collections.
Images of the spider recur throughout Bourgeois’ work, constituting a prolonged series of drawings, sculptures, prints and installations. For Bourgeois, spiders are evocative, speaking of childhood and a narrative of home.
Fresh to Asian market, the work achieved HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million), becoming the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia.
Yoshitomo Nara | Oddly Cozy, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2013
194 x 162 cm
Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Sold: HK$111,970,000 (US$14.3 million)
The ceaseless demand for the perpetual auction-house favorite Yoshitomo Nara was apparent in the performance of Oddly Cozy, a magnificent example from the artist’s mature output. Oddly Cozy was created in 2012, after Nara returned to his studio following the Great East Japan Earthquake, with a hope to paint works that bring happiness to people.
The piece showcases a shift in Nara’s visual language, moving away from the early rebellious stare of his figures to the later ethereal gentle gaze. First time appearing at auction, the larger-than-life painting fetched HK$112 million (US$14.3 million), generating the artist’s forth best auction result.
Wu Guanzhong | Plum Blossoms, Oil on canvas laid on board
Created in 1973
89.6 x 70 cm
Sale: Modern Evening Auction
Sold: HK$103,927,000 (US$13.2 million)
Followed by Nara’s Oddly Cozy was Plum Blossoms by the 20th century Chinese master Wu Guanzhong, which sold within presale expectations. Due to scarcity of materials during the Cultural Revolution, Wu painted mostly on wooden boards refashioned from small blackboards. Canvas was extremely precious and was reserved for his finest works, of which only about thirty were created at the time.
Wu was consistently restrained in his use of colour, particularly in his nature paintings from 1970s. He generally refrained from painting great swaths of red. Plum Blossoms was a rare piece where bold hues are used. When the work was created, the artist had just returned to Beijing from Li Village. As he went back to his hometown, the blooming winter plum trees of the capital welcomed him back from his travails and foretold a flourishing springtime. And Plum Blossoms, with a vivid colour palette, was intended to express Wu’s joy of being back at home again.