Picasso and Wu Guanzhong’s masterworks top Sotheby’s US$69.2 million Evening Sale

Blockbuster lots were lined up as part of Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern Evening Auction on 27 April.

Amongst 36 lots offered, 34 were sold – with a sale rate of 94.4 per cent. Two works exceeded HK$100 million (around US$12.7 million) dollars – each from East and West Masters – Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar and Wu Guanzhong’s Plum Blossoms. Alongside the pair, many paintings also sold beyond expectations. 

Compared with last year, this season's Modern Art Evening Auction did not perform as well – attaining a sale total of HK$543 million (around US$69.2 million) dollars. During the Spring and Autumn Evening Auctions in 2021, the sales amassed around US$134.1 and 74.5 million dollars.

Lot 1030 | Pablo Picasso | Dora Maar, Oil on panel

Created in 1939
60 x 45.5 cm

  • Paul Rosenberg, Paris & New York (seized by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg on 5 September 1941 and transferred to the Jeu de Paume on 6th September 1941. Restituted to Paul Rosenberg on 14 September 1945)
  • Mr & Mrs Vladimir Golschmann, St. Louis (acquired from the above)
  • Saidenberg Gallery, Inc., New York (acquired by 1958)
  • William Rand, New York (acquired from the above and sold: Christie's, New York, 19 February 1998, Lot 30)
  • Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above sale)
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2014)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate upon request
Hammer Price: HK$145,000,000
Sold: HK$169,420,000 (around US$21.5 million)

The bidding started at HK$100 million dollars. The hammer was dropped at HK$145 million dollars, and the winning bid was by Jestina Tang, Specialist of Modern Art, Asia; for her client with paddle number 72. In the end, it realised HK$169.4 million (around US$21.5 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

Picasso's Asian auction record is Femme Accroupie (Crouching Lady, 1954)
– a painting depicting the Spanish artist's last lover and second wife, Jacqueline Roque. In October 2021, it sold for HK$191.6 million (around US$24.6 million) dollars at Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Jestina Tang with the winning bid

During World War Two, the Germans established the Rosenberg Task Force (ERR). Led by chief ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, the force plundered cultural property from "enemies of the State" – particularly Jewish people and Freemasons. These operations were carried out in occupied European countries – such as France, Italy and the Netherlands.

After the occupation of Paris, EER initially used the basement in the Louvre to store the art relics. But due to the large number of artworks, they were moved to nearby Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume – as a temporary warehouse – before being transported to Germany. Looted by the ERR in 1941, Dora Maar was eventually returned to Paul Rosenberg after the war. A prominent French-Jewish art dealer, he represented works by Masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque.

The German Army moved looted art relics – including this present Dora Maar painting – from the Louvre to the nearby Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume

After the war, the Allies recovered most of the looted artworks

Throughout his career, Picasso painted portraits of his lovers. In the sensitivity and passion of his brushwork, viewers can see the changes in his thoughts, style, and worldview throughout different periods.

Dora Maar was Picasso’s lover and muse during the 1930s and 1940s, and a photographer, poet and artist who was 26 years his junior. She inspired Picasso’s art with her unique charms and creativity. The love story between Maar and Picasso may be one of the most dramatic in 20th-century art history. When they met in 1935, Picasso was in a relationship with lover, Marie-Therese Walter; and still married to first wife, Olga Khokhlova.

It was around 1937 when Maar became Picasso’s main companion. Both strong characters, their love affair was passionate and turbulent, the emotional intensity of which is suggested by the present work’s fiery background. Although the couple had frequent conflicts, Maar remained a constant companion and supporter of Picasso, serving as a source of artistic and intellectual stimulation and challenge – she even documented the Spanish artist’s creation of the world-renowned masterpiece, Guernica (1937).

During their nine-year relationship, Picasso repeatedly painted Maar – including Weeping Woman (1937; Collection of the Tate Modern, London). His portraits of Maar, created before and after World War Two, are some of his most renowned works of the period.

Pablo and Dora Maar

Dora Maar

Created in 1939, Maar is depicted as striking a proud pose – she has her hand on her face – adding a sense of contemplation and mysteriousness. This contrast extends to the blue shirt she wears against the red background.

Maar appears with a complete and beautiful face, while exuding an air of elegance. Her face is captivating and full of character, with eyes gazing intently at the viewer. In semi-abstract outlines, this portrait conveys an irresistible pathos and moving passion. While the painting expresses Picasso’s love for Maar, it also symbolises the tense atmosphere of the larger historical context through their tumultuous romance.

Lot 1038 | Wu Guanzhong | Plum Blossoms, Oil on canvas laid on board

Created in 1973
89.6 x 70 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Original owner acquired directly from the artist (sold: Heritage Arts, Taipei, 15 June 1997, Lot 76)
  • Private Asian Collection (sold: Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 4 April 2015, Lot 1006, Sold: HK$66,840,000)
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate: HK$90,000,000 – 120,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$88,000,000
Sold: HK$103,927,000 (around US$13.2 million)

The bidding started at HK$65 million dollars. The hammer was dropped at HK$88 million dollars, and the winning bid was by Patti Wong, Chairman, Asia; for her client with paddle number 66. In the end, it garnered HK$103.9 million (around US$13.2 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

Patti Wong with the winning bid

Wu's Lotus Flowers (1974)

In 1973, Chinese modern art pioneer, Wu returned from Beijing to Li Village. The universities were closed, so Wu, unhindered by teaching responsibilities, travelled to the outskirts of Beijing in order to paint from life. During the second half of 1973, he received a government assignment to travel south and collect material for Ten Thousand Kilometres of the Yangtze River – limiting his time in Beijing to only a few short months.

A year later, 
in 1974, Wu created a floral-themed painting called Lotus Flowers a year later than Plum Blossoms. Marking the 100th anniversary of his birthday, Wu's painting Lotus Flowers was auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019. It became the fourth painting by the artist that exceeded HK$100 million dollars. In the end, it sold for HK$130.7 million (around US$16.6 million) dollars.

Wu and his wife in front of plum blossom trees at Baihua Mountain, Beijing, 1996

Due to scarcity of materials during the Cultural Revolution, Wu Guanzhong painted mostly on wooden boards refashioned from small blackboards and reserved canvas for his finest works. He produced around 30 paintings on canvas during these difficult times. Among them, paintings exceeding one metre were almost all commissioned by museums or the national government.

Wu's artistry originates in painting from life, and painting from life originates in observing reality. The subject of Plum Blossoms is the sort of plum tree that can be found in the Beijing suburbs, but the image presented in the painting also recalls the composition of traditional Chinese paintings.

Lot 1044 | Chen Yifei │ Banquet, Oil on canvas

Created in 1991
137 x 208 cm

  • Sale: Christie's Swire, Hong Kong, 30 March 1992, Lot 50 (illustrated on the cover and p. 81)
  • Collection of Sir Run Run Shaw (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate upon request
Hammer Price: HK$45,000,000
Sold: HK$54,520,000 (around US$6.9 million)

Created in 1991, Chen Yifei’s Banquet painting was collected by entertainment tycoon and philanthropist, Sir Run Run Shaw. This work is one of the artist’s series of paintings from the 1990s depicting classical Chinese beauties.

In 1992, the painting appeared on Christie's Hong Kong auction catalogue’s cover. In the end, it was purchased for HK$1.98 million dollars (around US$250,000 dollars). After 30 years, this masterpiece re-appeared in auction.

The bidding started at HK$35 million dollars, and the hammer was dropped at HK$45 million dollars. Felix Kwok, Head of Modern Art Department, Asia got the winning bid for his client with paddle number 45. In the end, it fetched HK$54.5 million (around US$6.9 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

Felix Kwok with the winning bid

Chen’s top three auction records are:

  1. Warm Spring in the Jade Pavillion (1993)|China Guardian Beijing, 2017|Sold: RMB 149,500,000 (around US$23.4 million)
  2. Upland Wind (1994)|China Guardian Beijing, 2011|Sold: RMB 81,650,000 (around US$18 million)
  3. Beauties on Promenade (1997)|Christie’s Hong Kong, 2018|Sold: HK$83,350,000 (around US$10.6 million)

Chen's Warm Spring in the Jade Pavillion (1993)

Chen's Upland Wind (1994)

Chen's Beauties on Promenade (1997)

Chen’s oil paintings combine classic realist and romantic styles – inspired by both Eastern and Western art and culture. In 1980, he went to Hunter College in New York to study a Master of Fine Arts. Three years later, in 1983, his solo exhibitions of eastern Chinese landscapes created a sensation by selling out in the first week. Chen later held several solo exhibitions, and his artistic style attracted attention from the Western art world.

In fact, Sir Run Run Shaw and Chen Yifei have something in common. Both originated from Ningbo, eastern China, and went to Shanghai to develop their careers. Shaw's eldest brother, Shao Renjie, established the Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai and later developed into a world-renowned film and television empire. Chen studied art in Shanghai, and the city starred in his films such as Old Dream at Sea: Personal Recollections on Chen Yifei and A Date at Dusk.

Chinese realist painter, Chen Yifei

Sir Run Run Shaw

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 1022 | Chu Teh-chun | Vent debout, Oil on canvas (diptych)

Created in 1989
200 x 360 cm

  • Important Private European Collection

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$28,000,000
Sold: HK$34,255,000 (around US$4.3 million)

Lot 1028 | Le Pho | Figures in a garden, Oil on canvas laid on panels (3) | Artist auction record

Created in 1993
Each: 175 x 69.5 cm | Overall: 175 x 209.5 cm

  • Private Collection, USA (acquired from Wally Findlay Galleries, Palm Beach, 1973)
  • Private Collection, USA (by descent from the above)

Estimate: HK$2,000,000 – 3,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$14,500,000
Sold: HK$17,920,000 (around US$2.2 million)

Lot 1036 | Zao Wou-ki | 11.06.93, Oil on canvas

Created in 1993
130 x 97 cm

  • Private Collection, Europe (sold: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 3 October 2011, Lot 785)
  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the above sale and sold: Beijing Council International Auction, Beijing, 4 December 2017, Lot 3797)
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate: HK$13,000,000 – 20,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$14,500,000
Sold: HK$17,920,000 (around US$2.2 million)

Lot 1037 | Zao Wou-ki | 03.12.67, Oil on canvas

Created in 1967
59.5 x 81 cm

  • Henry Clay Frick II, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1968)
  • Private Collection, New York (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, Paris, 5 June 2019, Lot 20)
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 – 20,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$13,000,000
Sold: HK$16,105,000 (around US$2 million)

Lot 1025 | Marc Chagall | Les pivoines, Oil, tempera and sawdust on canvas

Created in 1969
92 x 73 cm

  • Galerie Maeght, Paris
  • Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired directly from the above circa 1975)
  • Private Collection, Switzerland (thence by descent to the present owner)

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 – 18,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$12,000,000
Sold: HK$14,895,000 (around US$1.9 million)

Lot 1026 | Wu Guanzhong | Village of Xishuangbanna, Oil on canvas

Created in 1994
76.5 x 60.5 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Private Asian Collection (sold: Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 November 2017, Lot 7, Sold: HK$16,900,000)
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 – 22,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$11,000,000
Sold: HK$13,685,000 (around US$1.7 million)

Unsold works: 

Lot 1029 | Pierre-Auguste Renoir | Baigneuse Accouudee, Oil on canvas

Created in 1882
54 x 40.5 cm

  • Arsene Alexandre, Paris ((probably) acquired from the artist and sold: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 18-19 May 1903, Lot 51)
  • Gabriel Cognacq, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 14080) (acquired from the above on 15 March 1905)
  • Galerie Georges Petit, Paris (acquired from the above)
  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 14419) (acquired from the above on 7 July 1905)
  • Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above on 21 September 1909)
  • Julius Stern, Berlin (acquired from the above on 9 November 1909. Sold by his estate: Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin, 22 May 1916, Lot 80)
  • Leo Blumenreich, Berlin (purchased at the above sale)
  • Alfred Hausammann, Zurich (acquired by 1955)
  • Mrs Behrens-Hausammann, Switzerland (by descent from the above circa 2001 and sold: Christie's, London, 6 February 2013, Lot 24)
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above sale)

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 – 28,000,000

Lot 1023 | Chu Teh-chun | De neige, d’or et d’azur, N° 24; Hand-painted porcelain with gold leaf

Created in 2007-2008
37 x 30 cm

  • Marlborough Gallery, New York
  • Important Private Asian Collection (acquired directly from the above in 2014)

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 – 2,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Modern Evening Auction
Date: 27 April 2022
Number of lots: 36
Sold: 34
Unsold: 2
Sale Rate: 94.4%
Sale Total: HK$543,070,000 (around US$69.2 million)