Picasso’s Matador Painting Sold for US$18m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Cross-Category Art Auction

With travel restrictions still ravaging the art industry, auction houses are pulling out all the stops to work out a new normal for their auction lineups, including auctions that feature a mix of genres from different eras.

Earlier tonight, saw Sotheby’s cross-category evening sale in Hong Kong. Touted by the auction house as one that spans a thousand years of history by great artists from the East and the West.

This season’s modern and contemporary sales were opened with this diverse sale, which achieved a total hammer of HK$317m (US$40.8m), just scraping past the presale low estimate of HK$292m. Leading the five-lot sale was one of Pablo Picasso’s final matador series works, which edged out "Chinese Matisse" Sanyu and sold for HK$140m (US$18m) after fees.


The ICONS sale saw a head-to-head between blue-chip artists from the East and the West, represented by Sanyu and Picasso

A self-portrait by Zhang Daqian and a bronze sculpture offered tonight

The only antique sculpture presented in this sale - a Song dynasty bodhisattva sculpture

Lot 8005 | Pablo Picasso, Buste de matador

Oil on canvas

Dated 27.9.70 IV on the reverse

Dimensions: 130 x 97 cm


  • Estate of the artist 
  • Collection of Marina Picasso, France (By descent from the above)
  • Collection of William H. Van Every, Jr. (Sold by the estate: Sotheby's, New York, November 11, 1988, Lot 69)
  • Private European Collection (Acquired directly from the above sale and sold: Sotheby's, London, 22 June 2010, Lot 26)
  • Private European Collection (Acquired directly from the above sale)
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private American collector

Estimate: HK$100,000,000 - 150,000,000

Hammer price: HK$120,000,000

Price realized: HK$139,946,000


The top lot of the sale was Picasso’s Buste de matador, which was backed by irrevocable bids ahead of the sale to ensure it would sell. The premium lot attracted a total of 15 bids from the specialists gathered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong gallery.

Auctioneer Ian Mcginlay opened the bids at HK$85m, which began the five-minute bidding battle, mainly between Kent Law, Sotheby’s Specialist, Wine, and Felix Kwok, Head of Modern Art, Asia. 

The rather slow proceeding propelled the work past its presale low estimate and finally sold to Kwok’s phone bidder, with the paddle number L0014, for nearly HK$140m with premiums. 


Auctioneer of the night, Ian Mcginlay 

Felix Kwok, Head of Modern Art Asia, placed the winning bid for his client 


At the age of eight, Picasso was taken to his very first bullfight. The iconic Spanish tradition had since then, became a lifelong fascination for Picasso. 

The fashion portrait presented in the sale, titled Buste de matador, was painted in 1970, when the artist was 89. In that year, he attended his last bullfight in Fréjus. The very subject matter of bullfighting witnessed the shift from Picasso’s youthful passion for the sport, to a much deeper understanding of time and life. 


The subject of bullfighting has played an important part of Picasso’s artistic career


The lot on offer is the initial work in the final matador series painted as Picasso entered the final chapter of his life between September to October 1970. The last one in the series appeared in a Sotheby’s London sale in 2018, and was sold for £16.5m (US$22.7m) with premiums. 

Le Matador | 146 x 114.3 cm | Sold for £16.5m (US$22.7m) at Sotheby’s London, February 2018

Lot 8004 | Sanyu, Nu avec un pékinois 

Oil on masonite

Signed in Chinese and French

Painted in 1950s

Dimensions: 84 x 122 cm


  • Collection of Pamela Forrest, Paris
  • Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei
  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$100,000,000 - 150,000,000

Hammer price: HK$90,000,000

Price realized: HK$105,476,000


Carrying the same presale estimate as Picasso’s matador painting above, the present lot by Sanyu was expected to headline the sale tonight, but instead, only managed to create little spark.

The proceeding started at HK$75m and only saw three paltry bids from the phone bidders represented by again, Kent Law and Felix Kwok. The hammer was brought down at a below-estimate HK$90m. And this time, it was Law’s client, with a paddle number L0002, who took home the painting for HK$105.8m after fees.


Kent Law, Sotheby’s Specialist, Wine, won the present lot for his client


Hailed as “Chinese Matisse,” Sichuan-born Sanyu’s paintings are some of the highly sought-after works in the modern art market. Sanyu was among the first Chinese artists to relocate to Paris at the height of the French city’s artistically precocious in the early 1920s, alongside today’s blue-chip names such as Lin Fengmian and Xu Beihong.

Painted in the 1950s and measuring 84 by 122 cm, Nu avec un pékinois features two of the three most favored subjects in Sanyu’s works, namely flowers, animals and nudes. The present work captures the intimate connection between a nude woman in repose and her dog. According to Sanyu’s collected essays, he created only three oil paintings featuring nude figures and dogs. A comparable work titled Deux Nus Sur Tapis Rouge, which now resides in Taiwan’s National Museum of History. 


(Right) Sanyu, Chinese-French artist hailed as “Chinese Matisse”

Deux Nus Sur Tapis Rouge (1950s) | Collection of National Museum of History, Taipei


Sanyu’s momentum in the Asian art market, Hong Kong’s in particular, is unstoppable. With all his top three records all set by nudes.

  • Five Nudes | 120 x 175 cm | Christie’s Hong Kong, Nov 2019 | Price realized: HK$303,985,000
  • Quatre nus | 100 x 122 cm | Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Jul 2020 | Price realized: HK$258,341,000
  • Nu | 122.5 x 135 cm | Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Oct 2019 | Price realized: HK$197,974,000

Lot 8003 | Zhang Daqian, Self Portrait with a Tibetan Mastiff

Splashed ink and color on gold paper, framed

Dimensions: 176 by 96 cm

Provenance: (Organized by The Value)

  • Previously from the Dafengtang Collection
  • Previously from the Chai Sian Kwan Collection
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, October 2, 2018, lot 1366 (Price realized: HK$49,739,000)

Estimate: HK$48,000,000 - 60,000,000 

Hammer price: HK$48,000,000

Price realized: HK$57,218,000


Zhang Daqian was one of the most prolific painters of self-portraits among the artists of his time. His earliest self-portraits date back to when he was 28, and he continuously returned to the genre well into old age.

The present lot, won by a phone bidder with Nicolas Chow (Sotheby's Chariman, Asia), depicts Zhang himself wearing white robes and in profile, recognized by his long silver hair and spiky beard. The juxtaposition of the techniques between the detailed self-portrait and the splashed background of green on gold paper forms a symphonic interplay. 


Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)


The self-portrait of Zhang is also accompanied by a large black dog, which is believed to be the animal-loving artist’s long-time companion, Black Tiger - from the level of meticulous details given to its features and from the way it looks up expectantly at Zhang in the painting.

The beloved Tibetan mastiff has also been featured in a few other paintings, such as Tibetan Women With Dogs, and Black Tiger below:

Zhang Daqian’s Black Tiger 

Lot 8002 | A large wood sculpture of Avalokiteshvara, Song dynasty (960-1279)

Dimensions: 137.2 cm (figure); 178 cm (overall)

Provenance: (Organized by The Value)

  • John R. Young (1921-2013) Collection 
  • Sotheby’s New York The Hundred Antiques: Fine and Decorative Asian Art sale, June 24, 2020, lot 870 (Price realized: US$1,340,000)

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000

Hammer price: HK$38,000,000

Price realized: HK$45,728,000


Making its second appearance at auction in ten months, the present sculpture of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara carried a presale low estimate of HK$30m (US$3.86m), a conspicuous 19300% jump from when it showed up in a Sotheby’s New York sale in June 2020, estimated at just US$20,000 to US$30,000.

The sculpture was sold for US$1.34m in the New York sale, when the auction house did not specify which dynasty the sculpture dates back to. This time around, listed as a Song dynasty artifact, the sculpture realized HK$45.7m (US$4.9m), sold to Carrie Li, Sotheby's Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art Department.

The present sculpture depicts the Bodhisattva known in Sanskrit as Avalokiteshvara, or in Chinese as Guanyin. The figure is seated in rājalīlāsana ("the posture of royal ease") on what would originally have been a base imitating a craggy rock with its right arm resting on its folded right knee. 

Lot 8001 | Alberto Giacometti, Petit buste sur colonne


Conceived circa 1951-52 and casted in 1973


  • Collection of Annette Giacometti, Paris 
  • Private Collection, Paris (Gift from the above and sold: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, June 17, 1996, Lot 30) 
  • Acquired directly from the above by the former owner 
  • Important Private Collection 

Estimate: HK$14,000,000 - 18,000,000

Hammer price: HK$21,000,000

Price realized: HK$25,585,000


Cast by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, the bronze figure on offer belonged to a group of several sculptures conceived during this decade that depict a bust set upon a tall pedestal.

Contrary to the use of the pillar to imbue a monumental vibe to the sculpture placed above, it is intended to stress the slender figure’s frailty and to suggest the enormous space surrounding the present figure that is reminiscent of Greco-Roman antiquity. 

Auction Summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space

Date: April 18, 2021 | 6pm

Lots offered: 5

Sold: 5

Sale by rate: 100%

Sale total: HK$373,953,000 (US$48,120,000)