Abstract Master Chu Teh-chun’s Snow Series Triptych Sold for US$29.5m in Hong Kong, Renewing Artist’s Auction Record

Right after Sotheby’s cross-category evening sale in Hong Kong tonight, led by Picasso’s matador painting which realized nearly HK$140m (US$18m), the momentum carried on with the Modern Art Evening Sale.

With Felix Kwok, Head of Modern Art of Sotheby’s Asia at the helm for the first time, the 50-lot sale tallied a within-estimate HK$771m (US$99.2m) and a solid 82% sell-through rate. The night was spearheaded by a triptych from abstract master Chu Teh-chun’s snow series, which realized a record-breaking HK$229.6m (US$29.5m) and eclipsed such market stalwarts as "Chinese Matisse" Sanyu, Chu's fellow abstract painter Zao Wou-ki, and Picasso tonight.

Lot 1020 | Chu Teh-chun, Harmonie hivernale

Oil on canvas (triptych)

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin, dated 86; signed in Chinese and Pinyin, titled in French, dated 1986 on the reverse 

Dimension: 193 x 384.7 cm

Provenance: Important Private European Collection

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000

Hammer price: HK$198,000,000

Price realized: HK$229,568,000


Auctioneer Ian Mcginlay opened the bidding for tonight's show-stealing lot at HK$55m and immediately elicited a fierce bidding war that lasted over 20 minutes. It took only nine bids to drive the proceeding pass the HK$100m benchmark, and from there onwards, the battle was between the phone bidders represented by Patti Wong (Chairman, Asia), Jen Hua (Deputy Chairman, Asia), and Dodo Lee (Executive Assistant to CEO Kevin Ching) respectively.


Jen Hua (upper right) and Dodo Lee (lower right) remained actively throughout the second half of the bidding war


Wong was the first to drop out at HK$145m, the tug-of-war between Hua and Lee continued with HK$1m increments for the most part. That was until Lee’s HK$182m bid, which was instantly responded to by Hua’s HK$6m increment. Lee’s client offered HK$190m, and was once again chased by another HK$8m increment, which also took the bid to HK$198m, when the hammer was brought down. 



(Second from right) Jen Hua, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia won the present lot for her client


The painting was hammered down for HK$198m, more than doubling its presale low estimate of HK$80m. It was sold to the phone bidder with the paddle number L0019, for HK$229.6m (US$29.5m) with fees.

The result also renewed Chu Teh-chun’s auction record of HK$113.7m (US$14.7m) pentaptych abstract, titled Les éléments confédérés.

Chu Teh-chun’s Les éléments confédérés | 162 x 650 cm

Sold for HK$113.7m (US$14.7m), Sotheby’s Hong Kong, July 2020

Closer looks at the present lot, Harmonie hivernale


Chu Teh-chun’s “Snow Scene” series began in 1985. There are only eight groups of large format polyptychs in the series, with Harmonie hivernale being one of the only two triptychs. Inspired by the artist’s journey through a snowstorm in the Alps, the present work was the first triptych depicting a snow scene to appear at auction. It showcases the artist's mastery of Eastern and Western artistic approaches that conjure enthralling images of wintery skies with heavy snow. 

Raised in Anhui province, China, and surrounded by intriguing mountainscapes, Chu’s expressive oeuvre often elicits a contrasting sense of controlled spontaneity that encompasses his passions for Chinese calligraphy and Western classical music.

Chu Teh-chun at the Alps, photographed 1975

Harmonie hivernale at Chu Teh-chun’s solo exhibition in France, 1986

Lot 1021 | Zao Wou-ki (1920 - 2013), 13.02.62

Oil on canvas signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 13.2.62 on the reverse 

Painted in 1962

Dimensions: 129.5 x 161.5 cm


  • Laing Gallery, Toronto
  • Private Collection (Sold: Phillips, London, December 5, 1990, Lot 61)
  • Private Collection, Paris
  • Important Private European Collection (Acquired directly from the above in 2003)

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

Hammer price: HK$140,000,000

Price realized: HK$162,926,000


As the round of applause for Chu Teh-chun’s record-smashing moment subsided, the energy in the saleroom was comparatively flat when the present lot by Zao opened at HK$75m. 

The bidding war was saw four phone bidders, among which were the ones represented by Patti Wong (Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia) and Felix Kwok (Head of Modern Art, Asia) respectively. After a total of 13 bids, it was Wong’s client, with the paddle number L0076, who took home the painting.


Patti Wong, Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia, won the lot for her client


In Zao Wou-ki’s “Hurricane Period,” during the 1960s, the apex of his career, the artist almost exclusively titled his works after their dates of creation. The present lot, 13.02.62, was painted on Zao’s birthday, adding to the significance of the painting. Among the recorded extant works by the artist, very few were created on the same day.

On top of the noticeable central axis running across the canvas - one of the most recognizable characteristics of Zao’s collection completed during his “Hurricane Period,” the present masterpiece also displays traces from his "Oracle Bone Period" in the 1950s, where the spirituality of ancient Chinese inscriptions shines through. 


Closer look at the present work


In 13.02.62, the dashing ink-black brushstrokes extend outward from the center of the composition, into the palette of bright red and silvery white. The intensity of his creative prowess and intensity was also met by his encounter with Chan May-kan, who later became his second wife and the love of his life. 

“[She has] the glamor of a movie star, the maturity beyond her young age, and despite having lived through difficult times still maintains the innocence of youth. She knows my painting.” Zao once said. 

Lot 1033 | Zao Wou-ki, Untitled (Golden City)

Oil on canvas

Painted in 1951 to 1952

Dimensions: 88.7 x 115.7 cm


  • Cadby Birch Gallery, New York 
  • Collection of Pauline Trigère 
  • Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei 
  • Important Private Asian Collection
  • Estimate: HK$42,000,000 - 60,000,000

Hammer price: HK$63,000,000

Price realized: HK$74,453,000


The third place of the sale went to another Zao Wou-ki painting, Untitled (Golden City). The lot received eight bids in total and was sold to the same buyer as the above lot, with the paddle number L0076.

The present work was completed during 1951 to 1952, was inspired by his trip to Venice, in search of new horizons and inspiration. The artist once mentioned that the view of Tuscany in Italy reminded him of the abundance of poetic landscapes of Jiangnan in China. 


Closer look at Untitled (Golden City)

The present work, emerging from a blue haze, captures a building that resembles the Basilica di San Marco at the top of the painting, with a typical Venetian square in the middle. 

Here are the remaining Zao Wou-ki’s works offered in tonight’s sale:

Lot 1036 | Zao Wou-ki, 28.12.99

Oil on canvas

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 28.12.99 on the reverse 

Dimensions: 114 x 146 cm


  • Private Collection (Acquired directly from the artist and sold: Sotheby's, London, 15 February 2012, Lot 17)
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector 

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000 

Hammer price: HK$38,000,000

Price realized: HK$45,728,000


Lot 1017 | Zao Wou-ki, 09.02.60

Oil on canvas

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 9.2.60 on the reverse

Dimensions: 73 x 92 cm


  • Galerie de France, Paris
  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 20,000,000

Hammer price: HK$13,000,000

Price realized: HK$15,905,000


Lot 1018 | Zao Wou-ki, Château - 07.52-05.06.55

Oil on canvas

Signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin, titled in French and dated 1952-1955 on the reverse

Dimensions: 54 x 65 cm


  • Private European Collection
  • Galerie 1900 - 2000, Paris
  • Important Private Asian Collection (Sold: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 2 April 2017, Lot 1002)
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important Asian collector

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 20,000,000

Hammer price: HK$13,000,000

Price realized: HK$15,905,000


Lot 1019 | Zao Wou-ki, 05.11.62

Oil on canvas

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 5.11.62 on the reverse

Arthur Lenars & Cie. label with handwritten inscription "Laing Toronto" affixed to the stretcher on the reverse

Dimensions: 81 x 116 cm


  • Laing Galleries, Toronto
  • Private Canadian Collection (Sold: Ravenel, Taipei, 2 December 2007, Lot 78)
  • Private Collection (Sold: Ravenel, Taipei, 3 June 2018, Lot 220)
  • Private Asian Collection (Acquired directly from the above)
  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000



Lot 1035 | Zao Wou-ki, 20 Juin 2000 20.06.2000

Oil on canvas

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated in French on the reverse 

Galerie Jan Krugier label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse

Dimensions: 114 x 146 cm


  • Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris 
  • Acquired directly from the above by the former owner (Sold: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 9 April 2008, Lot 829)
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector 

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 28,000,000 



Lot 1058 | Zao Wou-ki, Spirits

Watercolor on paper

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin, dated 56

Kleemann Galleries label affixed to the reverse

Dimensions: 16.5 x 32.5 cm


  • Kleemann Galleries, New York
  • Private American Collection (Sold: Christie's, Hong Kong, 27 November 2011, Lot 1233)
  • Acquired directly from the above sale by the present important private Asian collector 

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 


Auction Summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale

Date: April 18, 2021 | 6:30 pm

Lots offered: 50

Sold: 41

Unsold: 9

Sale by rate: 82%

Sale total: HK$771,141,000 (US$99,230,000)