Chinese Demand Pushes $35 Million Sotheby’s Classical Chinese Paintings Auction Far Beyond Estimates

Demand For Top-Quality Art Increasing As Chinese Collector Base Continues To Grow

This scroll featuring calligraphy from four Southern Song emperors sold for nearly $6 million at Sotheby's New York

This scroll featuring calligraphy from four Southern Song emperors sold for nearly $6 million at Sotheby's New York

If there’s one thing that distinguishes China’s emerging class of new art collector, it’s a willingness — and even a point of pride — to bid well above high estimates for auction lots that hold particular historical or cultural significance. This proclivity was on full display today in New York at Sotheby’s Classical Chinese Paintings sale, part of a series of auctions coinciding with Asia Week New York. With prospective Chinese buyers in town, checkbooks in tow, for the first-ever dedicated sale of Classical Chinese Paintings held by Sotheby’s during Asia Week, lively bidding saw the auction pull in a total of US$35.2 million, nearly three times the pre-sale high estimate of $13.7 million and almost four times its low estimate of $9.8 million. Estimates continually fell throughout the course of the auction, with nine lots selling for over $1 million. Clearly, bidders were in the mood to buy.

Among the nine lots that sold for over $1 million, the star of the show was an “Emperors of the Southern Song, 12th to 13th century” handscroll of poems written by the first four emperors of the Southern Song Dynasty, which sold for a whopping $5.6 million, nearly six times its high estimate. Wen Jia’s version of Yuan Dynasty master Wang Meng’s “Thatched Cottage In The Southern Village (Nancun Caotang Tu)” came in second, selling for $5.1 million, more than 20 times its pre-sale high estimate of $250,000 and a new record for the artist.

China’s famously free-spending, globe-trotting buyers weren’t the only ones to take home some quality lots. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired a major work at the sale in Zheng Min’s “Eight Views Of Huangshan,” which sold for a record-setting $2.3 million, nearly 10 times its pre-sale high estimate. Commenting on his purchase, the Head of the Met’s Asian Art department, Mike Hearn, said, “The acquisition of this gemlike album…will immediately become one of the highlights of the Museum’s major holdings of 17th-century Chinese paintings.”

As in other sales of Chinese lots of particular historical significance, today’s auction saw strong bidding for pieces from respected collections. Lots from the Ching Yuan Chai collection included in today’s auction proved extremely popular with bidders, with “Landscape After Lu Guang” by the late Ming Dynasty artist Hongren selling for $1.8 million and Wen Jia’s “Temples on Mountains of the Immortals” going for $1.3 million. “Eagle Perching on the Pine” by Qi Baishi — who was the world’s second-highest-selling artist last year, with combined auction totals of $445.1 million — reached $1.99 million. Though these prices are impressive, one point that bears noting is that pre-sale estimates in this sale didn’t reflect true value in most cases, and with the base of Chinese collectors continuing to grow, we should be thinking of results like these as low in the long-term.

What all of this bidding and buying adds up to is a successful run of Asian art auctions by Sotheby’s in New York. As Henry Howard-Sneyd, Vice Chairman of Asian Art at Sotheby’s, put it, “Our week of Asian art auctions that exceeded the high estimate by over $20 million, to bring an overall total of $61.8 million. The results, especially the records set in the auction of Classical Chinese Paintings, reaffirm New York’s position as a global centre for the Asian Art market.”



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