London Auction Houses Selling US$26 Million Of Asian Art This Week, With Chinese Collectors Attracted To Imperial Jades And Seals
New Chinese Collectors continue to surprise at auction houses around the world, as they snap up high-quality pieces at auctions of everything from Chinese imperial antiquities to contemporary works by younger Chinese artists. While buying habits vary, what we can say from the last few months of observation is that “new collectors,” or “new buyers” as they’re often referred to in the Chinese-language press, are driven in equal measures by patriotism (reflected in the way they overwhelmingly favor Chinese pieces) and investment strategy, since they feel now is an opportune moment to get in the collecting game. With many established collectors selling pieces they’ve held for decades, these new collectors may be right. In recent auctions, Chinese buyers have been among the most motivated and competitive, even surprising Hong Kong collectors and art dealers, one of whom remarked last month at a Sotheby’s auction, ““The Chinese are out in force…It’s hard to outbid them.”
This week, a series of auctions of Asian art were held in London, and the Chinese collectors referenced by that Hong Kong collector were certainly “out in force” once again. As a Bloomberg article today illustrates, New Chinese Collectors appear to have no qualms about flying halfway across the globe to repatriate Chinese works of art, nor do they mind going far above and beyond high estimates if the piece is right:
“We’ve seen a really aggressive push from mainland Chinese collectors during the last season of sales,” Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’sinternational head of Chinese ceramics and works of art, said in an interview. “What is new is that they’re buying things at the very highest level,” he said. The [Qianlong-era seal up for grabs] was “like holding Imperial power in the palm of your hand.”
Newly wealthy Chinese are keen to acquire high quality objects from their heritage, particularly when associated with Emperors from the Qing and Ming dynasties, said dealers.
With mainland collectors and traders needing a formal invitation to travel to the U.K., dealers said that more than ever were in town for in the 12th annual Asian Art in London event, running through Nov. 7. Christie’s International sent invites to 210 mainland Chinese, with Sotheby’s writing to a similar number as demand and prices rise for Asian antiques.
According to Christie’s, their auctions in London were dominated by new Chinese buyers, with English becoming a minority language in the auctions — perhaps a harbinger of what’s to come at future auctions of Chinese art and artifacts. We’ll see if these trends continue at upcoming Ravenel, Guardian, other auctions of Chinese contemporary and modern art. But if what we’ve seen over the summer and into the fall holds true, auction houses are probably going to be seeing plenty of Mandarin-speaking collectors filling their halls this winter.
“Now English isn’t much heard at the views of these London auctions,” said Marco Almeida, Christie’s London-based specialist in Chinese ceramics and works of art. “It’s just Mandarin and Cantonese.”