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Sotheby's sells $89 million of Asian art in Hong Kong sales

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Sotheby’s hammered off a total of HK$691 million ($88.6 million) worth of artwork in its spring Asian sales in Hong Kong, 11 percent higher than its pre-sale estimate in a steady showing for the fragile Chinese art market.

A handout photo of 'Fishing Harvest', a rare oil painting by Chinese artist Lin Fengmian, which was put onto market for the first time, sold for 2.1 million amid brisk bidding, a world auction record for the artist at Sotheby's Spring auction in Hong Kong April 6, 2009. REUTERS/Sotheby's/Handout

Its biannual Asia sales in Hong Kong, often seen as a weather vane for the Chinese art market, was characterized this time round by a far smaller, more realistically priced selection.

While demand was still weak for lesser objects, the appetite among buyers, especially wealthy Chinese, for top-flight items remained undiminished.

“We are delighted with the very healthy results that we have achieved, and they send a very positive and encouraging signal to the market,” said Kevin Ching, CEO for Sotheby’s Asia.

Bidding was strong in the “Eight Treasures” sale, with the European-sourced collection of imperial porcelain fired in the kilns of Jingdezhen, completely sold off.

In particular, a pear-shaped reticulated celadon vase, with the seal mark of the Qing dynasty Qianlong period, sold for $HK47.7 million ($6.1 million), a world auction record for Qing Monochrome porcelain according to Sotheby’s.

“For that sale I think the prices were strong ... and prices were totally on a par with what you’d expect from about a year ago,” said Nicolas Chow, the head of Chinese ceramics and works of art at Sotheby’s.

In Chinese ceramics and works of art however, there was inconsistent demand across the board with 44 percent of 54 lots unsold, while a rare set of Ming furniture fared poorly.

“There were a number of things which were selectively decided to be over-estimated or under quality,” said James Lally, a top dealer based in New York who was at the Sotheby’s sales.

“But whenever anything really came up that was good, it was a battle,” he told Reuters.

“Sotheby’s timing was impossible. They had to gather this sale four or five months ago when everybody was absolutely in the doldrums. Fine things are (still) in strong hands,” Lally added.

For paintings, demand was firmer and more consistent in more traditional areas including 20th Century Chinese paintings and Fine Chinese paintings. They have proven far less volatile than the once white-hot Chinese contemporary art market that has cooled with the global downturn.

A handful of Chinese artists broke world auction records including 20th century master Lin Fengmian’s rare oil painting “Fishing Harvest” which fetched HK$16.34 million ($2.1 million), a world auction record for the artist at auction.

Zhu Yuanzhi’s “The Last Supper” sold for HK$6.02 million ($770,000), also a world auction record for the artist.

Sotheby’s inaugural Hong Kong wine sale over the weekend raked in HK$49.9 million ($6.4 million). It was 100 percent sold by lot, reflecting cheaper pre-sales valuations and solid demand for top vintages among wine collectors in Hong Kong, which is positioning itself as a regional wine hub.

Editing by Chris Lewis