Classical paintings shine at Christie's in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Sales of traditional Chinese paintings and old masters notched up firm results at Christie’s autumn sales in Hong Kong, outshining Chinese contemporary art.

Christie’s, hit by anemic spring sales due to the financial crisis, had been banking on the current autumn sales in Hong Kong, now the firm’s third biggest arts hub after New York and London, for a reversal of fortunes.

In the fine Chinese modern paintings sale, 84 percent of lots were sold including a world auction record for Chinese artist Fu Baoshi, whose “Landscape inspired by Dufu Poetic Sentiment” was hammered off for HK$60 million ($7.7 million), a price market experts said was around four times higher than its 2006 price.

“The market has been quite good,” said Hangzhou based Chinese dealer and collector Tao Xiaomin, who was bidding at the sales.

“In the first half of the year, (traditional) Chinese paintings have experienced a boom and records have fallen.”

In recent sales in Beijing by leading Chinese auctioneers Poly International, several works exceeded or neared the 100 million yuan mark including Wu Bin’s “18 Arhats” that sold for nearly $25 million, a world record for any Chinese artwork.

“The classical Chinese paintings market is dominated completely by Chinese buyers now,” said Taiwan collector and dealer Michael Wang.

“The best works are now being sold in China, with the Chinese auction houses having overtaken Christie’s and Sotheby’s for traditional and classical works.”

In Hong Kong, another highlight was “Vertige Neigeux” of a snowscape in the Swiss-Alps by Chinese 20th Century artist Chu Teh-Chun that made $5.8 million, an auction record for Chu.

A clutch of abstract works by established Chinese master Zao Wou-ki also achieved firm prices including “19-11-59” that went for $3.9 million, almost three times its pre-sale estimate.

However, in a possible sign of the broader market’s continued fragility, one in five paintings went unsold in the evening sales of Asian contemporary and Chinese 20th century, including Chen Cheng-po’s Alishan, a stirring landscape of Taiwan’s famous peak with giant cypresses and a sea of clouds.

For Chinese classical paintings, meanwhile, 24 percent went unsold, but, as has been the case throughout the downturn, there were strong results for exceptional works including Ren Renfa’s “Five Drunken Kings Return on Horses” that made $6 million.

Chinese contemporary art, whose feted artists like Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun once trailblazed the rise of Chinese art before the crisis, saw few outstanding results in Christie’s sales.

Japanese artist Masami Teraoka was a rare standout for Asian contemporary art, whose Cloisters/Venus and Pope’s Workout” sold for US$622,000.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Jeremy Laurence