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  • Dec 03, 2020

Sanyu Continues to Dominate Hong Kong Auctions

SANYU, Goldfish, c. 1930–40s, oil on canvas, 73.8 × 50.2 cm. All images courtesy Christie’s Images Limited.

As Hong Kong faces another spate of closures and public-gathering restrictions for its fourth wave of Covid-19, the city’s resurgent auction market shows no signs of stalling. Christie’s December 2 evening sales—comprising the house’s marquee Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, a single-lot offering, and a livestreamed relay-style event for 20th-century art—collectively raked in HKD 1.4 billion (USD  184 million), the house’s highest sale total for a single evening  in Asia.

The highly anticipated single-lot sale of Chinese-French modernist Sanyu’s vertical oil canvas Goldfish (c. 1930–40s), depicting an auspicious glass case of eight goldfish against a warm orange background, realized HKD 170 million (USD 21 million), just shy of the high estimate of HKD 180 million (USD 23 million).  Depicting a rare subject for the artist, Goldfish has been flipped at auction twice previously, most recently in October 2013 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale, for HKD 67 million (USD 8.6 million).

Another major work by Sanyu, Chrysanthèmes roses dans une corbeille (Pink Chrysanthemums in a Basket) (1931), went on the block at the Modern and Contemporary Art sale, which totalled HKD 844 million (USD 108 million). Chrysanthèmes, a vertical still life in oil, surpassed its HKD 98 million (USD 12.6 million) high estimate to fetch HKD 138 million (USD 17.8 million). The canvas was last sold through the same house in November 2005 for HKD 3.2 million (USD 420,000). That same 2005 sale also transacted Sanyu’s green oil-on-masonite Quatre Nus (1950s), which made headlines in July when it realized HKD 258 million (USD 33.3 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern Art Evening Sale. The artist’s auction record, however, still remains with Christie’s Hong Kong for his maroon Five Nudes (1950), sold for HKD 303 million (USD 38.7 million) in November 2019.

Also in the Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Zhang Xiaogang’s iconic Bloodline Series The Big Family No. 2 (1995) was snapped up for nearly double the high estimate at HKD 98 million (USD 12.6 million), setting an auction record for the artist. The large oil painting was first offered at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery, whose founder Johnson Tsong-zung Chang recently consigned 14 postmodern Chinese artworks from his collection, including some by Zhang, to Sotheby’s Hong Kong. The collection mostly sold well in October, signaling a comeback for works by the iconoclastic Chinese contemporary artists of the 1980s and ’90s. Other highlights of Christie’s headline sale include two oil abstractions by mainstay Zao Wou-ki, although both fell short of their respective high estimates. The larger yellow-toned 15.01.82 – Triptyque (1982), also previously procured at Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale, made HKD 94.6 million (USD 12.2 million), while the blue-toned 09.03.65 (1965) landed at HKD 75.7 million (USD 9.7 million).

ZAO WOU-KI, 15.01.82 – Triptyque, 1982, oil on canvas, each panel: 195 x 130 cm, overall: 195 x 390 cm. Copyright Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zurich.

The relay-style 20th Century: Hong Kong to New York, uniting salerooms in the two cities, follows on the success of the house’s USD 420 million global relay sale in July. The latest sale brought in USD 119 million, selling 90 percent of the lots offered, and was livestreamed to an audience of 500,000 people. The star lot was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s fresh-to-market portrait of his model Carmen Gaumin in oil, Pierreuse (1889), which was purchased during the New York leg for USD 9 million, well above the USD 5 million high estimate. Auction favorite Yoshitomo Nara’s portrait of a girl, Agent Orange (In the Milky Lake) (2009), made HKD 66 million (USD 8.5 million) in Hong Kong, within estimates. Another postwar Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, more than doubled the high estimate for the acrylic-on-canvas A-PUMPKIN-SPW (2014), attaining HKD 38.6 million (USD 5 million).

Nara is expected to lead tonight at Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in collaboration with Poly Auction Hong Kong, with Hot House Doll (1995), depicting a seated girl. The awaited inaugural joint sale by the two houses is offering 32 lots with estimates ranging between HKD 200,000 (USD 25,800) to HKD 70 million (USD 8.9 million).

Lauren Long is ArtAsiaPacific’s news and web editor.

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