Sotheby's and Christie's are heading east to seek their respective fortunes. The two auction houses are offering more than $26 million of Asian art this week in London. The lots themselves are attracting record numbers of buyers from mainland China, a section of the market that has shown signs of life this year. Chinese buyers were quite active in Hong Kong last month.
Nicholas Chow of Sotheby's told Bloomberg News, ""We've seen a really aggressive push from mainland Chinese collectors during the last season of sales" and that "they're buying things at the very highest level." An Imperial jade seal, for example, moved for GBP3.6 million on Tuesday, six times the high-end presale estimate.
On November 3, Christie's sold an aggregate GBP5.7 million, beating the presale estimate of GBP5.2 million. Of the 319 lots, a third didn't move. The top seller was an eighteenth century enamel model of a Buddhist shrine, which beat its presale range of GBP60,000 to GBP80,000 with a hammer sale of GBP229,250. Nine of the top 10 most expensive items went to buyers from Asia.
Collectors from mainland China are quite eager to repatriate art and other objects from their heritage, particularly the Qing and Ming dynasties ... a fact of which the auction houses are fully aware. Christie's sent 210 invitations to mainland Chinese for its 12th annual Asian Art in London event, which ends November 7, 2009. Sotheby's pursued a similar number of collectors. Bonhams has invited 30 new buyers from mainland China.
In October, the Sotheby's Hong Kong art auction was good for $170 million, with plenty of bidding and buying by mainland Chinese buyers.