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Jul 10 2020

Sanyu Reigns At Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Evening Sale

by Charmaine Kong

SANYU‘s Quatre nus (1952) made USD 33.3 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this week. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong completed its marquee Modern Art Evening Sale on July 8, led by the late Chinese-French modernist Sanyu, whose nude painting stole the spotlight, hammering down at HKD 258 million (USD 33.3 million).

The piece, Quatre nus (1952)—an oil-on-masonite featuring four reclining female nudes against an emerald background—opened the floor at HKD 160 million (USD 20.6 million). With undisclosed estimates, the canvas sparked a ten-minute bidding battle between four telephone bidders in small increments of HKD 2–5 million (USD 258,000–645,000) until it reached its final sale price.

In the same auction two of the artist’s rare oil painting-on-mirror also sold. Femme nue etendue (1929), the only nude he painted on this medium, exceeded its HKD 10 million (USD 1.2 million) estimate and reached  HKD 12.1 million (USD 1.5 million). Meanwhile still-life Panier de Poires (1930s) achieved HKD 6.1 million (USD 774,180), within estimates.  

The Sichuan-born artist whose career proliferated in Paris is best known for his calligraphic aesthetics and nude studies that epitomize the allure of the female form. The growing demand for his works is shown from his market’s high average annual rate of return of 56 percent and a sell-through rate of 85 percent based on December 2019 data, which includes key players such as Sotheby’s, according to Art Market Journal. Recent sales include his painting Five Nudes (1950), which is the late artist’s current auction record at HKD 303 million (USD 38.7 million), sold by Christie’s Hong Kong in November 2019. This piece broke the record set just a month earlier at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, where his canvas of a single nude in recline, Nu (1965), made HKD 198 million (USD 25.2 million). His earlier victories in auctions, among others, include oil-on-masonite Léopard Rose (1940s), of an abstracted feline figure, and Nu Endormi (1950s), depicting a sleeping woman, which fetched HKD 49.1 million (USD 6.26 million) and HKD 46.9 million (USD 5.96 million) respectively, both at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in March 2018.

Results were robust across the board for Sotheby’s at its Modern Art Evening Sale, selling 34 of the 35 lots and totaling HKD 826 million (USD 107 million), the second highest amount achieved for the category by the Hong Kong office, whose current record is HKD 1.1 billion (USD 143 million) from September 2018. Auction records were realized for six artists, four of which surpassed HKD 100 million (USD 12.9 million), including Chu Teh-Chun’s five-panel oil-on-canvas Les éléments confédérés (1983–84) which garnered HKD 114 million (USD 14.7 million), along with artworks by Guan Zilan, Pang Jiun, Chen Ting-Shih, Ho Kan, and Hsiao Ming-Hsien.

Charmaine Kong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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