December 1, 2010 / 2:16 PM / 8 years ago

$16.7 million cranes lift Chinese art and ceramics sale

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - A Hong Kong tycoon paid $16.7 million on Wednesday for a quartet of Chinese cloisonne cranes at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong that also saw strong prices paid for high-end Chinese ceramics amid a white-hot streak in the market.

While parts of Europe have plunged into a debt crisis and the U.S. economy remains stagnant, China’s antique-loving millionaires are splashing out on rare Chinese antiques and ceramics, driven by cultural patriotism and potential investment returns.

At Christie’s Asian sales in Hong Kong, considered a barometer for the Chinese and Asian art markets in the world’s third largest art auction hub after New York and London, demand was again strong for Chinese works from three major Western collections.

The four enamel cranes, part of a trove of Chinese treasures had been cloistered for decades in the late Alfred Morrison’s Fonthill estate in the western English county of Wiltshire.

Crafted in the Qing Yongzheng period (1723-1735), the near life-sized birds were sold after brief bidding for HK$129.5 million to Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau who has paid high prices for works by Andy Warhol and Paul Gauguin in recent years.

“Many pieces sold above the high estimates because of the provenance and as fresh material to the market,” said Robin Markbreiter, the director of Arts of Asia magazine, at the sale.

Another Fonthill heirloom, a rare yellow Jiaqing period Qing “famille rose” vase fetched HK$90.3 million ($11.63 million).

Other highlights included a ruby red, glass phoenix form ewer that was sold for HK$18.6 million, while a blue and white Qing moonflask decorated with a pair of pink phoenixes from the Qianlong reign made HK$124 million ($16 million).

Sourced from American collectors Walter and Phyllis Shorenstein, the phoenix vase carried three hairline cracks, but still went for four times its pre-sale estimate in another sign of market ardor for even slightly blemished major works.

“As we move forward there’ll be fewer and fewer pieces that people source in the West ... and the prices will eventually go up. Buyer demand will far outweigh the supply,” said Pola Antebi, Christie’s head of Chinese ceramics and works of art.

The Christie’s sale comes off the back of a scintillating spell for Chinese ceramics.

Last month, a Chinese collector paid a world record 52 million pounds ($83 million) for a newly discovered Qianlong period vase at a provincial auction room in England, smashing the previous record achieved a month before in a Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale of a Chinese globular yellow-ground gourd Qing vase that sold for $32.4 million.

Editing by Ron Popeski

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