HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Global auction house Sotheby's said on Friday it expects to sell $77 million of artwork at its major spring Asian sales in Hong Kong, a substantial scaling back of business from a year ago as the financial crisis bites.
Sotheby's, which hosts two major sales of Asian artwork in Hong Kong in the spring and autumn, last spring sold HK$1.77 billion ($228.3 million) worth of artwork, almost three times as much as what it expects to sell this time round.
In London too, a series of auctions of largely Western artwork from Christie's and Sotheby's earlier this month saw combined sales revenues for both auction houses fall around 75 percent from the previous season's tally.
Despite such troubling signs, Sotheby's said its Hong Kong sales would be of a condensed but high quality.
"We have put together this well-edited auction series guided by collectors' demand for quality, rarity and immaculate provenance," said Kevin Ching, chief executive officer for Sotheby's in Asia.
"All works have been priced to reflect the current market condition," he added in a statement.
In the giddy days before the financial crisis deepened last September, Sotheby's smashed a slew of auction records as red-hot global demand for Asian art including Chinese contemporary paintings and rare imperial treasures, sent prices soaring.
A rare Chinese Ming dynasty gold tripod vessel for instance, sold for HK$116.8 million ($15.1 million) last April.
But last autumn, demand began weakening for Asian art among once free-spending collectors as the global credit woes deepened.
Over 1,700 objects will be hammered off at Sotheby's upcoming Asia sales including Chinese classical and contemporary paintings, imperial ceramics, jewelry and watches.
The sale will include Sotheby's first major wine auction in Hong Kong which is positioning itself as a wine hub, with $3 million of fine vintages expected to be auctioned off.
Other highlights include a painting of "Mount Jiuhua" by Chinese master Li Keran that could fetch up to $500,000, and a pair of "Famille-rose" mille-fleur bowls from the Qing dynasty Yongzheng period, that could be hammered off for $2.6 million.
($1=7.753 Hong Kong dollars)
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Jerry Norton