Discover the most incredible auction items that broke records with their jaw-dropping prices

From a portrait painting that was discovered around the time of the painter’s death to a magnificent ruby that was mined from Mozambique last year, many highly valuable items were auctioned off. The four items that particularly stood out at this season’s auctions include the 55.22-carat Estrela de Fura, Gustave Klimt’s Dame mit Fächer, Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword and Antonio Canova’s Bust of Helen. Get to know how each attracted ground-breaking bids for being a unique masterpiece.

Red Light

Huge Mozambique ruby outshines all

A magnificent ruby unearthed in Mozambique last year has surpassed the world record for its type of precious stone – or indeed any coloured gem – sold at auction. The 55.22-carat Estrela de Fura, the largest gem-quality ruby in existence, stirred up frenzied interest from collectors ahead of its highly anticipated appearance at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in New York. The eventual selling price reached an astonishing US$34.8 million, surpassing the previous record of US$30.3 million held by Sunrise Ruby, a 25.59-carat Burmese stone auctioned in 2015.

Discovered as a 101-carat rough, Estrela de Fura was cut and faceted by a team of artisans who transformed it into a beautiful cushion-shaped ruby of outstanding clarity and vivid red hue. Rich in chromium, it radiates a fiery red fluorescence when exposed to ultraviolet light. Since traditionally Myanmar (Burma) has been the birthplace of spectacular rubies, the Swiss Gemmological Institute singled it out for particular praise. It stated: “A natural ruby from Mozambique of this size and quality can be considered very rare and thus an exceptional treasure of nature.”

Lady Luck

Hong Konger clinches Klimt’s final portrait

An amazing bidding war during Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Evening Auction in London for a work of art found at the time of the artist’s death has resulted in a new European record. The painting by Gustave Klimt, entitled Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan), set the auction house abuzz and a four-way battle for the masterpiece ensued, pushing up the prized lot to £85.3 million (HK$850.5 million). The triumphant bid – by a Hong Kong collector – also achieved a record price for the artist and the second highest ever paid for a portrait at auction.

Klimt’s female portraits have taken their place among the iconic images of modern art. Lady with a Fan dates from 1917-18 and represented a new approach to colour and form for the Austrian, combining rich patterns and oriental motifs with the delicate and luminous touch of an artist at the height of his powers. Prior to this final portrait – Klimt died in 1918 – he had earned a reputation for his erotic representations of women.

“Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) is an absolute testament to Klimt’s artistic genius,” said Helena Newman, Auctioneer and Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe.

Prize of the Tiger

Sultan’s sword slashes sale estimate

A bedchamber sword that belonged to Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’, has slashed its way into the record books at Bonhams, selling for a whopping £14 million (HK$142.45 million) after ferocious bidding. This is the highest price achieved at auction by an Islamic and Indian object and the best ever for a sword. It also represented a huge markup on the estimate of up to £2 million.

The masterpiece of late 18th-century Indian manufacture was part of Bonhams’ Islamic and Indian Art sale in London. Dubbed ‘The Bedchamber Sword’, it has huge historical significance as an emblem of the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1767- 1799). Tipu Sultan – the Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in south India – was long a thorn in the side of the British East India Company. After he was killed during the siege of his stronghold, Seringapatam, in 1799, the sword was discovered in his private apartments and became symbolic of the transfer of power. An English inscription on the blade explains how it was found and presented to the leader of the conquering Company army, Major-General David Baird.

Immortal Beauty

Helen of Troy bust wows bidders

A magnificent marble bust emanating from Greek mythology has gone for £3.55 million (HK$36 million) at auction. Sold during Christie’s Old Masters sale in London, Bust of Helen attracted fierce bidding. Carved by Antonio Canova in Venice from 1816-17, the beautiful head of Helen of Troy was on the auction block for the first time in its history.

Antonio Canova (1757-1822) is deemed a titan of neo-classical sculpture, and his marble carving of Helen is a classic example of his ability to portray exquisite beauty with remarkable realism. The bust was gifted to British aristocrat Robert Castlereagh in recognition of his efforts to secure the return of works of art to Italy after the Napoleonic Wars, imbuing the piece with added historical significance. When Byron gazed at the smooth white surface of Canova’s first Bust of Helen, created some five years previously, he was inspired to write a poem ending in the line, “Behold the Helen of the Heart!”

Donald Johnston, Christie’s International Head of Sculpture, noted: “There has been increased interest in neo-classical marbles over the last five to eight years.”

Writing in style: Discover the most ultra-luxurious pens with exquisite craftsmanship

Pens were once a mere tool for writing but now they have come a long way and earned themselves the status of luxury. Today’s pens are not just writing instruments, they are pieces of art, status symbols, and collectables. Whether it’s adorned with jewels, made from rare materials, or crafted using state-of-the-art techniques, pens have become a reflection of the owner’s wealth and prestige, and the manufacturer’s skill and craftsmanship. So, here is a rundown of some of the most expensive pens in the world. Explore what sets them apart from the rest.

Fulgor Nocturnus by Tibaldi – HK$62.7 million

expensive pens

Even being one in a billion may not be enough chance to own this extremely coveted and super expensive fountain pen because there is only one Fulgor Nocturnus pen that was ever made by the Italian stationery brand Tibaldi. Sold at the 2010 National Charity Ceremony in Shanghai for US$8 million, the pen’s rareness was not the only reason, the bids reached such skyrocketing prices. Tibaldi’s Fulgor Nocturnus is ingeniously constructed with the pen following the golden ratio of phi, as in when it is closed, the ratio between the pen cap and the bottom half of the pen is 1.618. To add to it, the pen is coated with 945 black diamonds; has 123 rubies on its rim; and has a golden nib.

A Celebration of the Taj Mahal by Montblanc – HK$15.7 million

expensive pens

Montblanc’s annual High Artistry collection is always as epic as its theme, and the luxury brand chose to pay tribute to the Taj Mahal in the 2019 edition. The resulting limited edition collection consisting of three variations – Black Myth, Insignia of Power and the Tear of the Moon – takes strong design inspiration from the Mughal Empire. The caps look like the dome of the Taj Mahal and have peacock feathers – a common design motif of Shah Jahan’s times – carved on them. Also, the pen is shaped quite like the daggers used during the period. Each rendition is different from the others as they are embellished with varying gemstones. For instance, the Insignia of Power is decorated with diamonds and rubies; the Tear of the Moon has emeralds; and the Black Myth has a detachable opal stone.

Boheme Royal Pen by Montblanc – HK$11.8 million

expensive pens

Speaking of luxury stationeries and the Hamburg-based mark Montblanc is probably the first brand that pops into most people’s minds, that is because it has manufactured some of the most iconic pens in the world like this one-of-a-kind Boheme Royal Pen. The base of the pen is made of 18-carat gold with one version coated entirety with 1,430 pieces of white diamonds and the other having a mix of white and black diamonds. Moreover, the nib of this stylus pen is interchangeable and the cartridge can be changed too, making the exorbitant writing instrument a one-time investment. The Boheme Royal Pen’s lavishness is further elevated by the 18k white gold and diamonds-encrusted Montblanc logo.

1010 Diamond Edition by Caran D’Ache – HK$10 million

expensive pens

As a pioneering stationary brand established in Geneva in the early 1900s, the Swiss brand Caran D’Ache has continued to create and patent exceptional pens thus getting its reputation as the top-tier brand for luxury writing tools in Switzerland. In line with such prominence, Caran D’Ache is the producer of many great pens, among which this 1010 Diamond Edition is certainly a standout because it is made with white gold and encrusted with more than 800 pure diamonds. The handmade nib is also truly a piece of art as it is made of 18-carat gold with rhodium coating and is complete with intricate designs.

Top-selling collectibles: The hottest auction highlights of this spring

Many valuable articles were auctioned during the recent Spring auctions and though every single object was unique in its own way, four items certainly stood out and impressed the bidders the most, thus achieving jaw-dropping hammer prices. Check out the latest roundup of auction lots that made history and the interesting stories associated with each of them.

Flawless Fancy

3 rings hold collectors in spell

spring auctions

A trio of flawless pear-shaped coloured diamonds fetched a combined total of HK$132 million (US$17 million) at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels Spring Auction. Dazzling at the centre of three exquisite rings, they captivated the audience and ignited fervent bidding for more than 15 minutes.

The sale was led by a breathtaking 4.83-carat fancy vivid blue internally flawless diamond ring, for which an anonymous bidder paid an astonishing US$8.84 million. This extraordinary natural blue diamond is considered a symbol of wisdom, truth and devotion, and its exceptional rarity and vivid blue hue place it in a league of its own. The internally flawless designation emphasises the stone’s remarkable clarity and further enhanced its allure to excited bidders.

Besides this triumvirate of spellbinding coloured diamonds, Vickie Sek, Chairman of Jewellery at Christie’s Asia Pacific, was thrilled by the auction’s overall success. “Our Magnificent Jewels sale received an excellent response from collectors for the diverse selection of exquisite colourless and coloured diamonds and gemstones presented, with almost half of these lots selling above their high estimates,” she said.

Dragon High

Qianlong moonflask shines at auction

spring auctions

An extremely rare Qianlong moonflask was the highlight of Christie’s ‘The Imperial Palette – Three Qianlong Treasures’ auction held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Bidders were impressed by this extraordinary Chinese craftsmanship such that the final sale price topped HK$108 million (US$13.8 million).

Marco Almeida, Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Christie’s Asia Pacific, expressed his enthusiasm for the fine porcelain collectible: “This magnificent and very rare Qianlong doucai moonflask embodies the superb artistry and craftsmanship of the Qianlong period [1736-1795]. The significant historical and cultural importance, rarity and outstanding quality of this work of art make it a true gem for collectors and enthusiasts alike.”

The circular body of the imposing flask is finely pencilled and enamelled on each side in iron-red, yellow, aubergine and shades of green. A green five-clawed dragon emerges from waves to confront an ascending dragon in iron-red amid cloud-scrolls and flames. The large rising dragon symbolises the Qianlong Emperor, while the smaller serpent represents the heir apparent.

Emperor’s Gift

Puyi wristwatch clocks world record

highest bid

A watch of huge historical significance sparked frenzied bidding at a recent Phillips auction in Hong Kong. The Patek Philippe timepiece is the former property of the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, and sold for HK$48.85 million (US$6.26 million).

The sale of this rare Patek in platinum with moon phases, triple-date calendar and silvered dial had been much anticipated in the watch-buying community. Part of The Imperial Patek Philippe Sale, the wristwatch was subject to a bidding war by at least six collectors and was claimed after a considerable mark-up of HK$9 million on the final nod. The price is a record for the Ref. 69 Quiantieme Lune, as well as the highest achieved by a watch previously owned by an emperor.

The simple, clean silhouette and large unsigned crown express the aesthetics of Bauhaus and understated functionality, while the rose-gold ring, silvered dial and enamel Arabic numerals in a ‘roulette’ configuration underscore a supreme elegance. Purchased in 1937, the watch was kept in its original untouched condition and has a rich patina consistent with its age.

Le Mans Magic

Awesome Aston accelerates off auction block

highest bid

A 2007 Aston Martin racing car has sold for 2.23 million euros (US$2.4 million) at an auction held by RM Sotheby’s. The DBR9 GT1 was one of 24 sports competition cars that lined up for the Le Mans Centenary sale.

First purchased by Gigawave Motorsport team founder Henry Barczynski, the car is thought to be one of just 18 DBR9 chassis constructed by Prodrive between 2005 and 2008. It subsequently had just two other owners, while among the professionals who have sat in the driving seat are Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner, Peter Kox and Tomáš Enge.

The Aston Martin notched up third-place finishes in both the 2008 Silverstone Tourist Trophy and 2008 24 Hours of Spa. Further success was achieved at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it was third in the GT1 class and 22nd overall. The following year it secured four podium finishes in the FIA GT1 World Championship, winning in Beijing.

The successful bidder also received three spare sets of wheels, as well as the original Pectel/Pi electronics and all relevant operating and computer software materials.

Record-breaking bids: Auction items that fetched the highest figures

Fame and rareness are two of the repeating reasons for some items to fetch many millions at auction houses because these factors add significant value to the pieces. Four such creations that wowed ardent collectors recently include a rare and high-quality green jade bangle, a mystical animal sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne, a renowned painting by Marsden Hartley and a vintage Chrysler car.

Bangle FLAME

One-of-a-kind jadeite bangle shines

A magnificent bangle carved from full green jadeite was sold for HK$60 million by Poly Auction recently. Wowing bidders at the Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches Sale in Hong Kong, the cylindrical jewel represented a new high for the jadeite bangle category.

Encircling the wrist, the deep green hue of this beautiful gemstone is reminiscent of clear water, highlighting nobility and elegance. Jadeite is a natural mineral, and finding a whole piece of high-quality green jade is incredibly challenging. This particular bangle features precious old pit jadeite and the intricate natural patterns inside the jade exude a unique and primitive beauty. For many jadeite collectors, owning a full green, high-quality jadeite bangle is undoubtedly a dream coming true.

According to Fung Chiang, Head of Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches at Poly Auction Hong Kong, the headline lot is one of a kind in the market. “This extraordinary result solidifies its superior market position, reaffirming the timeless collection value and impeccable charms of jadeite,” he says. Total sales at the auction fetched nearly HK$108 million.

Also Read: All About Jadeite: A Symbol of Wealth and Status

Animal MAGIC

Surreal animal figure woos buyers

An enchanting animal sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne struck a chord with buyers at an auction held by Phillips in London. The mythical Grand Bouquetin (1999), a majestic Alpine ibex, roamed far above its estimate to reach a peak price of £1,112,800 (US$1,389,000).

The late French artist is considered one of the most important animalier sculptors of the Western world. His animals are often imbued with a touch of fantasy and have captivated collectors for decades. “There are hundreds of years of animal representation encompassed in the Grand Bouquetin,” says Elie Massaoutis, Head of Design at Phillips, France. “If you look at the almond-shaped eyes, it is reminiscent of the Egyptian sculptures. And then you suddenly have his mouth, which is just a simple horizontal line, which is almost invisible. What I like is that there is a real alertness.”

He adds: “The Grand Bouquetin is very representative of François-Xavier Lalanne. Phillips’ recent auction results for 20th-century French design demonstrate the unwavering strength of the market and [Lalanne’s] enduring appeal.”

Bathing BLISS

Beach masterpiece reaches tidy sum

A famous painting by Marsden Hartley fetched US$1,865,000 when auctioned as part of Christie’s sale of Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection. Combining powerful figural compositions with dynamic seascape, On the Beach (1940-41) is a masterful example of maturity from Hartley’s later career. The Maine-born artist, who died in 1943, refined and reengaged with styles and forms of expression throughout his life – a trait which earned him a legacy as one of the foremost American modernists.

Some scholars believe Hartley’s late figurative paintings of male bodies to be related to his own homosexuality. However, On the Beach is unique within this category due to his addition of a female figure – a motif possibly employed to make his painting more accessible to a wider audience.

Talking of the sale of his collection, musical theatre composer and former investment banker Ted Shen says: “I am grateful that my collecting enabled me to discover the beauty and greatness of the American modernists’ work and to understand their contribution to the evolution of art [in the US].”

Chrysler CLASS

Classic roadster roars into record books

Perhaps among the most beautiful American automobiles of the classic era, a bespoke 1932 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster recently sold for a whopping US$1.6 million, setting a record price for the marque. The auction of the Estate of Mark Smith conducted by Gooding & Company also set two other world records.

Garaged by five known caretakers over nine decades, the car was largely in its original condition albeit with some distinctive period modifications. The first owner, Philadelphia otolaryngologist William Whelan, had steadily fine-tuned its appearance to suit his taste. This incredibly sleek, tapered look reminiscent of the 1928–1929 Auburn Speedsters, with performance to match, has since been preserved in the same patinated condition.

The technical specifications of the vehicle include a four-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, front solid axle and rear live axle, both with semi-elliptical leaf springs. Sympathetic improvements included the replacement of the deteriorated front seat upholstery with distressed leather.

Also Read: The Great car clubs of Hong Kong

Breaking Records: The Latest Auction Bids

A jadeite necklace that is an ode to the Qing emperor, a unique luminescent moon jar, a painting that beautifully depicts Indian mythology or Yayoi Kusama’s famous pumpkin sculptor – all these latest history makers at auction houses have proved that a masterpiece that exudes rareness and creativity will receive unhinged appreciation.

Heavenly gem

Jadeite necklace nod to Qing emperor

A magnificent jadeite bead, ruby and diamond necklace sold for US$7.8 million at a recent evening sale at Sotheby’s. Bidding was frenzied for this superb decorative piece called The Emperor’s Treasure, and it went for the top amount in The Exceptionals section at the Hong Kong auction. Named after Gems of Heavenly Favour, a collection of rare manuscripts beloved by the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799), the necklace is composed of 43 slightly graduated jadeite beads varying in size from 11.55mm to 13.05mm. The best jadeite has fine translucency and a deep emerald-green hue. These beads attain these high standards, earning the right to be called ‘Imperial Green’ in an association of nobility and majesty befitting an emperor. Their intense, lustrous green is juxtaposed by the colour and sparkle of the clasp that secures them around the neck. Crafted from 18-karat white gold, the bejewelled fastening is highlighted by a central cushion-shaped ruby surrounded by calibré-cut rubies and rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds. In 2014, a Hutton-Mdivani Imperial Green jadeite necklace sold for HK$214.04 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, setting the auction record for jadeite jewellery.

Glaze gazing

Korean moon jar rockets to astronomical figure

An important white porcelain moon jar set a new record for this distinctive and collectible category of Korean pottery, with the final bid rising to US$4.56 million at Christie’s sale of Japanese and Korean art in New York. The jar originates from the 1700s during the culturally rich Joseon dynasty. It notched up the highest price – far exceeding its $1 million estimate – during a special Asian Art Week at Christie’s, which also saw a buyer ride off with Hokusai’s Great Wave woodblock print for US$2.8 million, a record for the legendary Japanese artist. Large for a traditional moon jar at 46cm high, the prize lot is considered a superb example of its type from the 18th century, which is extremely rare. The gentle white sphere is covered with a translucent glaze from its everted mouth to its high, narrow foot. On close examination, areas of crackle are discernible, especially around the central seam where the two parts of the jar have been joined together. Minute traces of impurities in the glaze have produced variations in the smooth surface. Christie’s sales of Japanese and Korean Art achieved a total of $11,413,992, with registered bidders from 22 countries in total.

Goddess of Might

Painting of Durga a roaring success

Manjit Bawa’s Untitled (Durga) went under the hammer for US$1.98 million at Christie’s recently, setting a new global auction record for the artist. In this monumental and imposing painting from 2004, Bawa presents the goddess Durga, the supreme female deity of the Hindu pantheon, mounted on the back of her vehicle or vahana, a lion. Durga is also known as Shakti or Devi, the protector of all that is good and harmonious in the world. However, this goddess is perhaps most renowned as Mahishasuramardini, the slayer of the invincible buffalo demon Mahishasura, created by the demon king Rambha. Although Durga is instantly recognisable here, Bawa’s version of the emblematic goddess embodies a delicate purity and all-pervasive truth, reflected through the meditative qualities of his own aesthetic and technical prowess. The artist died in 2008, and this painting was last sold at auction in 2014. Greatly inspired by Indian classical artistic traditions, his work often incorporated elements from various genres and periods. Bawa visited specific mythological themes throughout his career, depicting iconic gods and goddesses like Shiva, Krishna and Durga.

Pumpkin high

Record price for polka dot bronze

Yayoi Kusama’s bronze Pumpkin (L) fetched the highest price realised for a sculpture by the artist at Sotheby’s 50th Anniversary Contemporary Art Evening auction last month. Imbued with her trademark polka dots, this impressive example of Kusama’s highly coveted sculptural pumpkins – the eighth and final of an edition completed in 2014 – went for US$8 million. Beautifully materialised in bronze, the Japanese artist’s iconic striations of multi-sized polka dots meticulously encase the pumpkin from stem to base. One of the most admired and universally recognisable images of contemporary art today, the pumpkin is central to the 94-year-old’s widely celebrated oeuvre, appearing throughout her work from flat canvases and abstract paintings to gallery-wide installations. The bronze Pumpkin (L) is a prime example of Kusama’s unique ability to collapse the division between her own consciousness and the external world. Widely considered the most important artist to have emerged from Japan in the post-war period, Kusama was a contemporary of Andy Warhol and her pop art influenced his. Hong Kong’s M+ Museum retrospective of her work concludes on 14 May.

Watch Mania – Explaining the desire for the watch masterpiece

The recent online acquisition of a remarkable Patek Philippe has caused something of a stir in the watch-collecting community. Fetching US$5,815,300, the watch was the most valuable timepiece ever sold online globally and the most expensive object ever sold online at Christie’s Asia. This astronomical price for a Grand Complications Sky Moon Tourbillon has left some industry insiders wondering how high prices will go.

Buoyed by this massive headliner, the online watch sale at Christie’s Hong Kong in March proved a success with total sales comfortably exceeding US$8 million. Alexandre Bigler, Vice President and Head of Watches at Christie’s Asia Pacific believes this achievement is indicative of a vibrant market for watches across the world. He further opines that the sale cements Hong Kong’s status as an international epicentre for watch collecting.

He also attributed the success to the diverse selection of collectible watches. “Not only did we offer rare timepieces from reputed brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, but also iconic designs from other highly-sought after brands like Gerald Genta, Andersen, Hublot, A. Lange & Söhne., and Jaeger Le-Coultre.”

But just what is it that drives buyers to collect watches and pay such sky-high prices? Kenneth Or, founder of Hong Kong-based Ken’s Watches, a supplier of new and second-hand premium watches since 2002, says that for some, it is simply a hobby, just like any other pastime that gives pleasure, such as collecting arts or wine or cars or jewels.

But there are also financial motives. “It is now considered to be a kind of investment tool as well,” he notes. “Watches have their own value. A watch not only keeps its value but sometimes its value might also be increased as time passes by. One can enjoy collecting something they love while they know they can always get the money back.”

Or also believes the market is readily accessible for the avid watch lover. “Moreover, the international watch market is very mature nowadays. It is easy and convenient to sell a watch and get the money back,” he adds.

What drives up the value of a watch and makes it collectible depends on numerous factors, according to Or. “It is about the brand, the watch design and style, popularity in the market, production volume, demand in the market, and if there are any stories behind the item. All these criteria support the value of a watch and make it a collectible one.”

Technical complexity
Christie’s Bigler believes the value of some premium watches is derived from their historical significance, reflecting such things as technological advancements and design trends of their time. Some collectors also have an astute appreciation of the painstaking craftsmanship and technical expertise confined to a miniature work of art on the wrist.

As a case in point, he sees the price-busting Patek Philippe watch as one of the revered manufacturer’s most intricate and impressive creations. “ The reference 6002G seems to effortlessly combine immense mechanical complication with amazing aesthetics and readability,” he says.

“This inspirational double-face grand complication with hand-made blue cloisonné and champlevé enamel dial was launched in 2013 to replace the first Sky Moon Tourbillon model, reference 5002, launched in 2001 and formerly the most complicated wristwatch in the world.

“Boasting 12 complications, reference 6002G is housed in an extraordinary sculptural 44mm white-gold case entirely hand-chased and engraved with almost three-dimensional elegant scrolls which takes Patek Philippe’s master craftsmen over 100 hours to achieve,” he says. “In this superlative horological work of art, rare handcraft skills are combined with a mechanical tour-de-force, representing the very highest level of watchmaking and artistry.” Watches such as these will always retain their value. Bugler advises clients to only acquire watches they feel truly passionate about.

Highly-valued Craftsmanships – The Latest Top Bids in the Auction World

A piece of painting, an automobile or anything that has an interesting story and history to it always becomes a priced possession and dominates in the auction world. To add to it, if the bidding item is completed with great craftsmanship, it is always bought for millions.

Passionate CLINCH

Woman sculptor inspired by ancient poem

great craftsmanship

Camille Claudel’s L’Abandon sold for £831,600 (about US$1.01 million) at a Christie’s sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London, beating out two sculptures by Auguste Rodin, briefly her collaborator and lover, for the auction top spot. Cast in bronze by Eugène Blot in 1905, the work is hailed as the French figurative sculptor’s breakthrough. Born in Fère-en-Tardenois, a rural village between Paris and Reims, Claudel’s mother told her any desires to become an artist were ‘unladylike’. Her father, however, presented some of her early work to a neighbour: the sculptor Alfred Boucher. Impressed, he became the girl’s mentor, and following his advice, the family moved to Paris in 1881. Claudel enrolled at the Académie Colarossi – a progressive art school that admitted women. In 1886, she began working on L’Abandon, a sculpture of an embracing couple inspired by the ancient Sanskrit poem Sakuntala. Exhibited in plaster at the 1888 Salon des Artistes Français, it won an honourable mention. The critic André Michel praised its “profound feeling of tenderness both chaste and passionate, an impression of quivering, of restrained ardour”

Top table

Italian dining furniture attracts huge bid

great craftsmanship

A magnificent Italian ormolu, white marble and semi-precious hardstone-inlaid centre table went for a healthy US$1.5 million at the widely-anticipated auction of Modern Medici: Masterpieces from a New York Collection held by Christie’s. One of the sale’s shining highlights, this bejewelled piece of furniture is a prime example of early 19th-century Italian craftsmanship – an elegantly sculptured base expertly rendered in gilt bronze with a rich combination of chased and burnished surfaces, paired with a marble top inlaid with glorious coloured stones. The latter, circa 1800-1810, is the handiwork of Roman mosaicist Giacomo Raffaelli. Assessing the appeal of this rare lot, William Strafford, Christie’s Deputy Chairman, European Furniture and Decorative Arts, said: “The spectacular table is a fine embodiment of the art of pietra dura and sculptural gilt-bronzes. Its eye-catching top is inset throughout with rare samples of semi-precious hardstones, an attribute that saw the table hugely admired during an exhibition dedicated to this exquisite collection. We were thrilled that it was one of two lots that fetched the highest prices of the sale, selling for US$1.5 million to an anonymous buyer.

Church Record

Happy ending for looted Kandinsky

great craftsmanship

A bid of US$44.9 million at a recent Sotheby’s sale scooped up a masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky, representing a new auction record for the artist. The painting, Murnau mit Kirche II (Murnau with Church II), originates from 1920 and encapsulates the beginnings of the revolutionary abstract language that would underpin the rest of Kandinsky’s career. The work was recently returned to the descendants of its rightful owners, the Berlin art collectors Siegbert and Johanna Margarethe Stern; Johanna died at Auschwitz in 1944. Auction proceeds are to be shared between the 13 surviving Stern heirs and used to fund further research into the fate of their family collection. Lucian Simmons, Vice Chairman and Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Restitution said: “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the conference, held in Washington, D.C., that first established the ground rules for the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazis during the Second World War. Since then, Sotheby’s Restitution Department has worked with many heirs and families to reunite them with their stolen property and, at the same time, to help re-tell their stories and celebrate their lives.”

Bugatti blast

Frenzied bidding for last-of-its-kind supercar

great craftsmanship

A Bugatti Chiron Profilée, the last W16-powered car available from the famed French automotive atelier, has gone for nearly 9.8 million euros (about US$10.7 million), making it the most valuable new car ever sold at auction. It was the last possible opportunity to buy a new Bugatti powered by the legendary W16 engine – the only 16-cylinder engine in the world to be used in a car. With such an important piece of Bugatti history at stake, bidding was fierce. Marcus Görig, Car Specialist at RM Sotheby’s, said: “It was an honour for us to host this very special lot in collaboration with Bugatti. The sale of the Chiron Profilée was one of the most anticipated moments of the whole auction. With enormous global interest in the car, the Profilée attracted considerable attention at the auction among bidders and curious viewers who had visited to have a glimpse of this unique car.” Designed as a more radical version of the Chiron Sport, the Profilée took its name from one of Jean Bugatti’s first creations – a specific Type 46 model known as Surprofilée, with a sleeker silhouette and an elegant sweeping tail.

Also Read: Applauding Creations From Different Centuries – Auction Bids to Note

Applauding Creations From Different Centuries – Auction Bids to Note

Regardless of the time of the creation – the 16th century or the 20th century – anything that is crafted with great precision will surely rack up more appreciation and ultimately fetch mind-blowing auction bids. Four such works are a necklace worn by Princess Diana, The Head of Saint John the Baptist presented to Salome painting, and two more.

Iconic Cross

Diana necklace surpasses bid estimate

Auction Bids

An amethyst and diamond pendant once worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, fetched £163,800 (HK$1,534,906) at a Sotheby’s auction. Kim Kardashian outbid her rivals to scoop up the Attallah Cross. The cross was bought by Naim Attallah CBE, from Garrard in the 1980s and through his friendship with Princess Diana, he could loan it to her several times over a number of years to wear at events. It is understood that the Princess only ever wore the cross, and following her death, it was never seen in public again until the auction. The cross-shaped pendant – thought to be a one-off private commission by Garrard for one of their regular clients – is a bold and colourful piece set with square-cut amethysts and accented by circular-cut diamonds. The cross has a total diamond weight of approximately 5.25 carats and measures about 136 x 95mm. Head of jewellery at Sotheby’s London, Kristian Spofforth, said: “To some extent, this unusual pendant is symbolic of the princess’s growing self-assurance in her sartorial and jewellery choices, at that particular moment in her life.”

Also Read: Pearly Whites with splashes of gold and silver

Head Hunts
Depiction of decapitated saint

Auction Bids

A controversial early masterpiece created by the renowned 16th century Flemish grandmaster, Peter Paul Rubens – Salome Presented With the Head of Saint John the Baptist – changed hands for an astonishing US$26.9m at auction during Sotheby’s Masters Week. Supposedly painted in 1609, it is regarded as one of a small group of masterpieces created by the artist immediately following his return from Italy in December 1608. The painting formed part of a truly grand white-glove sale of works from the fabled Fisch Davidson Collection – one of the most significant arrays of Baroque art ever to come to market. While many other fine items jostled for attention during the course of the sale, there was no doubt that this renowned example of Rubens’s singular artistic vision was the star attraction, with the winning bid of US$26.9m – the third highest price ever paid for one of the artist’s works at auction – merely confirming its significance. Christopher Apostle of Sotheby’s New York, said: “This Masters Week has been one of the strongest ever staged by Sotheby’s, both in terms of the record numbers pouring through our doors to peruse the lots on the show and the spirited bidding later seen in the saleroom.”

Bronze Award
Rijksmuseum wins bidding battle

Auction Bids

A bronze figure of an écorché man – an individual sculptured with his inner anatomy very much on show – created by Willem Danielsz Van Tetrode, a much-admired 16th-century sculptor, went for a fairly healthy US$1.5 million when recently auctioned in New York. A sculptor rightly renowned for dramatic compositions and skilled écorché, this particular work – perhaps unimaginatively known simply as A Bronze Figure of an Écorché Man – together with Hercules Pomarius and Striding Warrior, are generally viewed as his three most accomplished pieces. Perhaps boosting its appeal to collectors, however, the exaggerated body, long legs, abbreviated torso and visually dazzling musculature are quite unlike any of the sculptor’s other works. Particularly popular throughout much of the 17th century, this sculpture was said to have inspired many later artists, with its distinct colouring and contours recreated in a host of subsequent drawings and paintings, most famously in Voorhout’s A Young Scholar in his Study. The sculpture is now believed to have been acquired by the Rijksmuseum.

Muscle Memory
Nostalgia for the days of the mighty muscle

Auction Bids

To the surprise of many, a 1969 Dodge Hemi Daytona muscle car – typically a two-door sports coupé designed for high-performance driving – sold for a highly commendable US$1.43 million at Mecum Kissimmee, a specialist automobile auction event held recently in Florida. Perhaps adding to its value, the vehicle was previously owned by Kevin Greene, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and David Spade, the well-known US TV and movie star. Boasting a 4-speed manual transmission, power steering and a 426/425 HP Hemi engine, its eventual sale price far outstripped that commanded by a similar model that went under the gavel in 2022. This may be at least partly because it is believed to be the lowest-mile, original engine four-speed Hemi Daytona still in existence. Remarkably, it has retained its value even though its first owner removed the original interior and arranged for all its body panels to be custom re-painted, while its factory wheels and tyres were put into storage. Although this Daytona model was only in production for one year, it is viewed as one of the most iconic vehicles in automotive history.

Also Read: Motoring On: Great car clubs of Hong Kong

(Text: Neil Dolby)

Love Lots – The latest news in the Auction Market

Check out Bob Dylan’s collection of love letters, Piet Mondrain’s abstract painting, White Disaster by Andy Warhol and the revived vintage watch from Titanic.

 

Forever Young

Lots of love from Dylan to his classroom crush

Legendary American folk musician Bob Dylan is as renowned for his generation-inspiring songbook as he is for his antiauthoritarian lyrics. As such, it may come as no surprise that a collection of letters by the revolutionary bard recently fetched a stunning US$65,000 (HK$508,000) at auction.

The literary lot featured 42 letters all penned by Dylan, who, back then, was still known as Robert Zimmerman, when he was in high school, and chronicle his attempt to woo Ann Hewitt, his classroom crush.

Born in 1941, Hewitt settled with her family in Hibbing Minnesota and it was there that she met Dylan in her high school history class. The couple’s first date took place on New Year’s Eve 1957, with their romance lingering on until at least the end of 1959.

Sold by Boston-based auction house RR Auction, the letters, which run 150 pages in total, cover everything from Dylan’s musical ambitions to short snippets of poetry and, of course, sweet billetdoux to his beau.

Also included in the lot were a signed Valentine’s Day card and an unsigned handwritten note from Dylan to Hewitt.

 

Square Deal

Mondrian art goes under the gavel

The works of Piet Mondrian, the iconic abstract Dutch painter, seldom come up for auction, so the news that one of his most admired pieces – Composition No. II, featuring, of course, his signature red, blue, white and yellow squares- was going under the gavel and created quite a stir.

Putting the significance of the sale into perspective, Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s head of impressionist and modern art for the Americas, said: “Quintessential works by Piet Mondrian rarely come up for auction, as many are permanently housed in some of the world’s most prestigious museum collections.

The once-in-a-generation opportunity proved no disappointment with the piece in question – created in 1930 and last auctioned in 1983 when it fetched a then-record $2.15 million (HK$16 million) -exceeded all expectations with the winning bid reported as some $51 million (HK$400 million).

Mondrian, a pioneer of abstract art, relocated to Paris in 1912 after being impressed by the early cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. There he began to experiment with his own take on depicting fragmented representations of reality.

 

Disaster-Piece

Car crash proves salesroom smash

Universally celebrated for its highly-influential pop art iconography, Andy Warhol dabbled in a wide array of artistic disciplines – from film to performance art to illustrative prints and far more. It was, however, one of his muchcoveted silk screen prints that recently exceeded all expectations when it sold at auction for US$84 million (HK$ 657 million).

The piece in question, White Disaster, was created in 1963, a time when Warhol had become obsessed with gruesome and morbid imagery, with everything from nuclear mushroom clouds to electric chairs co-opted into his apocalyptic visions.

The particular work features a single image of an automobile accident duplicated 19 times in black and white across 12 feet by 6 feet canvas. Prior to the sale, it was held in a private collection for 25 years and had previously been owned by both Heiner Friedrich, founder of the Dia Art Foundation and Thomas Ammann, the wellknown art dealer.

A smaller artwork from the same series, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), fetched a record-breaking US$105.4 million (HK$820 million) in 2013.

 

Time Titanic

Classic car drives high bids

A watch belonging to a postal clerk sailing aboard the ill-fated Titanic recently went under the hammer at Henry Aldridge & Sons, a southwest England-based auction house, along with several other momentoes of the doomed cruise liner.

Selling for an unprecedented £98,000 (HK$910,000), the considerable interest in the watch confirmed the abiding fascination with the infamous ship and its unfortunate fate, which seems to remain as strong as ever among memorabilia collectors and canny investors everywhere.

The rare vintage watch, which belonged to RMS Titanic clerk Oscar Scott Woody, as traggic as the story sounds, stopped forever at the moment its owner slipped into the freezing North Atlantic on that fateful night of 14th April 1912.

Recovered from the icy depths and returned to his wife, Leila, a month after the ship went down, the watch was the centerpiece of the sale, outvaluing several related lots, including a menu for first-class passengers, a list of those first-class passengers, an ornate dessert plate and a section of a column from the liner’s à la carte restaurant.

Best Bids Bulletin

Take a look at Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Mailyn becoming the most expensive artwork, Royal Mughal pashmina carpet selling for a princely sum, 1898 Peugeot Type 15 topping the bill at car auction and an Ancient God’s herm selling for twice its estimate.

 

Simply Divine

Ancient relic sells for twice its estimate

In a true celebration of ancient relics and artworks, Christie’s recently had up for auction a private collection of New York Antiquarium, The Devoted Classicist, which featured more than 40 lots of ancient art from the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Egyptian eras. Among the various distinctive pieces up for grabs were Athenian vases, Egyptian portrait heads and Roman marble statues of gods, goddesses and Imperial individuals, with one of the most notable sculptures featuring three depictions of the Greco-Roman God Dionysus.

The 8.5-inch marble masterpiece fetched an astonishing US$151,200 (HK$1.8 million) surpassing its estimated value of between US$70,000-US$90,000. Known as the God of fruitfulness, vegetation, wine and ecstasy, the Dionysus pieces date back to the second century AD.

Its Archaic portrayal shows a God with a layered spadeshaped beard, angled moustache and two rows of tight culrs falling on each shoulder, while the classical side has a pointed beard, full moustache and vertical locks on forehead. The late-classical style has a long moustache and long tendrils over the shoulders.

 

Centre Sage

Warhol’s work takes top billing at New York sale

The Shot Sage Blue Marilyn by pop art icon Andy Warhol became the most valuable of all his paintings, after being sold at a Christie’s auction in New York for US$195 million (HK$1.5 billion). It also became the most expensive artwork of the 20th century breaking the record previously held by Picasso’s 1955 artwork Less Femmes D’agler, which sold for US$179.4 Million in 2015. For its part, Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn dates back to 1964 and forms part of a series of five paintings made on a 40 square-inch acrylic and silkscreen on linen.

Tellingly, it was estimated to sell for around US$ 200 million, setting a record for the highest pre-auction estimate of any artwork ever, The sale of this piece was the undoubted highlight of the auction, which saw 36 other works contributing to total takings of US$318 million. The item was from the collection of two late Swiss gallerists, Thomas and Doris Ammann, the cofounders of Thomas Ammann Fine Art in Zurich. All proceeds from the sales will fund the foundation’s work of investing in global healthcare initiatives for underprivileged children and young adults.

 

Mat Effect

The Royal rug goes for a princely sum

An extraordinarily rare Royal Mughal pashmina carpet, woven for the court of the Indian Emperor Shah Jahan, circa 1650, sold at Christie’s for a hefty £5,442,000 (HK$ 48.6 million), going for more than twice the pre-sale estimate. Competitive telephone bidding for the Mughal Carpet lasted more than 10 minutes – a long time in auction terms. The carpet itself is square in shape, with each side measuring 275 cm and features geometrical traditional floral patterns.

It is one of only four 17th-century pashmina carpets remaining in private hands known for its brilliant colours and intricate pattern with a Lattice and Flower design. Due to the fragility of the silk and the finely spun pashmina pile, very few examples survive, making a carpet of this size and condition an extraordinarily rare memento of the golden age of Imperial Mughal carpet production. The carpet was the undoubted highlight of the Art of the Islamic & Indian World (including Oriental Rugs and Carpet) sale, which raised a total of £15,989,352 (HK$142.8 million). The auction comprised 265 lots, including works of art, paintings, carpets and manuscripts from the ninth through to the 20th century.

 

Vintage Voyage

Classic car drives high bids

A Victorian-era 1898 Peugeot Type 15 topped the bill at the recent Bonhams London Golden Age of Motoring 2022 classic car auction, which took place just before the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Selling for a staggering £494,500 (HK$ 4.4 million), it went way over its pre-sale estimate of £275000 -£325000. Peugeot is one of the most well-known French motoring marques and the only long-established firm to still be manufacturing two-cylinder engine cars, with its current portfolio of models ranging from 8hp to 5hp.

This fully-restored Peugeot offers four-speed plus reverse transmission and an early form of cruise control, advanced features for its day.

This car’s early history suggests that it was first purchased by someone in 1898 in the Mauriac region of France. It also appears that this car received special attention as evidenced by the larger than usual number of nickel-plated parts in addition to Peugeot’s liberal stamping of the car number on the chassis, body, and various other components. These were discovered during restoration, confirming the car’s unusually high degree of originality.