Under the hammer – Fab Four Auction Sales (May 2024)

Four amazing lots that wowed bidders at recent auctions include a beautiful 5.02-carat fancy pink diamond, a Kusama pumpkin, a Song era ceramic dish and a Magritte masterpiece.

Ring of Rose: Bidders turn to dazzling pink stone

A stunning 5.02-carat fancy pink diamond and diamond ring wowed collectors at Poly Auction’s spring sales in Hong Kong. The resplendent piece was the highlight of the Magnificent Jewels sale and its undeniable beauty caused a stir in the auction room at the Grand Hyatt, eventually securing a mammoth final bid of HK$13.2 million. “The strong price achieved for the pink diamond reflects a sturdy market demand,” commented Fung Chiang, Head of Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches at Poly Auction.

Perhaps part of the reason for the ongoing strong demand for such gemstones is their uniqueness. According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), only one out of 10,000 carats of fashioned diamonds displays fancy colour, such as the hue bedazzling this prized lot. In the vast majority of cases, the colour is the result of distortion in the stone’s crystal structure rather than the incursion of trace elements. 

The rarity of fancy pink diamonds combined with their popularity has seen prices soar over recent years and they have become an alternative investment for some collectors. Reaching the GIA Fancy Pink level, this breathtaking pear-shaped stone is graded VS1 clarity. 

Seed Money: Pumpkin work connects the dots  

A brilliantly bold pumpkin sculpture by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama sent bidders at Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong wild with excitement. The hammer was eventually struck on a whopping winning bid of HK$36.14 million, near the high end of the pre-auction estimate. Pumpkin, created in 2019 and signed and dated by Kusama, is made of urethane on fibreglass-reinforced plastic. 

The yellow and black pumpkin sculpture with its beguiling series of polka dots measures about one metre tall and wide, and is considered the epitome of optimism, serenity and joy. Such is the popularity of the Kusama pumpkin that many similar examples reside in museums around the world.

Pumpkins have been a central theme in the artist’s oeuvre over many years, and she has said that they reflect the aura of her mental state and embody the joy of living. Certainly, the ‘princess of polka dots’ developed an almost spiritual fascination with the pumpkin from childhood experiences at her family’s seed nursery. In an almost surreal memory of the moment, she has recounted how a pumpkin began to speak to her in an animated manner.

Rare Dish: Ceramics collectors go for a Song

A dainty yet magnificent ceramic from the Song era sparked frenzied bidding in a packed New York salesroom at the recent Christie’s Asian Art Week. Measuring 14 centimetres in diameter, the fine Ge foliate dish from the Southern Song-Yuan Dynasty (1127-1368) went for US$1.8 million (HK$14 million).

Part of the Linyushanren collection, this rare Ge kiln firing showing characteristic monochromatic and crackled glaze was the top lot from the Important Chinese Art Including the Collection of Dorothy Tapper Goldman auction series. Spread over two days, the sales raised a total of US$19.13 million, with more than half of the highly competitive bidders emanating from Asia. Another prized piece was a large blue and white dragon dish from the Yongzheng period (the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, 1678-1735).

Commenting on the success of the auction, Christie’s Chinese art specialist Vicki Paloympis said: “Rare ceramics from private collections commanded high prices, including [this] crackle-glazed Ge foliate dish from the Southern Song-Yuan dynasty. We also continue to have great success with single-owner American collections, and a group of Song-Qing ceramics from the Alita Davis Weaver collection.”  

Bowled Over: Intimate Magritte masterpiece caps sale

An amazing piece of surrealism by René Magritte fetched an astonishing £33.7 million (HK$338.2 million) at a recent auction held by Christie’s in London. The work, L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend), shone at the auction house’s 20th/21st Century London Evening Sales, achieving the highest bid by far. 

Painted in 1958, the masterpiece appeared at auction for the first time in more than 40 years. It was offered from the New York-based collection of Gilbert and Lena Kaplan, who themselves acquired the work in 1980. The iconic painting depicts a man in a bowler hat looking directly ahead over a sunlit landscape while a glass of water and baguette appear to be floating in mid-air right behind him. Perhaps part of the immense appeal of this canvas is that it could be considered to cover three genres simultaneously – figure, landscape and still life. 

Widely adorned by men during the artist’s youth, the dapper felt hat was a common theme for Magritte, and here its precise dimensions are a striking feature of the painting. Further works by the influential Belgian surrealist also performed above pre-sale expectations.