China Chicken Cup Clucks at Auction

Hong Kong -- A porcelain cup sold for HK$281 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong today, setting an auction record for a Chinese work of art.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network see robust bidding in the Chinese market.

The sale of the Chengua-era (1465-1487) cup, nicknamed the “Chicken Cup,” follows the HK$214 million auction last night of a jadeite bead necklace, which set a record for such jewelry.

Sotheby’s Asia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Ching made the winning bid for the cup on behalf of a telephone buyer in a packed room, which erupted into applause after auctioneer Quek Chin Yeow announced the record.

“This is the holy grail of ceramics,” James Hennessy, a Hong Kong-based dealer, said after the sale. “People, emperors and collectors have always aspired to own one of these, and the opportunity doesn’t come along often.”

The cup, which was owned by the Philippines-born businessman Stephen Zuellig, who is in his late nineties, measures only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) in diameter and earned the nickname for its depiction of a rooster, his hen and their chicks, an allegorical representation of the emperor, the empress and his subjects.

The previous auction record for a Chinese work of art was set in October when Chinese property developer Zheng Huaxing paid HK$236 million ($25 million) for a bronze Buddha at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The cup was the latest of several records set during the five-day auction ending today, including an artist record of HK$94.2 million ($11 million) for Chinese contemporary painter Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958) and a Southeast Asian artist record of HK$58.4 million ($6 million) by Indonesian painter S. Sudjojono (1914-1986).

Hutton Necklace

An amazing necklace, which consists of 27 green beads and a ruby clasp by Cartier, sold for more than twice the pre-sale estimate of HK$100 million ($12 million).

It was given to Woolworth retail heiress Barbara Hutton by her father in 1933 and last sold at auction in 1994 for HK$33 million. The previous auction record of HK$106 million for a jadeite necklace was set in 2012, Sotheby’s said.

The bidding lasted more than 18 minutes before Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Chairman Daryl Wickstrom made the winning bid on behalf of the Cartier Collection on the telephone.

“This necklace is as famous at it gets,” Quek, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said after the sale. “It ticks all the right boxes in terms of beauty, history, provenance and quality.”

Asian Buyers

Zhang Xiaogang’s painting titled “Bloodline: Big Family No.3,” painted in 1995, sold for HK$94.2 million ($11 million) on April 5, breaking his previous record of HK$79 million, according to Artnet, an online database of auction prices.

Sudjojono’s work titled “Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro,” (1979) smashed the previous record of HK$36 million set by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong at Christie’s Hong Kong in November.

Of the top 10 lots at the April 5 evening sale, nine were purchased by Asians, according to Sotheby’s, suggesting that slowing economic growth in China hasn’t damped regional demand for art. Sotheby’s realized HK$1.08 billion ($120 million) in sales in the first three days of its spring auctions.

Five bidders vied for several minutes to purchase the 1995 Zhang oil on canvas measuring 179 centimeters by 229 centimeters. The iconic three-member family portrait is the only one of his Bloodline series to feature a Little Red Guard wearing a Mao badge, Sotheby’s said.

Records were achieved by Japanese contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara (HK$15.7 million), Indonesians Sudjana Kerton (HK$13.2 million) and Ay Tjoe Christine (HK$4.6 million), and Vietnamese modern painter Le Pho (HK$3 million).