Obscure Vietnamese Painting Breaks Record

Hong Kong - A painting that was initially valued at just 50 pounds ($75) sold for HK$3.03 million ($390,000) in a weekend auction by Christie’s International, setting a record for a work by a Vietnamese artist.

When the British seller of the 1932 work by Nguyen Phan Chanh entitled “La Marchand de Riz” (The Rice Seller) took it to Christie’s in London, it was mistakenly identified by a trainee as an unsigned Chinese work.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network know that auction houses can make mistakes when valuing artworks.

After it was forwarded to specialists in Asia, they recognized the painting by the artist’s signature on the back of the canvas and valued it at between HK$800,000 and HK$1 million.

“The provenance is impeccable,” Jean-Francois Hubert, Christie’s senior consultant for Vietnamese art, said in the salesroom. “It’s in its original frame by Parisian framer Gadin and it was exhibited in 1934 in Napoli.”

The buyer of the work, Hong Kong-based dealer Pascal de Sarthe, said he and his wife Sylvie plan to hang it in their bedroom.

“It’s a very rare piece and the condition is amazing,” de Sarthe said yesterday at his gallery’s booth in Art Basel Hong Kong. “You never overpay for a really good piece.”

The previous highest price for a Vietnamese artist at auction was set in April 2012 when Le Pho’s work sold for HK$2.9 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

Artist Records

Three other artist records were also achieved on May 25. American-Chinese artist Yun Gee’s “Nudes on Horseback” sold for HK$11.3 million, “Still Life with Tropical Fruits” by Singaporean Georgette Chen fetched HK$5.05 million, and a sculpture by 37-year-old Japanese artist Kohei Nawa went for HK$2.79 million.

Christie’s Asian 20th-Century and Contemporary Art evening sale on Saturday raised a total of HK$414.95 million with all but five of the 50 lots offered sold, most of them well in excess of their pre-sale estimates. The top lot was an oil by Chang Yu (1901-1966), bought by an Asian collector for HK$44.67 million.

A painting by Chinese contemporary master Zhang Xiaogang entitled “Two Comrades with Red Baby” failed to sell when the highest bid of HK$26 million was below the reserve price. The painting did not have a pre-sale estimate.

The spring season’s four sales of Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art during the weekend achieved HK$754 million.

The Christie’s sales marathon, which runs through May 29, started with a wine auction on Saturday totaling HK$48.9 million, led by a top lot containing four six-liter bottles (methuselahs) of Burgundy winemaker Domaine de la Romanee-Conti that sold for HK$126,332.

Elsewhere in Hong Kong, Bonhams Spring Auction of whiskies, wine, traditional and modern Chinese paintings, jewelry and jadeite raised HK$170 million over the weekend.

Taipei-based Ravenel’s jewels, jadeite and modern and contemporary art sales earned HK$96 million while Beijing-based Poly Auction sold HK$25.2 million of fine Chinese paintings and Calligraphy yesterday.