2009 is finally over. The economic crisis caused significant loss in many sectors, but the value of Chinese art has actually risen. This past year, auctions have fetched world-record prices, breaking the artists’ own records. Certain works of art were sold at several times their estimated value. This proves both the demand and appreciation for Chinese classical art. Despite all the hype, what’s the future for Chinese art on the market? How do we appraise its value? Let’s find out.
Many collectors are concerned that their important items would lose their value in this economy. Indeed in the second half of 2008, values were beginning to drop. When 2009 started though, the value of contemporary and 20th century Chinese art started picking up.
Auctions during autumn/winter 2009 broke a lot of bidding records. A painting called “Landscape inspired by Dufu’s Poetic Sentiments” by artist Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) measuring 208cm long and 59.5cm wide. It was sold at a whopping HKD $60,020,000 – this is the highest price among the artist’s works purchased by collectors worldwide.
According to Mr. Jessie Or, Specialist of Chinese painting at Christie’s Hong Kong, mainland collectors are very enthusiastic about 20th century Chinese art, because it is easier to understand and appreciate. The Fu Baoshi piece realised such a high price because it was a painting he did in Sichuan in the 40’s, a golden era in his career as an artist. Some mainland collectors had learnt about his background and decided to come to this auction in Hong Kong, hoping to see the artwork. The genuine appreciation of this painting is the reason why it bid such a record-high price.
On the other hand, ceramics have always been one of China’s most valued arts. Imperial ceramics, in particular, are avidly purchased by a new generation of collectors. Ms. Chi-Fan Tsang, Vice President, Senior Specialist of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art at Christie’s Hong Kong, tells us why, “In the Qing Dynasty, imperial ceramics were used in the emperor’s court. These beautiful ceramics were not only colourful, they were also produced in a scarce amount. Their preciousness naturally attracts a collector’s attention. In recent years, specialists have been reluctant to predict the value of these ceramics during auctions. Let me give you an example from Christie’s auction this past autumn/winter season. The Doucai and Famille Rose “Boys” Jar from the Qianlong Period bid an astonishing HKD $18,580,000. Its estimated value was just HKD $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. So we can see that when collectors see a rare item, they will bid until they get their hands on it. Mainland Chinese collectors are now about 60-70% of the auction market. Predictors say that this number will keep increasing in the near future.”
The works of art mentioned above all bid exceptionally high prices, but on the market there are also precious items whose values are just getting to be recognised. The Lee’s Family Lacquer, which was recently auctioned, did not bid an extravagant price. This is probably because Northern Chinese collectors have yet to appreciate and fall in love with lacquers, or perhaps this is due to the fact that lacquers are better preserved in Southern China’s climate. Despite everything, Lee’s Family Lacquer called for a price that is higher than expected, because it is part of a collection recognised around the world. The Lee Family’s collections have been exhibited in some of the world’s biggest museums, and the lacquers have even been listed in official catalogues. Often, items from someone’s private collection are appreciated mostly only by very knowledgeable collectors. But in recent years, there seem to be new collectors who just bid for the sake of bidding. To appreciate the art of collecting, careful research is necessary. With thorough understanding of the history and the significance of each item, you might just discover some of the most precious Chinese art that still has potential in terms of value in the market.