With bidders that included prominent collectors of Chinese art, the sale of Chinese art from the Fujita Museum in Japan reached $262 million at Christie’s, giving the New York auction house the biggest single-evening sale in Asian Art Week auction history.
Also in the sale on Wednesday was the Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection, which came from the Virata family of the Philippines and contained significant pieces of Chinese furniture. It brought in $25 million. All proceeds from the Virata sale will go to charities in the Philippines.
The Osaka, Japan-based Fujita Museum auctioned 31works of art in its collection. The sale raised funds for a refurbishment project at the museum.
The auction attracted major collectors of Chinese art, including British dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, Robert Chang from Hong Kong, Robert Tsao, a Taiwan-born entrepreneur, and Wang Wei, who co-founded Shanghai’s Long Museum with billionaire husband Liu Yiqian.
Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia, said many bidders came from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and new buyers, mostly entrepreneurs, were active in bidding because they knew it was a rare opportunity to acquire such works.
Jussi Pylkknen, global president of Christie’s, said the Fujita sale was a “spectacular” success for a great museum.
“Last month, as the auctioneer of the London sales, I witnessed the extraordinary buying power of our Asian clients in both Impressionist and Post-War auctions, which transferred to the New York saleroom for this auction,” he said.
In the Fujita sale, six hand scrolls that were formerly part of the collection of the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) sold for $123.9 million.
That sale also featured six archaic bronze ritual wine vessels that brought in a total of $125.8 million. A new world auction record of $37.2 million was set for a wine vessel from the late Shang Dynasty (13th to 11th century BC).
A 13th-century classical Chinese scroll painting fetched $49 million from an anonymous bidder. The ink brush painting titled Six Dragons once belonged to Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was transported to Japan in the early 20th century and then became part of the museum’s collection.
The Virata collection featured a very rare huanghuali circular incense stand from the 16th to 17th century that sold for $5.8 million, which had an original high estimate of $600,000. An important zitan luohan bed had a high estimate of $3 million and was sold for $3.6 million.
The Six Dragons painting in the Fujita sale was produced by Song Dynasty (960-1279) official painter Chen Rong, who achieved excellence in painting dragons. He is little known today because he was only briefly mentioned in historical documents.
In his vivid painting, Chen created fierce dragons that move freely through waves and mist.
Ji Tao, an art market observer in Beijing, said Chen preferred to paint after he got slightly drunk. “He splashed extensive ink to portray seas, clouds and strange rocks by which he highlighted the strong motion and volume of dragons, and therefore he conveyed a mystical feeling.”
Chen’s dragon paintings also reveal his political views and ambition, Ji said.
Twenty-two paintings signed by Chen Rong are found in museums and private collections worldwide, and 11 of them are in the United States and Japan, according to Zhu Wanzhang, a researcher at the National Museum of China.
Beijing’s Palace Museum houses two of Chen’s calligraphy pieces.
The painting is cataloged in Shiqu Baoji, a prominent inventory of top-notch Chinese paintings and calligraphic works in the imperial Qing collection. It was among a large number of Chinese works of art that were sold by aristocrats following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.
The sale of works from the Fujita collection included five other classical paintings cataloged in Shiqu Baoji, dating to the Tang (618-907), Song and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, which witnessed the glory of Chinese art.