A Ming Dynasty vase from the storied Meiyintang Collection set a new world record for Ming porcelain at Sotheby's Hong Kong today after it soared past its high estimate to sell for a total of HK$168.7 million ($21.6 million) against a high estimate of HK$120 million ($15.39 million). This price doubled the previous record and was all the more remarkable on a day when Sotheby's Chinese porcelain and works of art sales overall were depressed by the absence of the Chinese "hot money" that has been such a fillip to the market in recent seasons. Today the speculators were absent — driven from the sale room by the credit crunch in China and the turmoil on Hong Kong and global stock markets.
That left the genuine collectors — including some from the Chinese mainland, but also from more traditional sources of buyers like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe, and the United States — to compete for the lots on offer.
As it happened, the Meiyintang collection sale was perfectly calibrated to that market with its well-edited tranche of pieces from the most sophisticated periods of the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Although a few pieces — including some premium lots — were passed in, the sale easily met expectations, netting HK$560 million ($71.8 million) against an estimate of HK$430 million ($55 million). This result was headlined by the record-breaking Ming Vase, a superb blue and white meiping from the Yongle Imperial Period (1402-1424) which Sotheby's international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art Nicolas Chow vividly described to us as "macho" in reference to its atypically un-waisted broad shouldered shape.
The other standout lot of the sale was a Qing Dynasty famille rose "peach" vase that was picked up by a collector bidding on the phone with Sotheby's Asia Chair Patti Wong, dead on the low estimate of HK$80 million ($10.26 million.)
Unfortunately most of the rest of the day's lots did not prove so well suited to the market. Nicolas Chow himself observed to ARTINFO China at the end of the morning's session that if he had known that China's new collectors would be totally absent he wouldn't have designed the sales to include so many lots chosen to appeal to a specifically Chinese mainland taste. These included a number of flamboyant works of art from the Qing Dynasty — like a rare pair of Qianlong Imperial-period enameled candlesticks — which in a different market would have been expected to do well, but in this one were passed in, perhaps unsurprisingly.
At the end of the day Sotheby's had netted HK$962 million ($123 million) against a pre-sale low estimate of HK1.17 billion ($150 million) for their Chinese porcelain and works of art sales. Attention will now turn to the Christie's auctions in late November to see how they decide to respond to this new market.