Friday, December 5, 2014

Chinese Collector Buys Imperial Artwork for $45 Million

Chinese Collector Liu Yiqian Sets Record With Bid For 600-Year-Old Embroidered Silk Thangka at Christie’s Sale in Hong Kong

The embroidered imperial silk thangka from the Ming dynasty Yongle period.

HONG KONG—Chinese collector Liu Yiqian bought a 600-year-old imperial embroidered silk artwork at a Christie’s sale on Wednesday for $348 million Hong Kong dollars ($45 million), setting a record for any Chinese work of art sold by an international auction house.
The massive piece, known as a thangka and sized bigger than a king-size bed, was entirely worked with silk embroidery, depicting Raktayamari, ‘The Red Killer of Death’, a meditational deity in Mahayana Buddhism. Made on command of the Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor, the thangka is the only one of its kind in private hands, according to Christie’s. The two other known examples are both kept in the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.
“It is a national treasure,” Mr. Liu, the billionaire collector who owns two Long Museums, told The Wall Street Journal. “We need top art works for our museum.”
The auction of the thangka at the Hong Kong Convention Center Wednesday drew a larger audience than Christie’s closely watched evening sale on Saturday. The starting bid was HK$60 million. The number of bidders reduced to two on the phone when the price soared above HK$160 million .
Mr. Liu, represented on the phone by Cai Jinqing, president of Christie’s China, beat out an international buyer represented by François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Asia, in an intense competition that lasted 22 minutes, compared with around a minute for normal lots. The bidder on Mr. Curiel’s line drew rounds of applause for offering large increases. Mr. Liu outdid him each time, usually by HK$5 million.
“It was a very tough battle,” Mr. Liu said, adding that the final price is “reasonable”. “I was against a non-Chinese bidder and I want to bring the treasure back to China,” he added.
The piece, which remains in excellent condition with vibrant colors, was sold first by Christie’s in London in 1977 by the family of an English aristocrat for 7,500 pounds. It was again auctioned off by Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2002, for HK$30 million.
In April, Mr. Liu swiped his American Express Card to pay US$36.3 million for a tiny porcelain cup from the Ming dynasty with a chicken painted on its surface, after a seven-minute bidding war at aSotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. He confirmed he intends to settle the payment for his latest purchase using American Express again.
Mr. Liu, 51, is a Shanghai businessman who ran a handbag business and drove taxis after finishing junior high school. He was one of the earliest investors in the Shanghai stock market, and then bought large stakes in publicly traded Chinese companies. The successful investor and his wife first started collecting art about 20 years ago when they were looking for paintings for their villa.
At Christie’s evening sale on Saturday, his wife Wang Wei bought a dark-blue abstract painting titled “Kaien” by Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga, who painted by pushing his feet to create a dynamic sense of movement, for HK$23.6 million.