Spring sales of Asian art “made in Europe”



The Chinese artists who arrived in Europe after WWII to “modernize” their traditional painting count among the major signatures in Post-War Western art. For those for whom modernization meant Westernization, coming to Paris was a key step in a renaissance that triggered a mini-revolution in Contemporary art and, with hindsight, the artists at the intersection between Europe and Asia contributed much to the histories of both Western and Chinese art. Lin Fengmian, Xu Beihong, Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki, Chang Shuhong, Wang Keping and Chu Teh-chun are among the most well-known. In 2011, the Cernucschi Museum in Paris organized a major exhibition entitled Chinese Artists in Paris (1930 to 1958). Nowadays, other lesser-known Asian artists from the same period are beginning to attract the attention of the market, including notably Tang Haiwen, and the auction agenda for this spring contains a number of sales from Brussels to Hong Kong offering works by Chinese artists who lived and worked in France.

Tang Haiwen

Considering the number of works by TANG Haiwen (born in 1929 and died in 1991) being offered at the Bru Sale in Brussels on May 28, 2015, the European market may well be somewhat overwhelmed. In effect, the Brussels sale is offering an exceptional collection of no less than 60 works by this artist who arrived in France in 1948 at the same time as Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki. From a historical perspective, the importance of Tang Haiwen has been slow to emerge: in 1997, the National Museum of Taipei Palace dedicated a retrospective show to his work and in 2002 Guimet Museum in Paris confirmed his recognition with another retrospective. The catalog raisonné currently being compiled by Philippe Koutouzis will shed additional light on the density of Tang Haiwen’s work and the rediscovery of this artist is clearly reflected in today’s auction market, especially in China where his prices have risen sharply. Thus, whatever the outcome of the ambitious Bru Sale, it is bound to attract Asian collectors if only because the European prices of Haiwen’s works are particularly low compared to the prices they already fetch in China. On average, small ink works on paper (17 x 12 cm, uncolored) fetch between 1,000 and 1,300 euros in Europe while his diptychs in ink (70 x 100 cm) go for between 6,000 and 9,000 euros. However the same types of work fetch between 30% and 100% more in China, making the Bru Sale a perfect opportunity to enrich a collection with particularly strong works at discount “European” prices. In fact, some large ink diptychs fetch more than €30,000 in Hong Kong. Moreover, the prices of his acrylics and oils-on-canvas are soaring: on January 20 of this year Sotheby’s Hong Kong set a new record for the artist at over €300,000 (c. €380,000 including fees, or $438,600) when it sold a large Untitled acrylic (209.5 x 175.8 cm) painted in 1964/66.
In short, as Tang Haiwen’s works are today considerably cheaper than works by Zao Wou Ki and Chu Teh-chun, market demand is strong. Christie’s has included no fewer than 9 works by Tang Haiwen in its upcoming Hong Kong sales of 20th century and Contemporary Asian art on May 31, 2015. The Christie’s sales include a number of ink diptychs similar to those being offered in Brussels, but at over twice the price.

Lin Fengmian, master/mentor for Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh Chun

This Christie’s catalog also contains 12 works by Zao Wou-ki and 10 by Chu Teh Chun, two undisputed masters whose best paintings fetch millions of dollars (record of €7.6 million including fees [$9.1m] for Chu Teh Chun at Christie’s Hong Kong on November 23, 2013 and €10.7 million including fees [$14.6 m] for Zao Wou Ki at Sotheby’s Beijing on January 12, 2013). Indeed, Christie’s Hong Kong sales (in 3 sessions) will test the market’s tenacity on these two important artists, with a total of 20 works by Chu Teh-chun and 19 by Zao Wou Ki on May 30 and 31. We also note, once again, the presence of works by Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), a Chinese artist who worked in Paris a generation before his pupils Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun. Indeed, between late May and early June, 14 works by Lin Fengmian are being offered in Hong Kong (13 at Christie’s and 1 at Bonhams). A seminal figure in 20th century Chinese art, 3 works by Lin Fengmian are also being sold in France on June 4 (at SCP Issaly & Pichon in Cannes). Expect to pay €150,000 on average for a decent ink work, while the best fetch over a million in China … Introduced to painting and Chinese calligraphy by his father, LIN Fengmian is one of the first Chinese artists to practice oil painting in Europe, a medium that was foreign to 1920s China. After initial studies in traditional Chinese artistic skills, he studied in France from 1918 to 1925. Returning to China in the late 20s, he became a model of success for his students in Hangzhou, including Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun who in turn moved to France after 1945. So far, Lin Fengmian has scored 24 auction results above the million-dollar line, all hammered in China.
Meanwhile in Paris… Aguttes, Arcurial and Christie’s are offering several oils and drawings by CHU Teh-Chun with a low estimate of 130,000 for his first work on canvas. For his part, ZAO Wou-Ki adorns the cover of the catalog for the Aguttes sale on June 1 with an oil on canvas entitled 27.4.69 measuring 46 cm and carrying a pre-sale estimate of €350,000 – €450,000, and he may well generate two new Parisian million-plus results on June 2 at Sotheby’s where a couple of his prized abstractions are bound to attract the market’s attention.

Listed artists: LIN FengmianXU BeihongSAN YuZAO Wou-KiCHANG ShuhongWANG KepingCHU Teh-ChunTANG Haiwen