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Sotheby’s bets on Picasso and Sanyu to conquer the Asian art market

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In an exceptional sale, spurred by recent growth in the Asian art market, Sotheby’s is set to auction paintings by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Sanyu and Zhang Daqian. The sale could fetch an estimated total of US$38 million.

The “ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space” auction will be held April 18 in Hong Kong, ahead of the Sotheby’s modern art evening sale. It features five lots that span a thousand years of art history, created by emblematic artists from East and West.

The most coveted piece in the “ICONS” sale will no doubt be “Nu avec un Pékinois” by Sanyu, featuring a single female nude. This subject also features in the Franco-Chinese painter’s second-most expensive work sold on the market — “Quatre Nus” — which fetched $33 million at Sotheby’s in July. “Nu avec un pékinois” is estimated to fetch HK$100-150 million (or approx. US$ 12.9-19.3 million).

Art collectors will also be able to bid for “Buste de matador” by Pablo Picasso and “Self Portrait with a Tibetan Mastiff” by Zhang Daqian, which could respectively fetch up to $19.3 million and $7.7 million. A small brass bust by Giacometti could fetch $1.8 million, according to the Sotheby’s estimates.

Leading the Asian market

This is the first time that a sale of the caliber of “ICONS: Masterpieces from across time and space” — featuring Western and Asian artists — will be held in Asia. It forms part of 14 auctions in the “Hong Kong Spring Sale Series,” running April 16 to 23. Over 2,500 lots ranging from antiquities to contemporary art will go under the hammer during the series, likely fetching more than HK$3.2 billion (or approx. US$417 million), which is the highest ever estimate for a sale series held by Sotheby’s in Asia.

Ahead of the event, Sotheby’s recently announced the promotion of Nathan Drahi — son of the billionaire auction house owner, Patrick Drahi — to the post of managing director in Asia. This is a particularly important role since auction sales in the region reached $932 million in 2020, surpassing the results of rivals Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams.

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