One of China’s greatest modern artists, Zhang Daqian, has outsold Pablo Picasso – taking in more than $500 million in 2011. Picasso, the previous top-seller, had record earnings of $360 million in 2010, Al Jazeera said Friday.
In 2011, Sotheby’s (NYSE:BID) Hong Kong hosted the first auction of Zhang’s work. All 25 pieces up for auction were sold within 90 minutes, bringing in a total of HK$680 million ($87.58 million). The most valuable of which, a piece depicting water lilies, was sold for HK$191 million.
Zhang was trained as a traditionalist Chinese painter, but by the 1960s had also become a modern impressionist and expressionist. Zhang was a prolific artist – when he died in 1983 at 84, he left behind more than 30,000 pieces of art, in the estimation of C.K. Cheung, the director of the Department of Calligraphy and Painting of Sotheby’s Hong Kong, according to Yicai, a Chinese financial news portal.
On Sunday, Sotheby’s Hong Kong hosted its second auction of Zhang’s work. Of the 25 pieces up for auction this time, 24 pieces were sold for a total of HK$330 million, Yicai reported. While the auction didn't bring in as much as the 2011 auction, it doesn't mean Zhang’s work is already depreciating in value.
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“The artist painted for over 60 years, there are at sometimes great variations in the quality and importance of his work,” Cheung said. There were also some smaller pieces in the most recent auction compared to 2011, bringing down the total sales value.
In addition, the art world in general experienced a peak in 2011, while 2012 was a low point. The market is already on the rise again in 2013, according to Yicai. Since 2010, when Zhang’s art first began to climb in value, the artist has garnered a group of very stable and loyal collectors.
Many of Zhang’s works were bought by Chinese buyers. China’s wealthy sector has been steadily growing, and with more money to spend, they're investing in their own heritage, Al Jazeera reported. The Chinese have become major players in the global art scene as well – in 2011, China topped the U.S. and has a 39 percent share of the world revenue for fine art.
"Perhaps for many people, the initial motivation of buyer is just because of hobby and a sense of ownership," Cheung said, according to Al Jazeera. "But once the buyer moves into the realm of the art world and enjoys the art pieces, the initial thinking may change as time passes. The buyer eventually becomes a collector … that's what we want to see the most, and that is an important foundation for maintaining a stable, long-term artwork market."