‘Chicken Cup’ Sells for $36 Million China Auction Record

Apr 08, 2014 9:24 am ET

(Adds name of buyer in first paragraph, quote from Sotheby’s in fifth)

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- A 15th century porcelain cup sold to Chinese businessman Liu Yiqian for HK$281 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong today, setting an auction record for a Chinese work of art.

A packed auction room erupted into applause today after the hammer went down on Liu’s phone bid made through Sotheby’s Asia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Ching.

“This is the holy grail of ceramics,” James Hennessy, a Hong Kong-based dealer, said after the sale. “People, emperors and collectors have always aspired to own one of these, and the opportunity doesn’t come along often.”

Liu and his wife Wang Wei are among China’s most prominent collectors of Chinese art. Their new purchase, nicknamed the “Chicken Cup,” will be featured at their private Dragon Art Museum in Shanghai, said Nicolas Chow, head of Chinese ceramics and works of art and deputy chairman at Sotheby’s Asia.

“This cup will be a huge draw for visitors,” he said.

The cup, which was sold by the Philippines-born businessman Stephen Zuellig, who is in his late nineties, measures only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) in diameter and earned the nickname for its depiction of a rooster, his hen and their chicks, an allegorical representation of the Chenghua emperor (1465-82), the empress and his subjects.

Previous Record

The previous auction record for a Chinese work of art was set in October when Chinese property developer Zheng Huaxing paid HK$236 million for a bronze Buddha at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The cup was the latest of several records set during the five-day auction ending today. A jadeite bead necklace was bought by the Cartier Collection for HK$214 million. It was given to Woolworth retail heiress Barbara Hutton by her father in 1933 and last sold at auction in 1994 for HK$33 million. The previous auction record of HK$106 million for a jadeite necklace was set in 2012, Sotheby’s said.

“This necklace is as famous at it gets,” Quek, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said after the sale. “It ticks all the right boxes in terms of beauty, history, provenance and quality.”

The record for a contemporary Chinese painter fell as well when a Cui Ruzhuo fetched an auction record of HK$184 million including fees at Poly Auction Hong Kong last night.

The ink and color on paper painting titled “Landscape in Snow” sold to an Asian private buyer, Poly said. The hammer price was HK$160 million and buyer’s commission 15 percent.

It broke the previous auction record for the most expensive Chinese contemporary work set by Zeng Fanzhi’s painting the “Last Supper,” which sold for HK$180.4 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October.