By Carter B. Horsley
Despite a rejuvenated art market, the Chinese
Paintings auctions this fall in New York were not successes.
The Sept. 19, 1997 Christie's sale barely brought
in half of the low pre-sale estimate and only 87 of 173 lots in
the catalogue sold.
At Sotheby's, the sale of 37 works from the
C. C. Wang Family Collection of Important Chinese Paintings to
Benefit a Charitable Trust suffered a similar fate three days
later. Only 18 of the works sold for a total of $1,215,400, just
barely over half what the pre-sale low estimate had been.
One leading collector remarked that the works
being offered were "really not that good" and had estimates
were on the high side and another noted recent
controversies over the C. C. Wang collection.
An article by Carl Nagin in The New Yorker
magazine quoted a noted expert, James Cahill, as having attribution
problems with the centerpiece of a recent acquisition
by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of a group of paintings from
the C. C. Wang family, questions that had been raised previously
in an article in The City Review, which has run a series of articles
about controversial attributions involving
paintings that had been owned by C. C. Wang.
C. Wang, who is 90, attended the exhibition at Sotheby's where his grandson, Andrew Wang, is a "specialist" in the Chinese Painting department and was also present.
Some of the paintings that had been attributed
by the auction house as "Anonymous (Sung/Yuan Dynasty) did
relatively well and sold within the estimates as did the cover
illustration, lot 19, "Thatched Hut Under the Wutong Tree"
by :Tang Yin (1470-1523) that had been estimated at $200,000 to
$250,000 and sold for $222,500. A hanging scroll "attributed
to Zhang Cheng (10th/11th Century) of Buddhist
Deities sold for $47,150 and had been estimated at $25,000 to
$30,000. Another hanging scroll, "Bamboo and Rock,"
attributed to "Wu Zhen (1280-1354) also did well, selling
for $82,250, over its high pre-sale estimate of $70,000. Another
success was "Landscape After Li Tang" by "Xie Shichen
(1488-1567) that had been estimated at $180,000 to $200,000 and
sold for $200,500, including the buyer's premium.
But many of the auction's anticipated stars
fared poorly: Lot 12, a hanging scroll by "Zhu Da (1626-1705),
entitled "Deer Viewing Pine," had been estimated at
$80,000 to $120,000 and passed; a "Landscape" hanging
scroll by "Dai Jin (1388-1462) had been estimated at $120,000
to $150,000 and passed; "Egrets Under Willow Tree with Birds
and Flowers," by Lu Ji (1477-?) had been estimated at $140,000
to $160,000 and passed; "Snowy Mountain Landscape,"
a handscroll by Shen Zhou (1427-1509) had been estimated at $300,000
to $350,000 and passed; and "Landscape," a hanging scroll
ascribed by the auction house to "Shitao (1642-1707), and
bearing the seal of Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), had been estimated
at $200,000 to $250,000 and passed. Another passed handscroll
was "Landscape Inspired by Du Fu" by "Wu Li (1632-1718)."
It had been estimated at $150,000 to $180,000.
At Christie's, one of the major lots that passed
was lot 57, "Storm over the Xiang River," a handscroll
by "Xia Chang (1388-1470) that bore a label, frontispiece
and 13 collector's seals of Zhang Daqian, who had published and
illustrated it in his famous "Da feng tang mingui,"
(Masterpieces of Chinese Paintings from the Da Feng Tang collection,
Kyoto," Korean, 1955-6. Zhang Daqian, who died in 1988, had
two large works, one in each sale, that he claimed were his own,
that also passed.
A hanging scroll by Wang Meng, "Brewing
Tea," lot 68, had an "Estimate on Request," usually
indicative of works expected to sell for more than $1 million,
but it passed.
A group of vibrant studies by Qi Baishi (1863-1957) sold well with most reaching their high estimates and a few significantly moving beyond.