“Fifty thousand,” came a bid from the phones.
A moment later, a man in the audience shouted, “Five hundred thousand,” upping the ante tenfold. I could feel the tension in the room from my place on the auction block.
“Jumping the bid”—shouting out a much higher price—is a technique used to intimidate other bidders, putting them off their stride. As an auctioneer, it’s critical not to lose cadence, which can stop the flow of the auction and put an end to the bidding far too soon.
It’s an old technique, it’s my job as the auctioneer to overcome it. As an auction house, Skinner acts as a broker, guarding the interests of both buyers and sellers. At no point is this responsibility more important than at the moment of sale, when I have to ensure I don’t miss a single bid.
“One million dollars!” came from another gentleman, and the audience broke into applause. I felt the tension beginning to ease, but call it auctioneer’s intuition, I sensed it wasn’t over yet.
I called for attention, “$1.1 million? Do I hear $1.1 million?” A moment later, another hand was up, and the final bid was placed at $1,227,000 (with the buyer’s premium), far and away the highest priced lot in a spectacular auction of Asian Works of Art.
And it all happened in less than a minute.
Auctioning works of art is always exhilirating, even over days-long sales. Our Asian art auction, covering two days and almost 1,700 lots, was full of excitement from beginning to end. Estimated between $880,000 and $1.28 million, the sale almost quadrupled the high end of that range, with the final lot selling just short of midnight on Saturday.
The $1.1 million dollar lot I’d sold was a book of Chinese paintings and calligraphy. Jim Callahan, Skinner’s Director of Asian Works of Art, had alerted me that it would draw robust competition. This stunning album of artwork by ten renowned modern Chinese painters included works by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Zhang Gunian (b. 1903), and Wang Yachen (1894-1983). Depicting mountain landscapes, rockeries, birds amidst branches and water scenes, the works were created on the occasion of the 80th birthday of P.Y. Wang (Boyuan) and seemingly each artist strove to outperform the others.
Provenance, so critical in Western art, is equally important in this collecting area as well. “P. Y. Wang, a patron of the arts in 20th century China, discovered fan painting was a disappearing art. He started a shop where artists could work—almost like a co-op—and Zhang Daqian directed it,” explained Jim Callahan. “The artists working in the shop created the fans in the collection as a tribute to him.”
There is no question that the market for Chinese Works of Art was vibrant in 2010. Worldwide, auction houses have seen astonishing prices driven by the burgeoning wealth of Chinese collectors who are looking to reclaim their heritage by accruing Chinese porcelain, jades, bronzes and paintings. The Wang family’s gorgeous collection of Chinese paintings in album leaves certainly deserved their place in this exciting market trend.