Record-breaking bids: Auction items that fetched the highest figures

By Neil Dolby
Jun 15, 2023

Fame and rareness are two of the repeating reasons for some items to fetch many millions at auction houses because these factors add significant value to the pieces. Four such creations that wowed ardent collectors recently include a rare and high-quality green jade bangle, a mystical animal sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne, a renowned painting by Marsden Hartley and a vintage Chrysler car.

Bangle FLAME

One-of-a-kind jadeite bangle shines

A magnificent bangle carved from full green jadeite was sold for HK$60 million by Poly Auction recently. Wowing bidders at the Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches Sale in Hong Kong, the cylindrical jewel represented a new high for the jadeite bangle category.

Encircling the wrist, the deep green hue of this beautiful gemstone is reminiscent of clear water, highlighting nobility and elegance. Jadeite is a natural mineral, and finding a whole piece of high-quality green jade is incredibly challenging. This particular bangle features precious old pit jadeite and the intricate natural patterns inside the jade exude a unique and primitive beauty. For many jadeite collectors, owning a full green, high-quality jadeite bangle is undoubtedly a dream coming true.

According to Fung Chiang, Head of Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches at Poly Auction Hong Kong, the headline lot is one of a kind in the market. “This extraordinary result solidifies its superior market position, reaffirming the timeless collection value and impeccable charms of jadeite,” he says. Total sales at the auction fetched nearly HK$108 million.

Also Read: All About Jadeite: A Symbol of Wealth and Status

Animal MAGIC

Surreal animal figure woos buyers

An enchanting animal sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne struck a chord with buyers at an auction held by Phillips in London. The mythical Grand Bouquetin (1999), a majestic Alpine ibex, roamed far above its estimate to reach a peak price of £1,112,800 (US$1,389,000).

The late French artist is considered one of the most important animalier sculptors of the Western world. His animals are often imbued with a touch of fantasy and have captivated collectors for decades. “There are hundreds of years of animal representation encompassed in the Grand Bouquetin,” says Elie Massaoutis, Head of Design at Phillips, France. “If you look at the almond-shaped eyes, it is reminiscent of the Egyptian sculptures. And then you suddenly have his mouth, which is just a simple horizontal line, which is almost invisible. What I like is that there is a real alertness.”

He adds: “The Grand Bouquetin is very representative of François-Xavier Lalanne. Phillips’ recent auction results for 20th-century French design demonstrate the unwavering strength of the market and [Lalanne’s] enduring appeal.”

Bathing BLISS

Beach masterpiece reaches tidy sum

A famous painting by Marsden Hartley fetched US$1,865,000 when auctioned as part of Christie’s sale of Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection. Combining powerful figural compositions with dynamic seascape, On the Beach (1940-41) is a masterful example of maturity from Hartley’s later career. The Maine-born artist, who died in 1943, refined and reengaged with styles and forms of expression throughout his life – a trait which earned him a legacy as one of the foremost American modernists.

Some scholars believe Hartley’s late figurative paintings of male bodies to be related to his own homosexuality. However, On the Beach is unique within this category due to his addition of a female figure – a motif possibly employed to make his painting more accessible to a wider audience.

Talking of the sale of his collection, musical theatre composer and former investment banker Ted Shen says: “I am grateful that my collecting enabled me to discover the beauty and greatness of the American modernists’ work and to understand their contribution to the evolution of art [in the US].”

Chrysler CLASS

Classic roadster roars into record books

Perhaps among the most beautiful American automobiles of the classic era, a bespoke 1932 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster recently sold for a whopping US$1.6 million, setting a record price for the marque. The auction of the Estate of Mark Smith conducted by Gooding & Company also set two other world records.

Garaged by five known caretakers over nine decades, the car was largely in its original condition albeit with some distinctive period modifications. The first owner, Philadelphia otolaryngologist William Whelan, had steadily fine-tuned its appearance to suit his taste. This incredibly sleek, tapered look reminiscent of the 1928–1929 Auburn Speedsters, with performance to match, has since been preserved in the same patinated condition.

The technical specifications of the vehicle include a four-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, front solid axle and rear live axle, both with semi-elliptical leaf springs. Sympathetic improvements included the replacement of the deteriorated front seat upholstery with distressed leather.

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