For investors, glamorous bounty lies in looted treasures

By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-15 08:01
Large Medium Small

 For investors, glamorous bounty lies in looted treasures
Antique fans look at the scroll oil painting of the Yangtze River at a retrospective exhibition of contemporary artist Wu Guanzhong at Zhejiang Art Museum in Hangzhou on Nov 20. Li Zhong / for China Daily

But is it worth $82 million?

"The vase requires exquisite workmanship. I've not seen such a good vase from the same period in China," said Liu Shangyong, general manager of Rongbao Auction Co in Beijing. "This trumps all other Qianlong vases."

Ma Weidu, owner of Guanfu Museum in Beijing, is not so sure.

"I think the bidders went to London harboring the thought the auction would not be so fierce because the auction house is not famous and the promotion was not high profile," he said. "When they arrived, they were too afraid to lose face in front of (their rivals) and bid higher and higher until it hit $82 million."

Yet, the price could also be a reflection of the shift in bidders from traditional collectors to speculators. To tell them apart, Liu suggests observers time how long it takes to go back under the hammer.

"Collectors don't sell quickly but if you see a piece at auction only two or three years after it was last bought, it's probably a case of hot money driving up the price," he said.

A scroll oil painting of the Yangtze River by contemporary artist Wu Guanzhong sold for about 38 million yuan at a 2006 auction in Beijing, yet this summer went back on the block and attracted a winning bid of 57 million yuan.

The turnaround can be even quicker. In the spring of 2008, a Taiwan trader bought four flower-bird paintings by contemporary artists Yan Bolong in Tianjin for 500,000 yuan and resold them in Beijing just six months later for 2 million yuan.

"The market has seen fast development in recent years and we're expecting consistent growth in the future," said Sun at China Guardian Auctions. "The return from investments in artwork is promising."