Joseph Hotung’s extensive collection will be auctioned, including Degas’ wedding gift portrait to Eugène Manet and Berthe Morisot


Some 400 works from the collection of late Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist Joseph Hotung will be offered by Sotheby’s later this year. They will be split between a Hong Kong sale in October and a London sale in December.

Hotung is best known in art circles for funding the 2018 renovation of the British Museum’s Chinese and South Asian gallery that bears his name. As trustee of the museum, he bequeathed the entirety of his extensive collections of Chinese jade and early Chinese blue and white porcelain – one of the most valuable gifts the institution has received in recent history. They will be on display later this year.

Interior of Joseph Hotung’s private residence in London. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s will soon be offering the remains of its collection, dividing them roughly into two categories: Chinese paintings, objects and antiques spanning two millennia, which will be auctioned in Hong Kong on October 8-9, and European furniture and portraits from the 17th to early 19th centuries 20th Century Centuries offered on December 7th and 8th during the Old Master auction in London.

A Ming dynasty folding horseshoe-backed armchair Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Highlights from the earlier auction include a large 13th-century Yuan dynasty blue and white ‘fishbowl’ estimated at between £2m and £2.5m. It is joined by a Ming dynasty folding horseshoe-backed armchair, crafted from fragrant rosewood and estimated at £1m to £1.5m. These chairs were used as designated seats of honor for traveling dignitaries. The star lot among Chinese paintings is Qi Baishi’s Multi-Paneled Prosperous fruits and flowers from the 1920s. It is one of his largest works, measuring 2.8 meters in height and is estimated at between £1.8 million and £3 million.

Meanwhile, the thinning Old Master sales in London in December will gratefully receive the second half of the collection. Focusing on French Impressionism and early modernism, it includes a group of portraits by Degas – a notable genre for the artist as he never painted commissioned portraits. The most valuable of these is his 1874 portrait of Manet’s younger brother Eugène, created as a wedding present for the sitter and his wife, the painter Berthe Morisot, and has an estimate of £4-6 million.

Edouard Vuillards Gentlemen in Black (c. 1895-99). Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Another artist strongly represented in this half of the collection is Édouard Vuillard. Up for auction is a never-before-seen painting by the Nabis Painter from the late 1890s, depicting a clandestine meeting between several gentlemen in suits, estimated at £2-3million. A smaller group of pre-19th-century works are also on offer, including a portrait attributed to Frans Hals and his studio and a still life by the 18th-century Spanish painter Luis Meléndez.

Also included in the London auctions is Hotung’s collection of English furniture and French silverware. These include a pair of carved mahogany library chairs by George III (c. 1765), estimated at £80,000-120,000, and a pair of neoclassical candelabra from the Robert-Joseph Auguste dinner service delivered to George III, estimated at £400,000-600,000 £ to be estimated.

A member of one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest and oldest families, Hotung began collecting in the early 1970s after a delayed flight stranded him in San Francisco. To kill time, he went to an antique shop and found a pair of white jade bowls. He moved to the UK from Hong Kong in the 1990s. Despite his wealth and prolific patronage, Hotung remained a relatively private figure throughout his life and kept his collection at his home in London.


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