Shanghai (AFP) – Christie's held its first independent auction in mainland China Thursday with artworks including Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, marking its full-fledged entry into a market considered a key growth engine for global art sales.
Hundreds of people attended the auction as more than 40 items -- from Western masterworks and Asian contemporary art to jewellery, watches and wine -- went under the hammer to fetch 153 million yuan ($25 million).
Among the highlights, a Picasso painting titled "Homme assis" -- and produced in 1969, one of the legendary artist's most productive years -- fetched 9.6 million yuan.
"I'm very happy with the results, with the right place, with the right people, with the right moment," said chief executive Steven Murphy.
Christie's, which has long operated in Hong Kong, had been organising sales in China since 2005 by authorising a Chinese auction firm to use its international trademark, due to strict regulations on setting up a solely-foreign invested auction house.
But the firm said in April it had become the first international auction house authorised to operate in mainland China without a local partner.
The house now expects "to connect Shanghai and therefore mainland China into Christie's network" which includes New York, London, Paris and Milan, Murphy said on Tuesday as it unveiled a three-day exhibition of the auction items ahead of the sale.
During the two-hour event, a Warhol print, "Diamond Dust Shoes" of 1980-1981, sold for four million yuan. It featured vivid-coloured shoes against a dazzling background in the artist's signature repetition technique.
Another prominent piece, a contemplative 1963 still-life painting by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, failed to attract any bids.
China emerged as the world's largest art and antiques market with a 30 percent share in 2011, narrowly overtaking the United States for the first time, according to the European Fine Art Foundation.
It reverted to second place in 2012 with a 25 percent global share as the US regained the top spot with 33 percent, the art fair organiser said in a March report.
Christie's, one of numerous business interests of French billionaire Francois Pinault, was at the centre of controversy in 2009 when two bronze animal heads looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860 were put up for auction in Paris.
The animal heads were then owned by Pierre Berge, the partner of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, until Pinault acquired the two bronzes and handed them back to China in June this year.