Chinese Buyers Dramatically Changing the Art World

Here's what they're buying.

When a privately-held painting by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci went under the hammer for a record $450 million, many looked to China in search of its mystery buyer.

While the purchaser of the 500-year-old artwork "Salvator Mundi" ultimately proved to be a Saudi royal, the knee-jerk reaction toward China highlights the importance of the East Asian nation in the art market.

According to a report from Art Basel and UBS, China is the world's third-largest art market after the United States and the United Kingdom, accounting for 20 percent of total sales in the $57 billion global sector.

Only one decade ago, in 2007, China accounted for just 9 percent of total sales worldwide, according to the Art Basel report.

That figure doubled in 2009 and reached the peak of 30 percent in 2011 before the recovering U.S. made a comeback.

Given their big budgets, Chinese buyers are increasingly dominating the art investing world. Here's what they're looking for:

International 'Blue Chip Fine Art'

Dora Maar au Chat, 1941 by Pablo Picasso

No surprises here.

Rare classics by renowned masters like da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh are highly sought.

The recent record price for a da Vinci "is one more proof that blue chip fine art is big business and a great, unique way of investing where the value of your investment is only likely to appreciate," said Johnny Hon, chairman of venture capital firm The Global Group and an art investor himself.

Chinese Classics and Masters

China lost heaps of artwork in the last century due to historical turmoil, but now that the country is an economic power, the rich are buying back some of their heritage.

Ancient porcelain and old ink paintings are all fair game with major 20th Century Chinese ink painters Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong and Zhang Daqian drawing the big bucks.

Qi Baishi was a Chinese painter, noted for the whimsical, often playful style of his watercolor works. Born to a peasant family from Xiangtan, Hunan, Qi became a carpenter at 14, and learned to paint by himself.

Contemporary Art

The value of contemporary art is harder to assess beyond top creators such as Cui Ruzhuo and Japanese superstar Yayoi Kusama, whose work sell for millions of dollars on the art market.

Chinese buyers have a healthy risk appetite and are not averse to putting their money in under-the-radar living artists in the hopes of reselling for higher prices later, art dealers told CNBC.

* Partially sourced @


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