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Vietnam painting first valued at $75 fetches record $390,000

Nguyen Phan Chanh's work "La Marchand de Riz" (The Rice Seller)

A painting that was initially valued at just 50 pounds ($75) sold for HK$3.03 million ($390,000), setting a record for a Vietnamese artist's work at Christie's International in Hong Kong last night.

When the British seller of the 1932 work by Nguyen Phan Chanh entitled "La Marchand de Riz" (The Rice Seller) took it to Christie's in London, it was mistakenly identified by a trainee as an unsigned Chinese work.

After it was forwarded to specialists in Asia, they recognized the painting by the artist's signature on the back of the canvas and valued it at between HK$800,000 and HK$1 million.

"The provenance is impeccable," Jean-Francois Hubert, Christie's senior consultant for Vietnamese art, said in the saleroom. "It's in its original frame by Parisian framer Gardin and it was exhibited in 1934 in Napoli."

The buyer of the work, Kong-based dealer Pascal de Sarthe, said he and his wife Sylvie plan to hang it in their bedroom.

"It's a very rare piece and the condition is amazing," de Sarthe said today at his gallery's booth in Art Basel Hong Kong. "You never overpay for a really good piece."

The previous highest price for a Vietnamese artist at auction was set in April 2012 when Le Pho's work sold for $HK2.9 million at Sotheby's in Hong Kong.

Painter Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984)

Artist records

Three other artist records were also achieved. American- Chinese artist Yun Gee's "Nudes on Horseback" sold for HK$11.3 million, "Still Life with Tropical Fruits" by Singaporean Georgette Chen fetched HK$5.05 million, and a painting by 37- year-old Japanese artist Kohei Nawa went for HK$2.79 million.

Christie's Asian 20th-Century and Contemporary Art sale raised a total of HK$414.95 million, according to the London- based company's website. The top lot was an oil by Chang Yu (1901-1966), bought by an Asian collector for HK$44.67 million.

A painting by Chinese contemporary master Zhang Xiaogang entitled "Two Comrades with Red Baby" failed to sell when the highest bid of HK$26 million was below the reserve price. The painting did not have a presale estimate.

Christie's Spring Sale started with a wine auction yesterday totaling HK$48.9 million, led by a top lot containing four six-liter bottles (methuselahs) of Burgundy winemaker Domaine de la Romanee-Conti that sold for HK$126,332.

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