SHANGHAI - Christie's on Thursday kicked off its first independent auction in mainland China, marking its full-fledged entry into a market considered a key growth engine for global art sales.
Hundreds of people showed up as 42 items - from Asian contemporary art and Western masterworks to jewellery, watches and wine - went under the hammer with estimates for their combined totalling 100 million yuan ($20.4 million).
Highlights include a contemplative 1963 still-life painting by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, Pablo Picasso's 1969 painting entitled 'Homme assis', and Andy Warhol's 'Diamond Dust Shoes' of 1980-1981.
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.
Now, the house expects "to connect Shanghai and therefore mainland China into Christie's network" which includes New York, London, Paris and Milan, chief executive Steven Murphy said Tuesday as it unveiled a three-day exhibition of the auction items ahead of the sale.
China emerged as the world's largest art and antiques market with a 30 per cent 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 per cent global share as the US regained the top spot with 33 per cent, 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.