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04 March 2014

The Power of Red 

In China, the color red symbolizes happiness and good fortune. It may be no coincidence that leading London auction house Sotheby’s featured an array of red-themed paintings last month by a number of the world’s most famous modern artists.

Prosperous Chinese and other Asians with a passion for fine art account for nearly a quarter of a global art market, worth $58 billion, according to Sotheby’s. Though the art market flat-lined after the 2008 financial crisis, Asian buyers have helped to pump new life into the auction business.

Sotheby’s London auction house displayed an Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao next to an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter that sold for a combined £25 million on February 12.

"When we're pricing things we're aware of the power of red," said Alex Branczik, Head of Sotheby's Contemporary Art department in London. Although red represents passion in Western culture, Branczik notes, it has a special resonance for Asian buyers, who often associate red with joy and luck.

Overall, the fortunes of the global art market are definitely improving, and several of the works offered in London last month exceeded estimates.

At rival auction house Christie’s, Pablo Picasso’s "Woman in a Turkish Costume," a portrait of his future wife

Jacqueline Roque dressed as a harem concubine, sold for £16.9 million. Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. II With Blue and Yellow fetched £12 million, Joan Miro’s Nocturnal Bird £2.7 million, and Fernand Léger’s The Cylinder Colors £12.1 million.

Sotheby’s says its Asian customers doubled their purchases of modern art in 2013. Together with rising purchases from Russia, the Middle East and South America, they illustrate the truly global character of today’s marketplace for fine art.