In 2008, Jeffrey Lee decided to join the Asian Contemporary Art Department in Sotheby’s New York headquarters. At the same time, Lily Lee joined Sotheby’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong as Director of Sotheby’s China, Southeast Asia, Head of 20th Century Chinese Art Department. In the fall, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing economic collapse in the US, Jeffrey Lee transferred to Hong Kong to join the 20th Century Chinese Art department.
During the wake of the financial crisis the art market underwent a heavy re-adjustment period in 2009. While preparing for the 2009 spring sale, Lily Lee quickly realized how difficult it was to find consignments in this uncertain atmosphere. However, five oil paintings by Lin Fengmian executed in the 1960s emerged from Europe and after 4 months of negotiations and collaborating with multiple departments in three continents, the works arrived safely in Hong Kong. At the time, Lily sensed that the auction market was receding into a vacuum as buyers and sellers were locked in an “observing” stance. Lily Lee concluded that offering all five Lin Fengmian oil paintings at the same time - the first time in history that such a magnificent collection would appear in the same sale, would be the only way to generate the spark necessary to re-ignite the interest of potential buyers in such a negative and uncertain market.
The results of that sale proved the strategy to be a smashing success. The five lots set world records for the price of Lin Fengmian’s works of Peking opera figures and of his oil paintings in general. The total turnover of the sale exceeded its estimate by 127%, becoming one of Sotheby’s most successful sales of the season. 20th Century Chinese Art had become the first category to regain the market’s confidence after the financial crisis. Works by Lin Fengmian, Sanyu and Zao Wou-ki continued to achieve remarkable prices and even became the hedge fund for part of the liquidity market.
In the autumn of 2009, the world economy remained sluggish. However, Sanyu’s oil painting Lotus et Poissons Rouges, which had been hidden from in a private collection for over 50 years, appeared in Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale of 20th Century Chinese Art and set a world record for Sanyu’s landscape works.
From 2004 to 2010, Lily and Jeffrey dedicated much of their lives to the auction business, following the pulse of the seasonal auction schedule and positioning themselves at the forefront of the Asian art markets. While they were exposed to tremendous amounts of experience and resources in the international and Chinese art markets, they both had to elevate their dedication to the art management business by making many personal sacrifices. As a result, personal and family time became very limited, and after 2 years with Sotheby’s, Lily and Jeffrey both resigned after the 2010 Spring auction and, once again, returned to Shanghai and started to create their own art space and family business.