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 in November, 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'
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.
The term “Blue Chip” comes to the art world from the stock market. In 1900, after arriving in New York from England, a young man named Oliver Gingold was offered an entry-level position at the publishing firm of Dow Jones. One day, while working as a writer covering the stock exchange, he noticed several high value stocks being traded on the floor. He commented to a colleague that he was going to hurry back to the office to write about these “blue chip stocks,” the first known use of the phrase.
Blue Chip Art is any art that’s expected to reliably increase in economic value regardless of the general economic conditions. Artists like Picasso, Warhol, Rothko and Pollock are Blue Chip.
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.
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 @ cnbc.com