Sotheby’s first commercial auction in mainland China raised $37 million and set a record for Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-Ki in Beijing yesterday.

The 1958 oil-on-canvas painting titled “Abstraction” by Zao sold to Zhang Xiaojun, a collector from Shanxi province in the room, for 89.68 million yuan ($14.7 million), smashing the previous auction record of $11 million set on Oct. 5 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, according to the auction house.

“This shows that there are strong buyers on the mainland,” said Pascal de Sarthe, a Hong Kong-based dealer. “Five years ago, they wouldn’t have been buying at the top end.”

China is the fastest-growing source of clients for international auction houses as increasing affluence is driving demand for art and collectibles as alternative investments.

Sotheby’s had estimated the auction would raise about $20.2 million, excluding buyer’s premium, an 18 percent commission added to the hammer price.

The auction was held in conjunction with three private sales of western old masters, modern paintings, furniture and jewelry offered by the New York-based auction house, with an estimated combined value of $212 million.

“You get this explosion of wealth,” said David Norman, head of the impressionist and modern art department at Sotheby’s New York. “They seem not to really have fear or reticence to chase paintings to record prices.”

Precious Wine

A Chinese buyer also set an auction record for a case of wine on Nov. 23 when he paid $474,000 for 12 bottles of Romanee- Conti 1978 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

On Nov. 5, China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, paid $28.2 million for a Picasso painting at Christie’s in New York.