With the opening up of the market from the middle of this year, I decided to transition my focus from a reporter of the auction market, (whilst under lockdown) to a more active market participant. I found this change really interesting, stimulating and a huge learning curve. It has also left me with a greater understanding and respect for the many people that have been practicing in the trade as dealers for many years.
Over this period, I organised two exhibitions, one purely online: Jade and Scholars from an English Private Collection and the other – Reflecting Nature, 17th Century Chinese Ceramics for the Japanese Market: Kosometsuke and Ko-Akae. The latter included a catalogue and a two day pop-up gallery in Mayfair at the end of October. Both achieved moderate success and taught me valuable lessons on pricing, presentation, curation and (again) the importance and relevance of the printed catalogue.
During the pop-up exhibition, I really enjoyed engaging with clients in person again, as it had been such a long time since face to face contact was possible. The venue at the upper galleries of the Brian Haughton Gallery in Duke Street St James’s was shared with Alastair Gibson Auctions who had a selection of Chinese Ceramics and works of art available for what was his successful debut auction. This collaboration attracted an interesting mix of people and despite not having the normal influx of international visitors, we were both pleased with the overall footfall for the two days.
I found that working as a commissioned agent on these exhibitions has dovetailed well with my other work as an agent/facilitator for clients to buy and sell at privately or at auction, as well as other valuation work which recently included trips to Munich, Paris and Marrakech.
The trip to Munich in early October was my first since the start of the pandemic and I had been there in January last year just before we went into lockdown. Despite the greater complications of travel, it was great being back in the centre of an unfamiliar city again and seeing clients and looking at objects. Whilst there, I was fortunate enough to see the exhibition of contemporary Longquan celadon at the Museum of Five Continents : Celadon in Focus: Jade-like Porcelains and their Masters in Longquan. The exhibition documented and exhibited a number of individual artists works, which was an obvious point of difference from those of the Song and later dynasties which were created anonymously.
My trip to Paris in mid November included a visit to the Hôtel de la Marine for the opening of the inaugural exhibition: Treasures of the Al Thani Collection. This was was a rather magical experience to the beautifully refurbished buildings, which had been financed by a philanthropic gift of the Al Thani family and specifically by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani. The exhibition is well worth seeing if one is in Paris, as it includes some of the finest works of art across many cultures.
My client visit to Paris was closely followed by a valuation trip to Marrakech. It was my first to North Africa and Morocco certainly was an incredibly energising experience as I absorbed the light and colour of the environment and the cultural richness of Berber designs and Islamic architecture. I have not written any articles unrelated to Chinese art to date, but I may make an exception in this case as it was visually so interesting, so watch this space..
With regard Covid-19, it is clear that we are not out of the woods yet, as new variants are continuing to be part of the mix. However, I do personally feel a greater sense of optimism (despite the onset of winter) that we are moving in the right direction and that things will eventually get back to some sort of normality that we remember. Throughout all of this, the auction market has continued to be as resilient as ever for good quality pieces and interesting collections that have been sourced and sold over this period.
This is especially the case where estimates are set well below the true value of pieces. An illustrative example of this was the Bonham’s sale of the Parry Collection (£7.9m total) and Sotheby’s sale of the Ezekiel Collection (£3.02m total ), which were the major auction high points of the November Asian Art in London season.
However, despite these great results, it does seem clear that many vendors around the world are holding back on selling top material, which has created a real supply side challenge for auction houses and dealers who are endeavouring to put together sales and exhibitions.
Of the dealer exhibitions I visited during Asian Art in London, I particularly enjoyed the Tang ceramics and works of art offered at Eskenazi Ltd and the jade and ceramics and works of art exhibitions held by Priestley & Ferraro.
I am beginning to develop a greater interest in textiles and enjoyed viewing Jacqueline Simcox’s exhibition in the new and larger space of Shapero Rare Books Ltd, next to Bonhams on New Bond Street. Sharing the space with her was the young and up and coming dealer William Martindale, who was showing some Chinese ceramics, jade and works of art.
A number of interesting lectures were held during Asian Art in London, including Dominic Jellinek’s at Bonhams on some of the highlights of the Parry and Palmer Collections. Katherine Butler and Dr Theresa Canepa also held a signing of their new co-authored book at Bonhams that night – a catalogue raisonne of the Butler Collection of 17th century ceramics Leaping the Dragon Gate. The following week, the two authors presented material in tandem at the Sir Michael Butler Memorial lecture, that included a number of newly collated dated examples. Dr Canepa also illustrated examples that have been traced to particular kiln sites at Jingdezhen. Rosemary Scott also presented an interesting lecture on the collector William Burrell at Christie’s.
During this period, (from the 14th of October), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) hosted the centenary exhibition of the Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) at the Brunei Gallery in Bloomsbury. I attended the evening opening (one of three staggered over that day), which was the first public gathering I had attended since the pandemic had started.
A lot of thought had gone into the display of historical material relating to the early years of the Society, which was exhibited in the upper gallery. This included letters, photographs of collectors and exhibitions, as well as other material such as meeting minute books and even a small box of ceramic shards. A striking entry to the exhibition was created with the two large fierce looking Fahua-type lions. This led one on to some top quality objects from museums and private collections. The common thread being the ownership by past and present members of the Society that was founded by a small group of enthusiasts in 1921.
Coinciding with the above, Bonhams held the exhibition: Reginald and Lena Palmer, Their Collection and The Oriental Ceramics Society, 1921-1970. This included some rare and top quality ceramics, jades and works of art.
Exhibits: 6. A large spinach-green jade ‘luohans’ screen, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 33cm high, 2. A blue and white ‘boys at play’ saucer dish, Wanli mark and period, 28.7cm diameter and 7. A large spinach-green jade ‘mountain’ boulder, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 24.7cm wide.
In summary, my take away feeling from this season was that London was not only very much back as a strong centre of selling Chinese art, but also very much still the international centre of academic excellence and cultural institutions related to Chinese art.
On a personal level, I very much enjoyed rediscovering some of these collections in two lectures/tours that I gave over the summer, one on the Percival David Collection at the British Museum and the other at the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art and 4th floor ceramics galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum (see write ups in the Lectures section of Latest News).
I am hoping to continue these and other related activities next year.