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December News: A brief review of Autumn 2022

This autumn has been a busy time, which has included attending a trip to Scotland with the Oriental Ceramics Society in September, a brief view of the Asian Art in London sales in October and attending a conference on Chinese Art in Lisbon in November. 

Following the auction sales in New York, Hong Kong and London this season, it seems that the market remains buoyant for important single owner offerings of Chinese art and more selective for various owner ones. With regard the latter, it does seem that buyers are favouring more significant offerings with interesting provenance and attractive estimates. This more selective approach is generally following a typical pattern that one expects in an environment of more challenging economic global conditions. 

I hope that you enjoy this article and I look forward to catching up over the winter period. 

Best wishes, 

Robert Bradlow, 10 December 2022


OCS Trip to Scotland – 27 to 29 September

The Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) organised a three day trip to Scotland in late September which I had the opportunity in joining. It was the first time that I had been on such a trip since the pandemic and it was great to have the opportunity to see Chinese art in situ in country houses and in museums again. 

The trip began with a visit to Newhailes House, which is located on the outskirts of Edinburgh overlooking Blackness Bay. The house was completed in 1721 and belonged to the Dalrymple family who were a prominent legal family in Edinburgh. One of the features of the house was a china closet, which had been created in 1822 adjacent to the library. This housed a number of pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and each piece was placed on a wall sconce to give a sumptuous overall effect.

A handling session was held in the library and two of the stand out pieces was a Kangxi period (1662-1722) enamel on biscuit cistern painted with a design of a bird and a lotus pond, and a 17th century wucai jar and cover.  The house featured a number of original marble fireplace surrounds by Henry Cheere and was also quite unusual in that it retained most of its original paintwork on the walls. One of the upstairs bedrooms included a large panel of 18th century Chinese painted wallpaper. 

The afternoon of the first day was spent at the Edinburgh auction firm Lyon and Turnbull viewing some pieces from their forthcoming November London sale. Lyon and Turnbull was given a new lease of life in 1999 when members of Phillips Edinburgh purchased the company and bought the old Broughton McDonald church, which they converted into a saleroom. It has one of the most impressive entrances to an auction room and a large interior saleroom space. 

The afternoon was hosted by the London and Edinburgh specialists Grace Tu and Tsai Yiing Ing and we saw some interesting pieces, including a kesi dragon panel which had originally been part of an imperial throne back cushion cover, a fine Japanese Komai damascened iron pagoda and some interesting Chinese bronzes. We also handled a couple of porcelain pieces that had been riveted, including a Chinese export mandarin pattern punch bowl. This type of old fashioned restoration is always fun to look at, as it always seems to be such a labour intensive and risky way of keeping a piece of porcelain together. 

On the second day we headed to Selkirk in the Borders area and visited Bowhill House, the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch. The house has a fascinating history dating back to James, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch who was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II who married Anna Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch.

One of the most impressive rooms in the house is the saloon or gallery hall, which at the lower level, hangs a number of early family portraits. The upper galleried level features the group of 17th century Mortlake tapestries which are based on Mantegna’s series of paintings – ‘The Triumphs of Caesar’. The almost perfect condition of the tapestries was really quite surprising considering their age.

The yellow staircase hall featured one of my favourite paintings from the whole trip to Scotland which was the portrait of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch and his family painted in 1798 by the French artist Henri-Pierre Danloux. The portrait depicts the 3rd Duke to the left of the work with the Duchess by the bridge at Dalkeith House. It is an intimate and engaging portrait of the family at the end of the 18th century.

We then travelled on to Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott. The house was built between 1815 and 1825 and was one of the first examples of Gothic Baronial to be built. The entrance hall, despite being quite small, was an impressive space as the dark panelled walls were hung with suits of armour, swords, coat of arms and skulls of various animals that he had acquired.

The Chinese drawing room was so named due to the walls being covered with striking pale green ground hand painted 18th century wallpaper. It is quite unusual to find wallpaper painted with figures and this example included figurative scenes of scholars conversing and playing weiqi.

One interesting piece that aroused quite a bit of discussion, was the square lacquer chest on stand. It was unusual in that it was painted black on a gilt ground, whereas most Chinese export lacquer pieces are the reverse, that is with gilding on a black ground. After initial thoughts that it could be European, we came to the conclusion that it was Chinese and most likely 19th century.

The last day of the trip started with a tour of the Burrell Collection. I have covered this in a more detailed article on my website, but the visit included a handling session in their stores and a tour of the Collection and its recently refurbished galleries by the curator Yupin Chung.

The last stop on the three day tour was Pollok House, which was situated in Pollok Park in the same grounds as the Burrell. The current house was built in 1752 by the Stirling-Maxwell family.

The house was less ornate than others we had seen on the tour but had a couple of surprising finds of Chinese porcelain. The walls of the main bedroom upstairs were adorned with 19th century hand painted Chinese wallpaper and sitting on a bedside table was an unusual and rare Qianlong seal mark and period relief decorated celadon floral bowl. The exterior was moulded in relief with scrolling peony and the interior incised with similar peony. Another surprising find under a hall table was the Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795) iron-red and underglaze blue tripod ‘dragon’ censer. This would have originally been part of a five piece altar garniture. 

The trip was really an enjoyable one as it gave us entrée into some fascinating private and public Scottish collections, as well as an interesting view of aristocratic life there in the past.

Asian Art in London 25th Anniversary: 20 October to 05 November

I was fortunate to preview some of the pieces at the Sotheby’s Chinese sales and a group of jades from the VWS Collection at Christie’s (coming up in Paris this week) the week prior to the auctions, as my activities during the following week were curtailed when I tested positive to Covid-19. I was later able to view some of the dealer exhibitions which I outline below. 

Prior to this, I attended the Asian Art in London 25th anniversary gala party held at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Wednesday the 26th of October. It was the first gala party since the pandemic and the guest very much enjoyed being at such an event again.

Sotheby’s London Client Lunch and Private View: Friday 28 October

On Friday 28 October I attended a private viewing of the Sotheby’s London auctions: A Journey Through China’s History, The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection and Monochrome, Important Chinese Art. It was a great opportunity to have a sneak peek of these sales and I really enjoyed the new style of displays in the side galleries for the Monochrome sale. Pieces were displayed on large rectangular and circular inscribed white plinths in context with Chinese contemporary art hanging on the walls. 

The top lot of the Wou Collection, and of the week in London, was lot 72, the pair of Qianlong period (1736-1795) zitan and hardwood embellished ‘hundred antiques’ lacquer screens and stands. They had been displayed at the entrance to the upstairs galleries and they attracted numerous telephone bidders at the sale. They sold to a room bidder for £942,500 (Estimate £80,000-120,000).

One of my favourite pieces of the sale was lot 45, the rare Yongle period (1403-1424) blue and white ‘lotus’ ewer. It was mounted with a 19th century Ottoman silver cover and had sustained some damage to the handle. However, the painting to the body, with the large and boldly executed lotus flowers, was really quite rare. It sold for £378,000 (Estimate £200,000-300,000). The sale realised £5.8m in total including buyers premium. 

One of the major highlights of the Monochrome, Important Chinese Art sale was lot 219, the large Qianlong mark and period Ru-type hexagonal hu-shaped vase. It had been purchased at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 9 October 2007 by the Sotheby’s former chief executive and Chairman – Robin Woodhead. It sold for £277,200 (Estimate £120,000-180,000). The sale realised £3.8m in total including buyers premium. 

Viewing the VWS Collection of Jades at Christie’s London for the Art D’Asia Sale in Paris on 13 December

Whilst at Sotheby’s I had received a tip that the VWS Collection of jades at Christie’s was open, so I popped down to King Street to view them. 

The collection was put together by a Russian expatriate living in Shanghai. He had fled Russia with his family for the border city of Harbin at the turn of the 20th century. He later moved to Shanghai in the 1930s and started to collect significant pieces of Chinese jade, porcelain and snuff bottles. The collection was formed over a number of years and his son also added to it with purchases from various major international dealers including Spink & Son, London. 

It was great to be able to handle some really top pieces of Chinese jade again and one of my favourite examples was the Qianlong period (1736-1795) white jade marriage bowl. The very white colour, consistency of the stone and the quality of the carving was really quite remarkable. I particularly liked the relief decoration of flowers to the base, which is quite unusual, as bases are often left uncarved.   

My other personal choice of the group was the large pale celadon jade Qianlong eight-character mark and period vase and cover. The band of taotie to the centre of the vase was very well carved, as was the eight-character mark in clerical script to the base.

These pieces will be coming up in a sale titled From Beijing to Versailles, to be held in Paris tomorrow on 13 December. 

Bonhams sale of the Marsh Collection: Art for the Literati

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the lecture A Collectors View, that Sam Marsh gave to a full house at Bonhams on Monday 31 October, but I was able to watch it later online. Sam gave a very interesting and personal perspective on collecting 17th century ceramics. He illustrated how some pots were constructed, such as the Kangxi period tall square vases, of which he and Marion had personally attempted to make. He was also somewhat illuminating with regard the subject matter of a number of the pieces. 

The sale was success on the day with all but 4 of the 43 lots selling for a total of £1.5m with buyers premium. The highest selling piece of the sale was lot 13, the exceptionally rare Kangxi mark and period (1662-1722) blue and white ‘384 shou’ brushpot. It sold to a Hong Kong bidder for £277,500 (Estimate £60,000-120,000). 

The second highest selling lot was lot 7, the rare Chongzheng period (1627-1644) blue and white ‘descending geese’ ovoid jar and cover. It was particularly well painted with a scene of a goose swooping into land on a lotus pond. It was sold for £94,800 (Estimate £20,000-30,000).

One of Sam and Marion Marsh’s favourite pieces in the sale was lot 17, the rare Chongzheng period blue and white ‘Sagaata’ sleeve vase. It was painted with a continuous scene of the arhat standing holding a staff and conversing with a woman holding a vase. It sold for £69,600 (Estimate £30,000-50,000).

Three highlights from Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale that followed included lot 110, a large and very rare Xuande mark and period (1426-1435) blue and white reserve decorated ‘peony’ dish, 38.7cm, which sold after the sale for £529,500 (estimate £700,000- 1,000,000); lot 129, a rare Qianlong period (1736-1795) gold gem-inset figure of an ‘able minister’, 13cm high, which realised £479,100 (Estimate £80,000-120,000) and lastly, the highest selling lot of the sale – lot 114, the rare 18th century huanghuali ‘falcon stand’, Yingjia, which sold for £655,500 (Estimate £40,000-60,000).

Asian Art in London Gallery Exhibitions

I managed to visit two of the exhibitions that were held during Asian Art in London, the first was the exhibition held by Jacqueline Simcox, Runjeet Singh and David Thatcher and was held at the Shapero Gallery in New Bond Street.

Jacqueline Simcox was exhibiting some fine Chinese textiles and I particularly liked the two late Guangxu period (1871-1908) sleeveless kesi vests. They were particularly finely worked, one with triangular panels of birds and and lotus on a green ground and the other with butterflies, lotus and orchids on a brown ground. The addition of pink and blue borders to them respectively, gave them a beautifully bright appearance. The pair of 17th vertical red ground seat covers were also particularly striking and featured playful Buddhist lions to one and qilin to the other. 

My visit to Eskenazi gallery, to see their current exhibition: 50 Years of Exhibitions: Five Masterpieces on Loan from a Private Family Collection was a real treat. I had last seen the blue and white Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) jar at Christie’s New York when I was travelling there from Australia in March 2005. It was later bought by Giuseppe Eskenazi from Christie’s London on 12 July 2005 for £15,688, which at the time was a record price for work of Chinese art. 

I had been looking forward to seeing the two important falangcai bowls in the exhibition, especially the Qianlong period (1736-1795) example, as I had only seen it in books over the years. It did not disappoint seeing it in person. It is so unusual with its four landscape panels to the exterior, painted in ruby-pink enamel. Each scene is bordered with olive and bronzed coloured scroll borders, joined to each other with interlocking square scrolls on a bright yellow ground. These framing devices give the viewer the sense of looking through windows into another world.  

Lisbon Conference, Asian Art in the World: 24-26 November

A number of international museum curators, dealers, auction house specialists and collectors travelled to Lisbon for the Chinese conference Asian Art in the World organised by Jorge Welsh at the end of November. The conference ran over three days and was held in a different museum each day, that is: the Gulbenkian Museum, the Museu do Oriente and the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. This was a smart idea, as it gave the attendees easy access to each of these museums during those days. The intention of the conference was to highlight the contribution that Asia had made to international, and particularly to Western art, with the main emphasis on China and Japan.

Three of the lectures that I particularly enjoyed were those given by William R. Sargent former Crosby Forbes curator of the Peabody Essex Museum; Tianlong Jiao, head curator of the Hong Kong Palace Museum and Valentina Bruccoleri, a post doctoral researcher in art history with a particular interest in Sino-Islamic interactions. I have outlined the title of the lectures in the images below and I believe that the lectures may be available at Jorge Welsh’s website in the future.

There were a number of related events at the conference including a visit to the Santos Palace and book signings, one of which I attended at the Museum of São Roque on the evening of the 25th. This included a tour of the highly ornate Church of São Roque. The tour included a viewing of the paintings of the life of St Francis Xavier by André Reinoso dating to around 1619. One of the works depicts a group of figures in a ship, with a sailor, beside St Francis Xavier, lowering a blue and white late Ming jar over the side of the vessel. I saw some similar Ming dynasty (1368-1644) jars the following day in the Museu de Arte Antiga (see images below centre).

In the two days that I was at the conference, I very much enjoyed visiting the Museu do Oriente and the the Museu de Arte Antiga again. I may at some point in the future write a more detailed article on some of the exhibits in these museums, but for now I have added a few images below (left and right).

As this was one of the first conferences since the Covid-19 pandemic, it was great to be able reconnect with some clients and colleagues again and the sunny 18’C weather was a welcome break from the approaching winter in the UK.

Sotheby’s London: HOTUNG | 何東 The Personal Collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung: 7 and 8 December

At the time of writing, the second part of the sale of the late Sir Joseph Hotung has just been completed at Sotheby’s London. The offering comprised an evening sale of 40 lots of Chinese furniture and ceramics, English furniture, silver and Impressionist paintings. The following day sale comprised 213 lots and also included early jades. The combined total realised £38.4m with buyers premium.

One of the Chinese highlights of the evening sale was lot 8 the rare large Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) blue and white moulded ‘Mandarin duck and lotus pond’ dish, 41cm diameter. It was a more unusual and rare example with the moulded band of lotus to the cavetto and chrysanthemum to the rim. It sold for £1m (Estimate £700,000-1,000,000) to one of the two telephone bidders after competition from a group of Chinese bidders in the room. 

Two highlights of the day sale were lot 119, the Yuan dynasty blue and white ‘figural’ vase, yuhuchunping, 28cm high, which sold for £504,000 (Estimate £15,000-20,000) and lot 212, the turquoise and coral-inlaid silver ‘nine dragons’ silver seal. It had been offered as Yongzheng period at Sotheby’s New York on the 8th of November 1980 and was later that year sold by Douglas Wright. It was offered undated this time with an estimate of £10,000-15,000 and sold for a remarkable £1m. 


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