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December News: A brief review of Autumn 2023

I had a really interesting time over the autumn period with my involvement in the Phillip Allen sale that was held at Woolley & Wallis on the 16th of November, which I outline below.

I also preview a  collection of blue and white that is coming up at Veritas auction house in Lisbon early next month.

Lastly, I briefly review some of the highlights from the Chinese auctions that were held during Asian Art in London last month. 

I wish everyone all the best over the winter season and look forward to seeing some of you over this period.

Best wishes,

Robert Bradlow, December 2023.

 

27 September – Three Imperial Pieces that sold at auction locally: JS Auctions, Banbury.

On the 26th of September I visited my local salesroom, which is about a mile from where I live, to discover three very interesting items of Qing imperial porcelain.

I have regularly viewed the sales at JS Auctions, but this was the first time I had come across pieces like this, which I believe had been sourced from a local private collection.

The first piece I looked at was lot 316a, a Qianlong seal mark and period copper-red painted ‘dragon’ bottle vase. It is of a particularly rare type and I cannot say that I have ever seen or handled one like it. As one can see from the images, it is of quite diminutive in size (around 22cm high) and was very well painted with a lively five-claw dragon flying above breaking waves.

Despite its marvellous decoration, it had two firing flaws, one of which was significant in that it was a raised bump around 3cm in diameter. Adjacent to this was a smaller area of glaze loss (see right hand image below). It is surprising that this piece was not destroyed after the firing due to these defects, but as the painting was so good, it may have been allowed to pass the stringent quality control. The piece went on to sell to a telephone bidder for £158,000 hammer. In perfect condition, it is quite possible that it would have sold for 3 to 4 times this sum.

The second piece was a Daoguang seal mark and period blue altar vase and cover, dou. This was in perfect condition and covered in a consistent cobalt blue glaze. A number of these vessels were made for ritual use in the Qing dynasty from the Qianlong period and blue coloured vessels of this type were generally used for the Altar to Heaven. This example sold for £14,000 hammer. 

The last piece that I handled from from this group, was lot 313a, the Qianlong seal marked blue and white Ming style bottle vase. It was well painted and of good colour, but unfortunately it had been cut down at the neck. Due to this, it sold for £8,500 hammer.

Woolley & Wallis Auctions and the Phillip Allen Sale

I received a call in January from a firm of solicitors to inspect a house in Bedford belonging to the late Phillip Allen (1938-2022). Phillip had collected antiques from a young age (around 12 years old) and was influenced in his collecting by the artist Charles Thomas. He was an active member of the Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) and after his retirement from Birmingham Central Library, he became the travel organiser and honorary secretary for the OCS.

Phillip also worked for the Sir Victor Sassoon Chinese Ivories Trust and in 2016 together with Rose Kerr, published a catalogue of the collection.

My original brief was to put together a valuation of the most significant pieces for probate and to consider works for donation to two prominent London museums. 

This proved to be quite a challenge as the house was a large three story Victorian one and each of the rooms were filled with Chinese ceramics and works of art and I only had two to three days to produce a document. I decided to take a practical approach and started at the top of the house in the loft where the early ceramics were situated and I worked my way down from there. 

It proved to be a fascinating and rewarding experience and I enjoyed working closely with one of the executors who had been a lifetime friend of Phillip. Once I had put together the initial draft document, I wrote a brief sale strategy and offered to stay on and help guide the executors through the sale process. This was accepted and I duly appointed Woolley & Wallis as the auction house to sell the collection. The house was cleared in July and an attractive catalogue of just over 300 lots was compiled over the late summer.  

I attended the special OCS viewing on Saturday the 11th of November at the galleries at Old Sarum. As one can see from the images, the space was ideally suited for a sale of this size and in fact they were able to accommodate five auctions that were held the following week. 

The auction was held on the 16th of November and started at 1pm and finished at 10.30pm. At 9 1/2 hours, it was the longest sale that I have sat through. At the outset, I had advised the executors that sensible estimates and a ‘no reserve’ sale would encourage maximum interest in the pieces. This proved to be the case and the auction was a ‘white glove’ one, where every lot sold and it totalled just over £1m with buyer’s premium against a low estimate of just over £200,000. 

The top lot of the sale was lot 1069, the Qing dynasty zitan treasure chest, which took around ten minutes to sell and started at around £800, and finally sold at £157,500.

The second highest lot was lot 1222, which was a group of twenty small vases and two incense burners from the Qing dynasty and later. Groups of miniature vases have been selling for very strong prices recently at auction, so it was no surprise that this lot realised £39,060 against an estimate of £2,000-3,000.

The highest selling individual piece of Qing imperial porcelain was lot 1024 the Qianlong seal mark and period medallion bowl. It was in perfect condition and sold for £35,280 (Estimate £5,000-8,000). It had been exhibited in the Oriental Ceramics Society exhibition World in Colours in 2006.

The major highlight of the Woolley & Wallis auctions was the Lawrence collection of jade, which opened the first day of sales. The collection featured 34 lots that had been collected by Henry and Murray Lawrence who had purchased many of the pieces through Spink & Son, London.

The sale realised just under £2m hammer against a low estimate of just under £1m. The highest selling lot of the sale and my favourite piece was lot 20, the Qianlong period fine and rare white jade bamboo vase. It was a beautiful white colour with minor russet flecks and was carved in great detail with smaller branches issuing from its base. It sold for £690,000 against a £50,000-80,000 estimate.

The second highest lot of the sale was lot 17, the pair of 18th/19th century imperial spinach-green jade ‘dragon’ seals. These had originally belonged to Major-General Charles Gordon, who had been involved in the Taiping Rebellion in China in 1850. They sold for £415,000 (Estimate £100,000-200,000).

The third highest selling lot was the virtually flawless Qianlong imperial white jade incense burner and cover. The only decoration carved to the piece was a thin band of ruyi to the shoulder. It sold for £252,000. (Estimate £150,000-250,000).

Other Highlights from the Woolley & Wallis Sales

05 December Veritas Auction in Lisbon: Shades of Blue

I was recently asked to assess and review an interesting collection of Ming and Qing dynasty blue and white porcelain for the Lisbon auction house – Veritas.

I agreed immediately to this request as I could see that the collection consisted of some rare and unusual pieces. The collector began acquiring pieces at the age of 30 in the 1950s and purchased examples from renowned international dealers and auction houses, a number of which had interesting provenance, such as Mrs Alfred Clark and Raymond F. Riesco.

One of the significant highlights is lot 5, the Jiajing mark and period blue and white guan jar painted with a figures in a garden from Luo Guanzhong’s work the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. It is dated to the Xinyou year of the Jiajing reign (1561) and is painted in bright blue tones. It originally came from the collection of Raymond F. Riesco, (who left his collection to the city of Croydon) and it was exhibited in the 1954 Oriental Ceramics Society Exhibition: Chinese Blue and White Porcelain, 14th to 19th Centuries.

Another piece with the same provenance is lot 8, the rare blue and white ‘boys at play’ stembowl. This depicts young boys in a garden playing beside a fish bowl and lotus pond.

There are two pieces formerly in the collection of Mrs Alfred Clark, both of which are quite rare and unusual, the first is lot 4, the Ming dynasty 15th century blue and white ‘windswept’ censer. It is quite rare to see this design with figures on censers. The other piece is lot 27, the Jiajing marked Kangxi period circular bajixiang (Eight Buddhist Emblems) box and cover. The upper surface of the cover is painted with an attractive central roundel of intersecting ruyi-shaped motifs.

The most significant imperial piece from the Qing dynasty is the last lot in the sale, lot 77, the Qianlong seal mark and period stembowl, painted with lanca and bands of lotus below the rim and the at the foot. There is a similar stembowl in the Musée Guimet in Paris.

A Brief Review of the November Asian Art in London Auctions

Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s sale was held on Wednesday the 1st of November and featured the collection of the late Kenneth Lawley (1937-2023). I knew Kenneth for a number of years and would visit him on my trips to Edinburgh. He was quite a reserved person, but would become animated when we examined the collection, which was obviously a real passion of his.

The collection is essentially of two parts, that is Song ceramics and cloisonné and I have highlighted three examples from each section that I particularly liked. The collection consisted of 81 lots (including 5 white jade plaques) and sold for £1.13m with buyer’s premium, with only six lots left unsold.

The top selling item of the sale was lot 118, the Dali Kingdom, 11th century magnificent and rare gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara. The four-armed bodhisattva stands in flowing robes holding a willow branch and a lobed bowl in the principle hands and a diamond sceptre and a sword in the lowered hands.  

The figure sold for £962,000 against an estimate of £200,000-300,000 and was the highest selling item of the week and won the Asian Art in London award for an Outstanding East Asian Work of Art from an Auction House. The sale realised £6.98m with buyer’s premium. 

Bonhams

The Marsh Collection, The Art for the Literati (Part 2)

Bonhams held three sales on Thursday the 2nd of November and began at 10am with the second part of the Marsh Collection, Art for the Literati.

The top three lots of the sale were brushpots and leading these was lot 8, the Kangxi mark and period inscribed ‘Virtuous Officials’ brushpot. Brushpots of this type are really rare and I always marvel at the skill of the calligrapher, who managed to paint with cobalt directly onto a dry unglazed body with repeated lines of faultless characters.

The title of the poem is ‘The Wise Emperor has Worthy Officials’, which was written by the Han dynasty poet Wang Bao (84-53BC) for the Emperor Xuan (74-48BC). It sold for £406,800 against an estimate of £250,000- 350,000.

My personal pick of the lots in the sale were the three illustrated below, lot 11, the unusual and very rare Shunzhi period doucai pear-shaped ‘Kui Xing’ vase; lot 15, the rare pair of Shunzhi period ‘Tang Emperor visits the Moon Palace’ wucai jars and covers and lot 5, the large Kangxi Period blue and white and copper-red ‘Huansha Ji‘ saucer dish.

The combination of underglaze blue and enamels is skilfully deployed in the ‘Kui Xing’ vase and the artist manages to successfully portray the figure moving swiftly on his dragon.

With regard the pair of wucai jars, it is extremely rare to find a pair with covers, as most exist without covers. The jars depict scenes from the Tang poem ‘Song of Eternal regret by Bai Juyi (772-846) and are particularly well painted in bright enamels and underglaze blue.

Lot 5 depicts the dancing figure of Xishi from the play Huansha ji, written by Liang Chenyu (b.1520). The figure’s left arm is raised and curves around the well of the dish and with her sash, creates a frozen moment of dance.

The sale realised £1.6m with buyer’s premium with all with only 4 of the 48 lots left unsold

Devotion: Culture, Country and Charity, Chinese Arts Sold for the Benefit of a Charitable Foundation

This sale represents three generations of collectors of the Arnhold family, who were successful in investment banking and were significant philanthropists and supporters of the arts in Berlin in the 1920s. Berlin at that time was a centre of Asian art and the Society for East Asian Art held the earliest public exhibition of Chinese art (Ausstellung Chinesischer Kunst) in Europe in 1929 at the Prussian Academy of Arts.

The top three selling lots were Qing imperial monochromes, the most rare and important was lot 184, the pair of Yongzheng marks and period turquoise enamel bowls. Examples of this shape and colour are really rare and sold for £165,500 against an estimate of £30,000-40,000.

The collection had been bequeathed to and sold by a charitable foundation and raised £1.73m with buyer’s premium, with only 17 out of the 123 lots left unsold.

Bonhams totalled just over £7m for their Asian sales in London that week, which also included their two day Knightsbridge auction which realised £1.7m. 

Photos courtesy of Woolley & Wallis, Veritas, Sotheby’s and Bonhams. 

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