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May News: A Brief Review of Spring 2022

The spring of 2022 has been an interesting and busy period and I have spent time viewing some private and museum collections, as well as giving talks on Chinese art and the market. I have outlined details of these below and I have also touched on some of the highlights at the recent London spring Chinese auctions.

This period has also been a busy time for the consultancy business which has included looking at some interesting collections.  

08 March Visit to the Woolf Collection of Jades

The Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) holds an annual jade lecture in March sponsored by Jonathan Woolf and the Woolf Charitable Trust. On that day, the Woolf Collection was open to members to view and I really enjoyed seeing one of the UK’s great collections of Chinese art again. 

I have attached a few images, which gives an idea of the quality and depth of the collection.  

18 March Annual Cambridge Lecture on the History of the Chinese Art Market

After a break of two years in giving this lecture in person, it was great to be able to undertake this again to the students from the faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This year, I divided the lecture into two, one covering mainly the 20th century and the second at the 21st century and the recent involvement of the mainland Chinese in the global art market.

These two lectures and another on Song ceramics can be read on the website under the subheading ‘Lectures’, which can be found on the ‘Latest News’ page.

A Symphony of Colours: The  Mountstuart Elphinstone Collection of Qing Monochromes, Collecting for a Young Contemporary Audience

A visit to the Percival David Collection on 31 March to research the shape of a garlic-necked monochrome vase for a client, inspired a short essay on the subject of monochromes, which can be seen on the website under the ‘Articles’ subheading of the page ‘Latest News’.

12 April Visit to the Powell-Cotton Museum

I visited the Powell-Cotton Museum with three fellow members of the Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) and we were fortunate to handle most of the pieces of Qing imperial porcelain in the collection. I have written a short piece on this which can be found on the website under the ‘Articles’ subheading of the page ‘Latest News’.

London Spring Chinese Sale Highlights.

The Spring May auctions in London were held earlier this month and despite being a slightly smaller offering than usual, there was some strong highlights, some of which I have illustrated below.

The highest selling piece of the season was at Sotheby’s on Wednesday 11 May and was lot 13, the large Qianlong seal mark and period nine dragon doucai vase. It was the pair to the vase in the Zwinger Palace of Augustus the Stong in Dresden. Despite it being slightly cut down, it sold for £1.5m hammer (£1.85m with buyer’s premium) to a Chinese buyer sitting at the back of the room (Estimate £100,000-150,000). The lot had been strongly contested by the buyer in the room with one of Sotheby’s telephone bidders from £700,000.

Having spent time viewing the piece quite closely, it was not such a surprise that a damaged piece was to make such a large sum as the quality of the painting and the organisation of the design over quite a complex form was really first rate.

Another interesting piece in the sale was lot 35 , the rare and large lacquer nine dragon vase, tianqiuping. Despite it being somewhat restored, it was to sell for £132,300 (Estimate £50,000-70,000). Another highlight of the sale was lot 33, the rare Khotan-green jade dragon seal with the posthumous title of the Empress Renxiao, Qing dynasty, Jiaqing period which sold for £151,200 (Estimate £100,000-150,000).

Lot 103, the Tiger by the River by Zhang Shanzi (1882-1940) and Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) was consigned by a client of the consultancy and sold for £35,280 (Estimate £15,000-20,000).

The top lot at Bonhams sale, which was held on Thursday 12 May, was lot 84, the very large gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Shakyamuni. It was catalogued as Ming dynasty, but was early 15th century in date and similar to a group of three early 15th century gilt-bronzes that Sotheby’s Paris had offered on 15 December 2016, lot 129. The figure sold for £201,900 against an estimate of £50,000-80,000.

The top piece of early lacquer in the sale, was lot 98, the rare large 14th century cinnabar lacquer ‘phoenix and peony’ dish. Phoenix as subject matter are rare on late Yuan/early Ming dynasty dishes and this example sold towards the upper end of the estimate at £113,700 (Estimate £80,000120,000).

Bonhams had the best group of later jades in the London sales, which comprised of 16 lots from the Wilson Collection of Chinese Art. The majority of the pieces were mainly purchased between the mid 1970s to the early 1980s from Christie’s and the London dealer William Clayton Ltd. The group totalled £633,787 and all but one lot sold.

My personal favourites were lot 113 the Qianlong/Jiaqing period rare and fine spinach-green jade carved ‘eight luohans’ table screen, which sold for £101,100 (Estimate £60,000-100,000); lot 114, the rare Qianlong period pale green jade ‘landscape’ mountain, which sold for £75,900 and lot 115 and the Qianlong period archaistic spinach-green jade incense burner and cover, tulu, which sold for £145,200.

Strong Regional Highlight

One item that I have highlighted from the regional sales that I personally handled, was the very rare blue ground-glazed silver and gilt ‘bat and crane’ vase, tianquiping, Qianlong seal mark and period. No other vase decorated in this subject has been published and despite its hairline crack to the interior of the neck, it sold for £1.2m hammer (£1.45m with premium) after 15 minutes of multiple competing telephone bids.


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