Chinese silver sparkles at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury

Thirteen lots of Chinese silver were sold on February 26 by Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Auctions at their Donnington Priory Saleroom (see our pre-sale article). The best pieces comfortably exceeded pre-sale estimates.

Lot 801, the 18th century pair of Quianlong filigree vases and covers, estimated at £3,000-4,000, achieved a highly satisfactory £23,560, inclusive of premium, and Lot 800, a smaller version, pulled in £21,080 (estimate £2,000-3,000).

dreweatts1 Lot 801

Deputy-Chairman James Nicholson professed himself ‘highly delighted’ with the result. Well known silver expert Adrien von Ferscht has just joined the company as Consultant in Chinese Export Silver to maximise on the opportunities in the area currently presented.

Allure of jade tempts buyers

Sothebys001-1-300x200 Hutton-Mdivani necklace

The best jade pieces continue to tempt buyers to dig deep in their pockets – especially those in China – despite ups and downs in the market and changing tastes. There have recently been some outstanding prices achieved at auction.

In April of last year, Christie’s in London sold a relatively simple jade necklace featuring two rows of jadeite beads with an art deco diamond clasp for £49,875 (US$77,630) against an estimate of £5,000-6,000. The following May, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong very comfortably exceeded pre-sale estimates with a jadeite bangle selling for $HK1.2m. (estimate 200-250,000), and a jadeite and diamond ring fetching a cool million Hong Kong (estimate 350,000-500,000).

This year, the attention of jade enthusiasts will be directed to an outstanding jadeite necklace (jadeite is reckoned to be the very best type of jade) known as the Hutton-Mdivani necklace and which used to be the property of the heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton. It will be exposed for sale in April in Hong Kong by Sotheby’s in the Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Sale and Sotheby’s anticipate it reaching more than US$12m. It was last sold at auction in 1988 in Hong Kong when it fetched US$2m. It was then the most expensive piece of jadeite jewellery ever sold.

barbara hutton

Barbara Hutton wearing the necklace to be sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong Sotheby’s

The importance of the necklace is not just attributed to its intrinsic beauty, but also to the likelihood of its Imperial connections. Sotheby’s suggest that ‘considering the impressive size and quality [of the beads] it is likely they would have been presented to the Imperial court . . . ‘. The auctioneers go on to assert that they could ‘possibly’ have been removed from the Imperial Palace during the instability of the late 19th century. What is known for sure is that when the beads surfaced in Europe at the end of the 19th century they were fashioned into the present necklace by Cartier in Paris.

Although, it remains a matter of supposition as to whether the beads originated from the Qing Imperial court, the necklace is indubitably a remarkable and most beautiful creation. Establishing the worth of more minor pieces remains, however, very much a subjective thing. Speaking to The New York Times, Vicki Sek, head of jewellery at Christie’s in Hong Kong, observed, “There is no formula to value jadeite. Obviously, there is the colour and shade, but you have to factor in the translucence and the material. It’s really a combination of the three.” Tackling the issue of colour, she revealed further complexities. “What is considered a good green colour is difficult to explain. At the top, we have what we call ‘vivid emerald green’, then there is ‘brilliant green’, ‘intense green’ and ‘apple green’ .”

Tricky, eh? Miss Sek admits that this is a form of internal grading at Christie’s, forms of which are used at other auction houses. It is nothing like rating gold or other precious stones. There is no carat system. To complicate matters further, jade does not just come in shades of green but also in lavender (currently popular); red and yellow (the result of oxidation and colour-inducing impurities); black (a deep green, the result of high iron content); and white (lacking colouring impurities).

Translucency is also categorised by most auction houses. At Christie’s they use ‘glassy translucent’ (the best), ‘highly translucent’ (next best) and ‘opaque’, which means you can’t see through the stone and, accordingly, it is not rated nearly so highly.

Real jade is now getting rarer and demand is rising, especially from China where it enjoys mystical properties. Most often it is cut and polished without facets, and the base flattened. This maximises the colour and the piece is then known as being in ‘cabochon’ style, much sought after by true collectors.




Newly acquired moral values threaten very existence of antique ivory treasures

opinion hl

Not before time, government and international organisations are moving to bring to an end the commercial trade in ivory as species like the African elephant and rhinoceros are threatened with extinction. No reasonable person could object to bringing an end to the commercial exploitation of diminishing stocks of such precious animals. However, persons who have never really thought about the issue previously are now clambering aboard an emotional bandwagon: professional pundits, posturing politicians and the liberal righteous are all threatening to bulldoze through some rather alarming impositions, which threaten to bring to an end for all time the legitimate trade in beautiful objects created a long, long time ago.

BBC ivory ed

Ivory destruction in China January 2014  Photo courtesy Associated Press

Historically, the small scale collection of ivory and objects like netsuke has been a perfectly acceptable activity. Today, the pendulum of public opinion, a notoriously fickle thing, has swung quite the other way. The Duke of Cambridge has announced he is to rid the Palace of objects made from ivory and writing in the august Financial Times on February 23, Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, aver “retailers need to stop selling ivory products . . .  we strongly endorse a complete ban on ivory sales in the US.”

On February 11 2014, The White House issued a statement of policy in reaction to growing pressure. It was unequivocal:

All commercial imports of African Elephant Ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited

All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques . . . To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old . . . The onus will fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.

The new definition of an antique will effectively require an ivory object to be pre-First World War. At present, CITES regulations require a piece to be post Second World War, pre-1949. The exact dating of ivory objects is tricky and this will pose some interesting challenges. However, for the moment, this will largely be a problem for the US antique trade. It will not be able to import any antique ivory objects any longer. For exports, i.e. from existing stock in the US, it will possibly be necessary to have the wholehearted agreement of a panel of experts. Ever tried to get into Kennedy Airport wearing a leather sporran with your kilt? I did. And it was seriously problematic back in 1976.

The place of antique ivory objects, handcrafted as one-offs, in culture and history is being completely ignored in a headlong rush for political correctness. The main markets for ivory figures and, indeed, unworked ivory, remain in Asia with China being the largest. However, as we reported last month, even China is clamping down.

Here at ChineseArt, we think it may not be too long before the trade in any historic ivory-fashioned item will be banned completely. It is only a few short steps then before collectors and dealers will find that they will have to give up some of their most prized objects to some government agency. By that stage, the Duke of Cambridge will surely have carried through his stated intention of getting rid of all items of ivory held in Buckingham Palace and other Royal property in the UK. Shortly, after that, we confidently predict, ivory objects will disappear from state and local authority museums in the cause of political correctness.

From that situation, it is but one small step to the destruction of items maybe held for many hundreds of years. The only remaining handcrafted, historic ivory pieces will be those surreptitiously buried in the woods or squirreled away into attics and cellars by loving collectors, for taking out in secret for private acts of admiration and celebration. However non-politically correct that might be, such preservation of historic artefacts will not threaten the existence of the African elephant. Look to the source: to the criminal gangs, the poachers, and the mafias and not to experienced and knowledgeable collectors, dealers and auctioneers whose advice, by and large, is not sought in this blind stampede to accommodate uninformed public opinion.


‘Friends of Zhushan’ interest set to peak?

Surprisingly high prices have been paid in recent months for Republic era paintings on porcelain – some barely one hundred years old. A set of four panels were exposed for auction in the UK ten days ago and Auctioneers Charterhouse achieved a stunning £420,000 for the works, apparently by Wang Yeting (1884-1942), and which they had estimated at £200-300. The price eclipsed the performance of other, similar, although smaller, lots in recent months.

At Cheffins of Cambridge, in October last year, a figural panel by Wang Qi (1884-1937) got £230,000, and Christies South Kensington knocked down a landscape panel by Wang Dafan (1888-1961) for £300,000 last October.

charterhouse big sale Photo Charterhouse

Rather pleased. A representative of Charterhouse with two of the four panels which made £420,000

The group known as The Eight Friends of Zhushan constituted a group of eight porcelain painters active from the very end of the 19th century, so-called because they met on the full moon of every lunar month at Zhushan. At these regular meetings, they exchanged ideas on their art. That having been said, the painters all had their own distinctive styles and they were not imitative in any way.

The original eight painters were Wang Qi (known for his figural works), Deng Bishan (fish and seaweed), Xu Zhongnan (bamboo), Tian Hexian (plums), Wang Dafan (figural), Wang Yeting (landscapes), Cheng Yiting (flowers and birds) and Liu Yucen (flowers and birds). Wang Qi is generally recognised as the leader of the group. The artists He Xuren and Bi Botao were later members of the Group.

Demonstrating that auctioneers never know where their next high performance lot may come from, Charterhouse boss Richard Bromell said that the panels came from a chalet bungalow in rural Dorset. Two were kept under the bed. Charterhouse operate out of Sherborne, Dorset.

The panels were bought on the telephone by a buyer in Shanghai who will have to pay 19.5% premium on top of the hammer price of £420,000.

Wilkinsons to sell unusual Chinese antique coin hoard

exclusive sloping to top by Paul Harris

Auctioneers Wilkinsons of Doncaster have announced a most unusual Chinese lot for sale on March 2. The property of a private collector, who has released it for sale after holding the item for ‘more than a decade’, a large antique coin hoard firmly secured within an ancient pot will go under the hammer.

lot 281 Wilkinson's chinese coins

Photographs courtesy Wilkinsons

The hoard of coins are stacked concentrically in a baluster shaped, ring-turned pot, 20cms. in height and, at its widest, 23cm in diameter. The auctioneers estimate that are some 2,500 coins contained within the pot. There are x-ray images available of the pot which indicate that it is carefully stacked full of coins (see picture below).

X-ray of interior

The owner of the pot says he believes it to be “12th century or earlier” which might place it as being Yuan or Southern Song and the appearance could bear out this estimate of age. The age of the contents is almost certainly much later. However, as all the contents are effectively sealed within the pot, having been deliberately stuck together, it is virtually impossible, without seriously damaging the vessel, to ascertain what is actually there . . .  There is clearly a value in the pot itself. The $64,000 question is as to the value of the coinage within, and whether it merits destruction of the pot!

The collection may have been put together in this way by a collector. Here at it seems to us that this hoard may have been prepared in this way, and hidden, during the 1970s, the period of the Cultural Revolution.

281 (5)

The best that can be said is that the pot and its contents represent a most interesting speculation. Wilkinsons estimate the lot at £800-1,600 and online bids in excess of £600 are being registered.


Unusual Chinese Art Images Number 12 Chinese Family


Chen Fu Little Marine Scientist (1979)               Courtesy National Art Museum of China

What we like about this picture, and what makes it rather unusual, is the idealised view of the Chinese family at leisure. It looks rather like an (a) typical Chinese family, at the time of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, calmly enjoying themselves in an extraordinarily bourgeois manner, on a day out at the beach. For all the world, it is like a British Rail poster of the 1960s.


Fine Art Asia wins race for Beijing fair

The successful Hong Kong Fair, FIne Art Asia, started by dealer and entrepreneur Andy Hei in 2006, has won the race to start up a major Beijing fine art event. So far others with ambitions to start such a fair (like TEFAF who operate the successful Maastricht event) have been discouraged by seemingly insuperable red tape and the high costs involved.

andy hei Andy Hei Photo courtesy SCMP

The new fair will be called Guardian Fine Art Asia (GFAA) and will be effected as a partnership between the Hong Kong Fair and Beijing-based auction house China Guardian. Behind the fair is a powerful group of interests who will be associated with the event: China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), The Ministry of Commerce, The People’s Government of Beijing Municipality and, even, the World Trade Organisation. Such heavyweight backing seems bound to ensure the future of the event and the first fair will be held May 28-June 1 this year.

Clearly, on this tight time scale, dealers who want to exhibit will need to get a move on. Fortuitously, the new Fair will benefit from arrangements it has secured with Chinese officialdom. Normally, any goods imported into China, even for an exhibition event, are liable to substantial import duties, levied at a rate of at least 17.5%. Establishment of the value of items can take a very long time and produce an enormous amount of documentation. This is especially the case with fine art and antiques where there is no absolute definition of value.

GFAA will utilise the facilities of Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong. There are, of course, no import duties into Hong Kong and it is there that all exhibition materials will be gathered together. Fine Art Asia will then ensure bulk entry of exhibits to the PRC without payment of any duties by exhibitors.

Asked at a recent London meeting how Fine Art Asia had managed to get the operation successfully off the ground, where TEFAF and Sotheby’s had failed, Mr Calvin Hui, co-chairman and director of FAA and GFAA, is said to have observed, “Fundamentally, we’re the home team.”


Weiwei ‘mad’ about destruction of 7,000 year-old vase

Legendary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was today reported as being ‘mad’ about the destruction of a 7,000 year old Han dynasty vase. That is mad angry, not mad insane, of course, although he has himself deliberately broken a similar vase as a piece of performance art back in 1995  . . .

ai weiwei vase display

The Ai Weiwei exhibit at Miami’s Perez Museum   Photo courtesy EPA

Last Sunday, a  local artist picked up and maliciously dropped one of the vases Weiwei incorporated in his exhibit at Florida’s Perez Museum of Art. Apparently, he was protesting against the Museum’s showing of the work of international artists, as opposed to local artists. The destroyed vase is said to be worth around $1m.

Purists might take the view that Weiwei had effectively destroyed much of the value of the vases in his display by liberally applying paint to same in a sort of gaudy imitation of flambé vases. Of course, in that process he has, however, probably created an artwork worth rather more than their original cumulative high value. . .

Today Weiwei was making the point that it was quite aright for him to break his own vase, but not quite OK for some other person to break one of his vases. The miscreant has been arrested and charged with criminal damage. He faces five years in jail if convicted.

Ironically, the destruction of part of the exhibit has ensured that it is now world famous and has increased its value accordingly. And, anyway, the Han dynasty pots don’t look to us as if they are worth $1m., even on a good day in the saleroom.

ai-urn 1995

Weiwei’s own pot dropping stunt in 1995

Important Chinese silver to be sold

In their next silver sale at Donnington Priory on February 26, auctioneers Dreweatts and Bloomsbury feature two particularly important Chinese lots: a pair of export silver filigree vases and covers, and an unusual pair of Chinese export silver models of Huabiao ceremonial columns.


The vases, ascribed to the Quianlong period, do not carry any markings but, according to silver expert Adrien von Ferscht in his article The Art of Filigree, the best Chinese filigree was produced during the 18th century and most pieces do not carry a maker’s mark, in the way later 19th century pieces do. [The technique of filigree originated in Spain and was practised by Jewish Sephardi silversmiths who too it with them when they were expelled by the Moorish invasion in 1492].

During the 17th and 18th centuries filigree silver was produced throughout Asia where it was highly prized. Many export pieces were purchased for the collections of the first major European museums and affluent, often aristocratic, owners. Pieces similarly worked to those in the sale are illustrated in Silver Wonders from the East: Filigree of the Tsars, the catalogue for the 2006 exhibition at the Hermitage Amsterdam.

The 20cm. tall pair in the sale are estimated at £3,000-4,000. There is also a second, octagonal, pair in the sale estimated at £2,000-3,000. dreweatts2

A pair of striking 29.5cm. high export silver models of Chinese Huabiao ceremonial columns by Bao Xiang, Beijing, carry the three hallmarks of Zu Yin, Bao Xiang and Bei Jing. They were crafted around 1890 and depict a dragon amidst clouds above waves in semi-relief and a cloud board on a hexagonal waisted plinth. The square base is enclosed by a pierced balustrade and shows dragons confronting a flaming pearl to the lower panels. The pair are estimated at a modest £1,500-2,000.

There are thirteen Chinese silver lots in the sale.

‘Ming style’ surprises at Edinburgh’s L&T

In an otherwise unremarkable Asian Art sale at Edinburgh’s Lyon & Turnbull, two blue and white lots, both catalogued as ‘Ming Style’, achieved the top prices. A ‘Ming style’ 28cm. diameter dice bowl estimated at £300-500 achieved £11,875, inclusive of 25% buyer’s premium. Clearly, the telephone buyer thought that it was the real thing, although it was certainly not a Xuande piece, as suggested by the six character seal mark and an inscription. Wear, consistent with its use as a dice bowl, suggested that it could boast some age and it could well turn out to be a later Ming piece.

ming style dice bowl

An expensive dice bowl? £11,875 at L&T

A 38cm. tall Ming style blue and white vase with a flared neck and baluster sides bore an estimate of £2-300. It soared giddily to £9,375, inclusive of premium. It was certainly an exquisitely made piece, with attractive ‘heaping and piling’, but its age must surely be a matter of speculation. In absolutely perfect condition, even the base displayed only minimal signs of wear, and a Quianlong seal mark.

ming style vase

All that it appears?  £9,375 at L&T

As auctioneers become ever more conservative in their cataloguing, in the face of an avalanche of copies, it is entirely possible, of course, that new opportunities open up for the knowledgeable buyer. However, purchasing a low rated lot for megabucks takes a great deal of nerve. The owner of the dice bowl, a member of the trade, said that he and his wife had owned it ‘for a long time’. He was surprised and delighted at the result.