Walker Art Center yuhuchun vase to be sold

flambe glaze vase

This 31cm. high yuhuchun Quianlong vase, a flambé glazed bottle specimen,  is being sold by Lyon & Turnbull on June 4th ( lot 319 ).  It is of bulbous pear shape, and has streaks of iridescent purple blue on a luminous pinky purple ground with highlights of near white, and comes from a prestigious Philadelphia collection; previously de-accessioned by the Walker Art Center, which was founded by Thomas Barlow Walker in 1879, initially to exhibit his private collection. Later on, the gallery focused mainly on modern and contemporary art and is today considered to be one of the top five museums in the US in its genre.

The vase is a superb example of its type, bears a Qianlong mark to its base and is of the period. The Yongzheng (1723-35) and Qianlong (1736-95) emperors were keen collectors, scholars and much interested by the different glazes of the Song dynasty. They were fascinated in particular by the jun glazes, light blue with splashes of purple and dark pink, with some very light patches which are almost white. The jun wares of the Song dynasty were predominantly light blue, whereas the 18th century pieces are predominantly crimson and purple, with some streaks of white and blue interspersed in the glaze. Various specific pieces were commissioned from Jingdezhen, the capital of ceramic production located  in Jiangxi Province.  Yongzheng sent period Song pieces to the kilns for the purpose of exact replication. There the supervisor, Tang Ying (1682-1756), was meticulous and even sent his assistant to the source of the jun glazes, Henan province, to conduct on-the-spot research. The eighteenth century result had a less viscous glaze, which ran over the footrim and pooled in static droplets. The rim would often have to be ground down as a result of this.

There is no estimate published for this piece. Vases of similar quality do not appear frequently.

When size doesn’t matter . . . chopped down Wanli vase rises to the occasion

Gloucestershire auctioneers Chorleys were pleasantly surprised at the end of last week when an object they had found lying around in a local farmhouse rather exceeded its estimate of £300-500. What was apparently a Wanli blue and white jar, with a 100 boys design, soared to £22,000 amidst frenzied bidding in the room and on the internet. Only it wasn’t. It hadn’t always been a humble jar . . .  Chorleys admit that it ‘started life’ as a vase. Its truncated status did not, however, deter the bidders which puts a whole new complexion on the phrase ‘with all faults’ . . .

wanli at chorleys

And it wasn’t the only high performer in the sale. We previously chose as our Object of Desire, on this site, a most unusual blue and white fishbowl. Almost certainly 18th century, it romped home at £18,000.

blue & white fish bowl at chorleys

We wrote last week about the collection of photographs of the Pekin riots in 1912. They made a respectable £550 – a good buy for somebody as they enjoyed serious historical importance.

Kaisendo Museum de-accessions score at Bonhams HK


The first sale of six auctions in Bonhams new Auction Gallery at Admiralty in Hong Kong culminated in a sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art which saw an unprecedented price achieved for a unique Imperial Ming lacquer scholars object.

J102865 Bonhams China Launch - MTR Panels OUTLINES @100%.indd

A most beautiful early Ming cinnabar lacquer scroll rest sold for £stg 408,042

A unique large cinnabar double-scroll rectangular carved stand, formerly used as a scroll rest, set a new record for any piece of Chinese lacquer sold at Bonhams.  Active bidding from collectors and dealers in Asia, Europe and America led to the estimates being greatly exceeded when an Asian buyer in the saleroom secured this great rarity for HK$5,320,000 (£ sterling £408,042).  It was consigned from the Kaisendo Museum, located in Kaminoyama city in Yamagata prefecture in Japan.  The scroll-rest was followed by a remarkable pair of carved cinnabar lacquer ‘one hundred boys’ rectangular boxes and covers, also intended for the scholar’s desk, sold together to preserve them as an exceptionally rare matched stationery and inkstone box.  They also substantially exceeded their estimates to sell for HK$3,160,000.  The final lot from the Kaisendo Museum, a rare three-colour lacquer circular ‘Pavilion’ box and cover, sold for HK$937,500.

These three lots from the Kaisendo Museum represented the highlights in a large auction which also saw strong prices for fine examples of jade carvings and Imperial porcelain.

The sale of Classical and Modern Chinese Ink Paintings achieved the highest total for this category Bonhams Hong Kong has ever achieved since it opened in 2007. This auction saw top prices for paintings by 20th Century masters including the exceptional study of ‘A Pair of Songbirds Perched Amidst Red Leaves’ by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), which was bought by a new bidder to Bonhams for a record price of HK$9,040,000 (£693,365).

Lot 1278 Zhang Daqian-A Pair Perched Amidst Red Leaves Zhang Daquian sold for £693,365

Classical calligraphy included an exceptional rarity by the famous Ming dynasty artist Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) which recounts a famous Ming fictional story, ‘The Tale of the Old Drunkard Pavilion’, and went to a new private buyer for HK$7,840,000. A full audience showed the Chinese paintings market remains very strong at the top level.


Nobel provenance for Quianlong 9-dragon charger

Last week, we noted in our feature on five/nine dragon chargers that in an upcoming auction in Sweden there would be offered a Quianlong charger based on the much earlier classic Ming design. We have now learned from one of our readers, and from the catalogue issued by the auctioneers, that the charger coming up at Uppsala Auktions in Sweden enjoys a most interesting provenance from the renowned Nobel family:

Apparently, it was the property of Rolf Nobel (1882-1947), who most likely received it from his elder brother Emanuel Nobel (1859-1932). Rolf and Emanuel were both nephews of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize Award. Thence it came by descent to Rolf Nobel’s son Viktor Nobel (1919-2014), and thence to the present owner.

Emanuel Nobel led the Nobel companies in Russia and was the President of BraNobel in Russia after his father Ludvig died. He was one of Carl Fabergés most important clients, besides the Russian Tsar and family. Uppsala Auctions have published a well researched piece, as well you might do with a lot estimated at around 100,000 euros.

The nine-dragon design on this charger is after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the cavetto decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of the original Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition, Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87.
Another Xuande example with four dragons around the cavetto is illustrated in The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 34 Blue and White (1) Porcelain With Underglaze Red.
On the charger offered for sale, the central side-facing dragon of the Xuande prototype has been replaced with a dragon en face. The vivacity of the central dragon depicted here is characteristic of the Qing dynasty portrayal of the Imperial dragon, which compared to the Ming dragon, is ever more boldly detailed and defined in its facial features and more elaborately represented in its general ferocity and mythological power.
The use of red heightens the contrast between the crashing waves of the background and that of the dragons, whilst heightening the scene with further auspicious meaning. The Qing craftsmen have added the crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which completes the design, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.
Early Qing rulers, particularly Qianlong, liked to see their old masterpieces of ancient designs and glazes re-interpreted, using the skills and technology available during their reigns as a way of celebrating China’s glorious past.
Dishes of this type were favoured both by the Qianlong emperor, and his predecessor the emperor Yongzheng, who first commissioned the making of these particular magnificent and impressive “red dragon” chargers. They represent a powerful re-interpretation indeed. These dishes would have been used at Imperial banquets, undoubtedly both to impress and to add a feeling of grandeur to the occasion.
A Qianlong example of the red dragon dish can be seen in the Nanjing Museum and was included in the exhibition, Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81. This red dragon dish was also illustrated on the front cover of the catalogue.
Another Qianlong dish of this magnificent and formidable size was exhibited in Sweden in 1995 in Gothenburg at Röhsska Museet on loan from the Shanghai museum and can be seen in the exhibition catalogue, Ancient Chinese Art from the Shanghai Museum, no. 61, page 63.
For a very similar Qianlong example of this dish see Sotheby’s, May 15th 1990, lot 207. This dish is further  illustrated in the catalogue Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Twenty Years,  1973 to 1993, celebrating the highlights of objects sold through them.
Further examples, one from the Qianlong period and one from the Yongzheng period are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172.
Another dish from the Yongzheng period is in The Palace Museum, Beijing and is published in The Complete Collection of Treasues of the Palace Museum, Blue and White Porcelain and under glazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Meiyintang collection published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol.4, no.1723. In this book work Krahl writes about the technical achievement that allowed for such grand objects to be made during this period.

                                   Lot 1040 Uppsala Auctions June 13 2014

Blue seal mark to base




Asian exhibitors feature at Olympia Fair

Bringing together 180 of the world’s leading dealers under one roof for 11 days, exhibitors of Asian art, furniture and collectables are especially well-represented this year at the Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair in London.
Dealers exhibiting include Japanese Netsuke expert, Max Rutherston, contemporary Chinese art gallery, Schütz Fine Art, Chinese textiles and ceramics exhibitor Galerie Arabesque, and Asian furniture vendor Anthony Outred.
Olympia kangxi vase
An 18th century Kangxi vase in the Imari palette which will be available from
Galerie Arabesque.
In addition, Olympia this year will see an extensive programme of curated talks throughout the 10 days of the Fair. Notably, British Museum curator Jessica Harrison-Hall will give a talk entitled: “Ming: The Fifty Years that Changed China” on Friday 13th June. Providing insights into the British Museum’s exhibition of the same name, the talk will elaborate on the astonishing paintings and objects created during the Ming period from AD 1400 – 1450. A noted expert on Asian history and art, Jessica Harrison-Hall is Curator of the Museum’s Chinese Ceramics and Vietnamese Art.
Olympia chinese box
A beautiful Chinese box which will be on the Galerie Arabesque stand
The Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair opens on Friday June 6 at 11 am and closes at 5pm on Sunday June 15. Most days it is open until 7pm but has a ‘late night’ until 9pm on Thursday June 12. As the name implies, it is within the purpose-built exhibition hall at Olympia.

INSIGHT Fake exhibits close another Chinese museum

lucheng museum ext

Here we go again . . .  we wrote at the end of last year about the demise of the Jubaozhai Museum in Henan province after curious bright-green cartoon characters, with a puzzling similarity to a laughing squid, were found to be a feature of a vase catalogued as dating back to the Qing dynasty. It was then found that almost all of the 40,000 exhibits were fakes.

Well, the scammers have been hard at work again. The police in Lucheng, in China’s north-east Liaoning Province have just closed down the local museum. They say that almost a third of the 8,000 allegedly historical exhibits are fakes.

sword in lucheng museum

One of the most extraordinary exhibits is a large ornamental sword said to be from the Qing dynasty and put through the books with a value of the equivalent of US $19 million.

According to official government figures, 299 museums opened their doors in 2013. The Chinese government is, in fact, devoting considerable cash resources to the promotion of Chinese culture, both domestically and abroad. Cash sums are available for artists and entrepreneurs, and the temptation to acquire cheap forgeries is considerable. Add that to the fact that the business of forgeries is now a major industry in China and you have some explanation of the situation . In 2012, a study by the China-based Artron data company estimated that as many as 250,000 people in 20 Chinese cities may be involved on a day-to-day basis in the production and sale of fake art.

Xiao Ping, a painter who is an authentication adviser to the Nanjing Museum, told The New York Times last year, “I would say 80 per cent of the lots in small and medium-sized auction houses are replicas.”

Curiously, the present wave of forgery is attributable to the practice of yahui (‘elegant bribery’) whereby, until very recently, it was commonplace to bribe public officials with works of art. As this had got rather expensive, doing it with the real thing, the forgery business expanded exponentially. In the last 18 months, however, central government has been energetically cracking down on such corruption and vast numbers of fakes have instead been finding their way to places like new museums, Ebay and foreign auction rooms.

This has presented an  enormous problem for western auction houses. Many of the fakes have been finding their way into Europe and America and a lot of them are actually very good indeed. You might say, museum quality . . .  Quite a few auction houses have been caught out by the fakes although, understandably, they are reluctant to admit to the fact. This has led to a change in cataloguing procedure at small and medium-sized auction houses: if there is any doubt about a piece, it will simply be described without any attempt at putting a date on it. This has one of two effects when the lot comes up in the auction room. Most bidders will read between the lines and leave the lot alone. However, the more adventurous, or optimistic will take the view that the auctioneer might be wrong and that it is what it might appear to be, 18th or 19th century, say. Sometimes that assessment is proved correct.

Never has the aphorism caveat emptor proved more apposite. If you have any doubt, just look at Ebay listings for Chinese antiques and you will find dozens of objets offered from China and which, indubitably were made yesterday!

Ironically, some of the fakes emanate from the ancient well-established porcelain capital of Jingdezhen in southern China. The kilts there produced some of the finest Imperial pieces ever made in the 18th and 19th centuries and those ancient skills have been passed down over the centuries. The craftspeople are so good at their job that they are frequently engaged by Chinese museums to fashion faithful copies for public display whilst the originals are squirreled away. Some of these copies take many years to produce and are virtually identical to the original. And, of course, along the route some distinctly unofficial copies can reach the market . . .

China Radio International (CRI) quoted antiques expert Ma Weidu on the closure of museums in China, “Similar fake museums are found in many places in China.” Asked to put a figure on the number, he estimated that there were around 20. Watch this space!

Buyers not chicken over £88,000 chicken bowl

We wrote recently about the world record price of over US$36 million for an original Chenghua chicken cup sold last month by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Whilst the originals are few in number and fairly well recorded, they are, of course, heavily copied and in China you can pick up a copy for just a dollar or two.

Which is probably why West of England auctioneers Woolley & Wallis were cautious over an 8 cm. diameter chicken bowl offered in yesterday’s Asian Sale. It was a bit small for a bowl, perhaps, but rather too large to be a cup . . . However, the chicken looked pretty kosher painted in the slightly naïve style associated with Chenghua chickens.

The auctioneers noted in the catalogue the Quianlong seal mark but would only venture that it was ‘probably’ of the period. It did, however, boast a good provenance: from the collection of Lt Col John Grenville Fortescue (1896-1969) of Buckinghamshire and Cornwall (in fact, Woolley & Wallis racked up £300,000 in sales yesterday for items from the Fortescue Collection).

4 chicken bowl Woolley & Wallis

Estimated at £5,000-8,000 – about right for a Quianlong copy – it rocketed up to a hammer price of £88,000. Now we seem sure to see a period when chicken cups and chicken bowls soar to heights previously unknown to the humble chicken.

Woolley & Wallis lion dog roars away at £110,000

330 Woolley Wallis

A fine Chinese white jade carving of a Buddhist lion dog, attributed to the Qianlong period (1736-95) roared away on the first day of the Woolley & Wallis Asian Sale, reaching £110,000 against an estimate of £30-50,000.

A well modelled piece, the beast crouching, its head turned to the right and its ears flattened against its head, with a curling mane and a bushy tail tucked beneath its hind legs, its backbone finely defined, and its teeth bared, it was presented on a hardwood stand carved with lingzhi and pine. Most significantly, in terms of the price it reached, there was affixed a paper label for The Queen Amelia of Portugal Collection.

It was from an English private collection but, before that, was most probably in the collection of Queen Amelia of Portugal.

Princess Amélie d’Orléans (1865-1951), married Carlos, Prince Royal of Portugal in 1886, to become the last Queen consort of Portugal. She was patron and founder of the National Association against Tuberculosis, and was actively involved with other social issues and organisations. Despite this, she was at times criticised for her financial extravagances. In 1910, the Portuguese royal family were exiled to France following the death of Amélie’s son, Manuel II of Portugal, and the subsequent formation of the first Portuguese Republic, and she spent the remainder of her life there.


Unusual Chinese art image 23 Yang Peng

Yang Peng Together

This intriguing image is by Chinese artist Yang Peng and is entitled Together (2013). It is for sale today on www.artnet.com but you will have to be quick to bag it – bidding ceases at 12.32pm EST. The price currently stands at US$8,500 for this large oil on canvas, size 200.02×160.02cm.

Yang Ping was born in Sichuan province in 1984 and is a graduate of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. He has exhibited widely in China and Hong Kong as well as in New York in 2009. He has been shaped in his work by the clash of old and new cultures in contemporary China. We prefer this painting to some of his other work which can appear derivative of other contemporary Chinese painters.

Bonhams HK get $780,000 for Liu Ye oil

The first sale at the new Bonhams Hong Kong Auction Gallery on 17 May got off to a good start.

The saleroom was packed with Contemporary Art collectors based in Asia and keen bidding in the room and on the telephone drove the sale to a successful conclusion with 84% sold by value. The top lot, an iconic oil on canvas triptych ‘Red, Yellow and Blue’ by famed contemporary Chinese artist Liu Ye sold at the high estimate for HK$6,040,000 (US$780,000) to a Taiwanese collector.

Two bronze sculptures ‘Single Whip Dip’ and ‘Taichi Series’ by Taiwanese modern master Ju Ming sold for HK$1,720,000 and HK$1,060,000 respectively to a Hong Kong collector.

Bonhams is the world’s third largest international fine art auction house.

Unusual Chinese art image 22 Lucy Liu Fashion Olympics

Lucy Liu Olympic Fashion shoot 2008

Film star Lucy Liu Spanish-style as you may not have seen her before . . .  a stunning photograph taken on a fashion shoot ‘Fashion Olympics’ in 2008 and published in Harper’s Bazaar. Meantime, this and other photographs in the series have become cult items all over Tumbler. Re-blogged from Zhi Ping, courtesy Harper’s Bazaar.

A tale of Yongzheng dragon chargers £218,500 or £1,500?

Yonzheng charger Sold by Sotheby’s for £218,500

One of Sotheby’s best prices last week was for ‘a rare iron-red and underglaze-blue nine dragon charger Yongzheng mark and period’. It was formerly the property of collectors George and Cornelia Wingfield Digby.

Despite considerable historic damage, and an unconvincing repair job, it made £218,500, inclusive of buyer’s premium. It is, of course, not the only one around: there are almost identical ones in The Shanghai Museum in People’s Square, Shanghai, and in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There are also a few, rather later copies in circulation . . .

The charger sold last week was described in Sotheby’s catalogue as being a ‘nine dragon charger: a central dragon within the central medallion, with four to the interior, around the rim, and another four underneath to the exterior. There is a six character mark to the base within a double circle, size  47.5cm., 18 ¾ in.’
But the condition report reveals extensive historic damage. ‘The dish was broken into five pieces. It has now been repaired with the cracks still visible under the naked eye. There are large areas of overspray, possibly also concealing associated rim chips. The base is oversprayed, with the mark painted over. There are some chips to the foot, the largest measuring 0.7×0.4cm. The central interior has a 0.2×0.1cm area of paint loss (under the glaze) to the lower left of the dragon tail. Minor glaze firing imperfections such as iron spots and burst glaze bubbles.’
Of course, it is slightly surprising that such a desirable piece should have been so poorly restored but, most likely, it was a simple matter of getting the wrong person for the job. It is, indeed, a very fine piece in all its variations – and you can get one for a lot less than a quarter of a million pounds, and in rather better condition!
Yongzheng mark Yongzheng mark to base

Sotheby’s include a very good explanatory note in the catalogue. ‘Dishes of this magnificent size and formidable decoration were made to impress. Such wares were used at Imperial banquets and on special celebratory occasions, such as the ‘Thousand Elderly Banquet’ held in honour of senior citizens when thousands of invited guests were served a great feast. The Manchu custom of banqueting closely followed the Mongolian and Tibetan tradition of shared communal dining.A Yongzheng dish of this design and large size in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, was included in the exhibition Seikado zo Shincho toji. Keitokuchin kanyo no bi [Qing porcelain collected in the Seikado. Beauty of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006, cat. no. 53; and another in the Meiyintang collection is published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1723. Compare also a Yongzheng dish sold three times in our rooms, once in London in 1995, and twice in Hong Kong, in 2005 and 9th October 2012, lot 125, from the collection of Dr Alice Cheng; another sold in our London rooms, 6th December 1994, lot 179; and a third, with a slightly reduced rim, sold at Christie’s London, 10th April 1978, lot 49.’

This piece would have been made in Jingdezhen and the decoration is a Yongzheng  interpretation of an early-Ming pattern. The Yongzheng emperor is reputed to have sent porcelain from the palace to Jingdezhen in order to establish rather better production standards as well as to serve as models and inspirations for designs. This dragon design follows after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the side decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of this Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87. (Source: Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s give some excellent well-researched background to the piece. ‘The creative ingenuity of the Yongzheng potter is evident from the successful transference of a pattern that was originally made for much smaller vessels. The different design elements on this dish are perfectly composed to give no hint of overcrowding or spatial gaps that could hinder the overall harmony. While maintaining the essence of the original design, the artist created a motif that is familiar yet fresh: the side-facing dragon has been replaced with a frontal dragon and the crashing waves no longer cover any part of the dragon’s body to give a greater sense of the creature’s dominance and strength. The use of red heightens the contrast between the dynamism of the background and that of the dragons while endowing the scene with further auspicious meaning. Moreover, the extent of the Qing craftsman’s proficiency is evident in the additional crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which frames and draws the expansive design together, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.

‘Yongzheng dishes of this type continued to be favoured by the Qianlong emperor who commissioned the making of very similar vessels. Examples of dishes from both periods are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172; and another Qianlong example in the Nanjing Museum was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81, and also illustrated on the dust jacket.’