Chinese furniture, paintings and Qing ceramics perform well in New York

International auctioneers Christie’s report from New York that their Asian Art Week sales there, which took place from September 15-18, totalled US$54.9m. There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from this strong performance.

Firstly, it suggests that that private collections with good provenance can still outperform the market. It also serves to indicate that demand for quality Chinese furniture and paintings is particularly strong, trailed by demand for Qing ceramics. The top of the market is evidently unaffected by the more general slowdown.

 Christie’s concluded its Fall Asian Art Week with a combined total of $54,891,189 (£35,331,837/ €48,558,639/ HK$425,412,188) achieved over four days of nine sales, September 15-18.

RESULTS OF ASIAN ART WEEK SALES | September 2015

The Sporer Collection of Himalayan Sculpture – 15 September                                         

Total: $6,099,000

TOP LOT: Lot 18

A GILT BRONZE FIGURE OF VAJRABHAIRAVA AND VAJRAVETALI, TIBET, 16th CENTURY

Estimate: $400,000-600,000

Price Realized: $989,000

Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art – 15 September                                        

Total: $2,946,750

TOP LOT: Lot 66

AN IMPORTANT AND RARE MOTTLED SANDSTONE FIGURE OF BUDDHA, INDIA, LATE 1st / EARLY 2nd CENTURY

Estimate on request

Price realized: $1,085,000

Fine Chinese Paintings – 16 September                                        

Total: $4,597,000

TOP LOT: Lot 411

QIU YING (ATTRIBUTED TO, CIRCA 1495-1552) IMMORTALS PLAYING CHESS

Estimate: $300,000-400,000

Price realized: $1,805,000

The Ruth and Carl Barron Collection of Fine Chinese Snuff Bottles: Part I – 16 September                                       

Total: $1,253,438                                                           

TOP LOT: Lot 248

A RARE FIVE-COLOR-OVERLAY PINK GLASS SNUFF BOTTLE, IMPERIAL, PALACE WORKSHOPS, BEIJING, 1750-1850

Estimate: $18,000-22,000

Price realized: $68,750

Mandarin & Menagerie: The Sowell Collection, Part II  – 16 September                                            

Total: $927,875

TOP LOT: Lot 631

A RARE FAMILLE ROSE OCTAGONAL BOX AND COVER, YONGZHENG PERIOD (1723-1735)

Estimate: $20,000-30,000

Price realized: $112,500

Elevated Beauty: Fine Chinese Display Stands From An Important Private American Collection – 17 September                                           

Total: $428,875

TOP LOT: Lot 1066

A RED LACQUER SCROLL-FORM STAND, 18th CENTURY

Estimate: $12,000-18,000

Price realized: $32,500

The Lai Family Collection of Fine Chinese Furniture and Works of Art – 17 September                                        

Total: $6,989,313                                                        

TOP LOT: Lot 919

A MAGNIFICENT AND VERY RARE MASSIVE NANMU-INSET HUANGHUALI PAINTING TABLE, HUA’AN, 17th CENTURY

Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000

Price realized: $2,261,000

Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art – 17 and 18 September                        

Total: $22,878,875

TOP LOT: Lot 2030

AN IMPORTANT AND VERY RARE SET OF FOUR HUANGHUALI ‘FOUR-CORNERS-EXPOSED OFFICIAL’S HAT’ ARMCHAIRS, SICHUTOUGUANMAOYI, LATE 16th-EARLY 17th CENTURY

Estimate: $1,800,000- 2,500,000

Price realized: $4,197,000

 

Unusual Chinese art image 68 Chinese girls on the Wuhan strip

stripped to undies for free clothes (7)

After last week’s posting in this series, you might be forgiven if you thought we had taken to stretching the meaning of ‘art’ somewhat. Well, it is summer (just) and a bit of midsummer madness never goes awry. Art should attract the viewer and these girls in their underwear are easy on the eye. It was November 8 last year and a Wuhan shopping mall ran a Singles’ Day promotion offering free clothes to the first 200 customers prepared to strip to their underwear. They also hired 100 models to walk around in bra and pants, just in case the actual customers proved to be a mite shy. Nothing of the sort. The queue at the checkout was up to 100 metres long . . . In a world where most purchases are done online, this promotion packed out the mall.

No more of this, we promise. Back to the serious stuff next week!

Christie’s offer stunning Chinese furniture in New York . . . and some good advice

Collecting Guide 10 things to know about Chinese furniture

Above: Property from the Lai Family Collection, to be offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

Auctioneers Christie’s are offering over the next few days some stunning Chinese furniture in their New York sales. They have also posted online some excellent advice on how to build your collection of Chinese furniture.

Collecting Guide: 10 things to know about Chinese furniture

Specialist Michelle Cheng shares her expert insights with Brienne Walsh, from befriending a great restorer to placing the pieces in your home

Classical Chinese Furniture generally refers to a wide variety of pieces made in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which ran from the end of the 14th century through the beginning of the 20th century. These include tables, cabinets, chairs, stools, and bedframes, as well as other furnishings used in domestic settings. The materials, condition, age and provenance are the greatest determination of value.

 

1. Familiarize yourself with the most commonly used woods in Chinese furniture

Chinese furniture is made in a variety of hard and soft woods, and is also found in bamboo and lacquer. The price differences between two similar-looking pieces from the same time period in different materials can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. ‘It doesn’t mean that they’re not of the period or great examples,’ says Christie’s New York specialist Michelle Cheng of the less desirable woods. ‘It’s just that the furniture market is very material driven market.’

A rare Zitan corner-leg side table, Tiaozhuo. 17th-18th century. 32 7/8 in. (83.5 cm.) high, 44 in. (111.8 cm.) wide, 21.3/4 in. (52.2 cm.) deep. Estimate: $70,000-90,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

The most valuable of all of these materials is zitan and huanghuali, two types of hard wood that come from Hainan Island, Southeast Asia, which were historically considered the most precious and luxurious. Along with having beautiful lustrous qualities, the woods were difficult to harvest and not native to China, making them even rarer. ‘If you’re a collector looking to have your collection grow in value,’ says Cheng, ‘focus on examples in is huanghuali and zitan.’

Learning how to properly identify the materials used in individual pieces of furniture takes time and patience. Cheng suggests, ‘handling as many pieces as possible, whether it’s through auctions, exhibitions, speaking to respected dealers or looking at objects in museums.’

Fortunately, there are exemplary collections throughout the world, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. If you don’t have access to a museum or an auction house, Cheng suggests looking through old auction catalogues or books written on the subject. ‘Education is a really important part of collecting.’

 

2. Know how the furniture is constructed

Chinese furniture is generally made without any glue or nails — rather, the pieces are held together by a complicated network of joints, which are themselves works of art. ‘The sophisticated technical abilities of the cabinet makers and carpenters who made them were incredibly advanced,’ Cheng notes. ‘It’s very impressive to see the complexity and intricacy of the joints.’

A very rare Huanghuali Square Box-Form Stool, Fangdeng. 17th century. 18.1/2 in. (47cm.) high, 17.3/4 in., (45.1 cm) square. Estimate: $120,000-180,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

Beyond adding to your appreciation of the object, learning how a piece was made will help you assess how a piece of furniture may have been altered or repaired — factors that can affect the overall value.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to get under a piece of furniture

Given that Chinese furniture was used in daily life, it’s likely that even the most exemplary pieces have gone through some restorations. ‘They have a history because they were used objects, part of a home, moved around,’ says Cheng. ‘Restoration work might include replacements, patches in woods, or mended legs.

A magnificent and very rare massive Nanmu-Inset Huanghuali painting table, Hua’an. 17th century. 34 in. (86.4 cm.) high, 94.3/8 in. (239.7 cm.) in. wide, 32 in. (81.4 cm.) deep. Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

To preserve the aesthetic line of a piece restoration is concealed on the underbelly of a piece. The best way to see what work has been done is to flip it over: ‘It’s the only way to assess the condition,’ Cheng notes.

 

4. Befriend a great furniture restorer

More than anyone else, a furniture restorer can assess the condition of a piece. ‘They understand how the joints work, and how they affect the overall structural integrity,’ Cheng explains. This can determine how you integrate the work into your daily life.

A Tielimu rectangular corner-leg stool, Changfangdeng. 17th century 19 7/8 in. (50.5 cm.) high, 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm.) wide, 17 3/4 in. (45.1 cm.) deep. Estimate: $12,000-18,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

A restorer can help with everything from restoring a surface to replacing old parts that have decayed due to age. They are also a good educational resource for learning about Chinese furniture. Cheng suggests being involved with them during the process of restoration. ‘If you watch them resolve the problem of putting back together a system of joints, it adds to the overall appreciation of the piece itself, and Chinese furniture in general.’

A large Huamu-inset Huanghuali round-corner tapered cabinet, Yuanjiaogui. 17th-18th century. 59 3/4 in. (151.8 cm.) high, 36 5/8 in. (93 cm.) wide, 18 1/2 in. (47 cm.) deep. Estimate: $200,000-300,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

Also, as your collection grows, a good restorer will develop a working knowledge of your collection and will be able to better advise how best to care for the works.

 

5. Invest in climate control

Chinese furniture is made from organic materials that react to the environment. In humid weather, wood can expand, and in cold weather, it shrinks. Subjecting wood to conditions where the environment is unstable can lead to cracking panels and movement in the joints, among other problems.

Serious collectors overcome this by installing humidifiers and other forms of climate control in their homes. ‘If you’re invested in having it restored and maintaining the integrity of your collection, part of the maintenance is making sure the environment is ideal for the work so that it can retain its shape and lustre,’ says Cheng.

 

6. Don’t be afraid to make the furniture a part of your life

Pieces are surprisingly sturdy, Cheng continues. She has seen clients actively use everything from tables to bookshelves — and even large beds. In fact, one of her clients placed an ordinary mattress on a Ming Dynasty bed. ‘Make it a living part of your home,’ she suggests.

A rare Huanghuali bookcase, Shujia. 17th century. 66 1/4 in. (168.3 cm.) high, 35 3/4 in. (90.8 cm.) wide, 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm.) deep. Estimate: $80,000-120,000. This work is offered in the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on 17-18 September at Christie’s New York

Chairs and stools are often set with mat seats. Over time, the seats will tear or collapse. Replaced mat seats are very common and an expected condition issue that does not affect value. Replacing seats, when necessary, will help to integrate a chair or stool into your daily life.

Surface wear, she notes, can be restored — which is not to say that you should not use coasters on tables or take care with the objects — but rather that you shouldn’t be afraid to use your furniture.

 

7. Be honest with yourself about a piece that does not fit into your lifestyle

Cheng states that no matter how much you love an object, if it’s too big to fit in your dining room, for example, it’s just not the right piece for you. While it’s possible to put a piece in storage for future use, what furniture really asks is to be integrated into your life. ‘I want people to think of tables as both part of their daily life and a beautiful object in their collection,’ says the specialist.

 

8. Learn Chinese furniture’s wonderful two-dimensional history

One of the most interesting parts of collecting antique objects is learning about how people originally used them. The way to do this with Chinese furniture, Cheng suggests, is studying Chinese painting and woodblock prints.

Attributed to Qiu Ying (circa 1495-1552), Immortals playing chess (detail). Handscroll, ink and color on silk. Estimate: $300,000-400,000. This painting will be offered in our Fine Chinese Paintings sale on 16 September at Christie’s in New York

‘There are amazing interior spaces in paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties,’ she says. Seeing how people sat on top of a daybed, or what they placed on top of a table, for example, gives a contemporary collector a better idea of how the furniture was used and provides a historical context.

‘We’re so far removed from their history,’ Cheng adds. ‘It’s hard for us to think today, “Oh, that’s right, these stools are meant to be portable, or this bed is meant to have curtains around it”.’ In the latter case, she explains, women opened the curtains to receive her ladies during the day, and closed them for privacy at night.

 

9. Provenance matters

A magnificent and very rare Huanghuali Kang table, Kangzhuo. 17th century. 11 ½ in. (29.2 cm.) high, 42 in. (106.7 cm.) wide, 28 in. (71.1 cm.) deep. Estimate: $500,000-700,000. This work is offered in the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on 17-18 September at Christie’s New York

If you’re looking to build a collection of long-lasting value, then you should pay attention to its origin and where it’s been. ‘Our collectors are very interested in distinguished provenance,’ Cheng says.

This includes not only who owned the piece in the past, but also, who owned it in recent history. ‘Many collectors in the field respect the eyes and knowledge of certain collectors and experts,’ she says. Along with the type of wood and condition of a piece, provenance adds significant value.

 

10. Collect what you love

A rare Nanmu and Huamu traveling bookcase, Tushuxinggui. 17th century. 27 1/8 in. (68.9 cm.) high, 24 7/8 in. (63.2 cm.) wide, 15 1/2 in. (39.4 cm.) deep. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. This work is offered in The Lai Family Collection Of Fine Chinese Furniture And Works of Art sale on 17 September at Christie’s New York

‘Whether it rises or falls in value, whether your children will inherit it, whether it’s important or significant in the art historical trajectory, you, at the end of the day, have to say good morning or good night to it,’ concludes Cheng.

An important and very rare set of four Huanghuali ‘four-corners-exposed official’s hat’ armchairs, Sichutouguanmaoyi. Late 16th-early 17th century. 48 in. (122 cm.) high, 23 1/4 in. (59 cm.) wide, 18 5/8 in. (47.4 cm.) deep. Estimate: $1,800,000-2,500,000. This piece will be offered in our Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on 17-18 September at Christie’s in New York

Even if you don’t have the money to enter the market at the highest price points, there are still many opportunities. While a stool in zitan and huanghuali will sell for $100,000, a classical piece made from a softer wood might sell for around $18,000. Ultimately, however, what’s most important is that you enjoy the process of collecting and its enriching educational experience. As Cheng concludes, ‘Collecting what you love makes you happier in general.’

 

 


 

 

 

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A RARE ZITAN CORNER-LEG SIDE TABLE,… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 902

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A RARE HUANGHUALI BOOKCASE,… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 2028

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QIU YING (ATTRIBUTED TO, CIRCA 1495-1552)
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AN IMPORTANT AND VERY RARE SET OF FOUR… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 2030

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A RARE NANMU AND HUAMU TRAVELI… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 911

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A MAGNIFICENT AND VERY RARE MASSIVE… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 919

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A LARGE HUAMU-INSET HUANGHUALI… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 920

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A TIELIMU RECTANGULAR CORNER-LEG STOOL,… September 17 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Lot 933

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Fine Chinese Paintings September 16 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Sale 3765

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Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art September 17 – September 18 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza Sale 3767

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Unusual Chinese art image 67 Touting for business

china-psychologist-advertising-with-underwear-model-02

But is it art? You may well ask. It certainly possesses a certain visual attraction. They say nothing sells like sex. This Chinese psychologist, evidently short on customers for his services, is a firm believer, so to say, in the dictum. He hired an underwear model to advertise his services and sat for a day in the street outside his hospital with the engaging young lady stripped to her bra and panties. We don’t know whether her assets proved to be an asset. However, there may have been side benefits . . . Courtesy bbs.163.com.

Jade exhibition marks ninety years in business for Marchant . . . and still going strong

Marchant jade 3This year, London Chinese art dealers Marchant are celebrating 90 years in business, having started up back in 1925. Despite the passage of the years, it is still very much a family business, four generations on. And so, coinciding with Asian Art in London (November 5-14), they have just announced a major selling exhibition of some very fine jade pieces.

Apparently, there will be some 90 pieces in the exhibition, and the accompanying book, comprising animals, pendants, vessels, bracelets, buckles, snuff bottles and objects for the scholar’s desk. Several are Imperial pieces and four have Imperial marks.

On the front cover of the associated book is the Hodgson Rhyton, one of the most important jades Marchant has ever handled. It was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1975 in their important landmark exhibition Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages. Published alongside the piece is related correspondence from Sir Harry Garner, academic and author of many publications on Chinese art.

Marchant jade 2

The Hodgson Rhyton sold by Marchants to The Victoria & Albert

Jades in the exhibition date from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing but the majority are Qianlong (1736-95). Of particular interest, from the collection of the Marquis and Marquise de Ganay, is the water buffalo with a boy seated on its back. There is also a pair of white jade cups with their original stands in the form of lotus petals, dated from the 18th century. They come from an important Swiss collection purchased by Marchant in the 1950s.

Marchant jade 1

A pair of white jade cups from an important Swiss collection

The exhibition takes place from November 3-20 at 120 Kensington Church Street. The book available at the exhibition costs £80.