Highlights of 2015 on Chineseart.co.uk

We look back on the year 2015 as reflected by the pages of Chineseart.co.uk

January 2015

London dealer Anita Gray offered this exquisite Kangxi figure for sale. Hardly surprisingly, it was snapped up in a matter of hours!


February 2015

Brought the sale of contents at Eden Hall, in the Scottish borders, by the Rt Hon Lady Loch. There were several items brough back tothe UK from Yuanminguan by the 1st Baron Loch (background and below a pair of sancai roof tiles).

Rt Hon Lady Loch


The month also saw a spectacular, hihgly organised theft from Fontainebleau. Fifteen items were stolen from the Chinese collection, many of which had been looted from Yuanminguan by French soldiers. There has been no sign of them being recovered and the artefacts are reckoned by experts to have been ‘repatriated’ to China.


March 2015

the Shanghai-based sculptor Chen Dapeng announces his participation in the Olympia Art & Antiques Fair, November 2015 (below).


April 2015

We visit the porcelain city, Jingdezhen, for a series of articles. Below, The Jingdezhen Porcelain Orchestra.


May 2015

We ask if Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian (below) has got his money back from producing copies of his US$36m. chicken cup. He drinks from the original below, and also the boxed reproduction which sells at around $60 !

wpid-liu-drinks-from-chicken-cup-lr.jpg.jpeg wpid-chicken-cup-boxed.jpg.jpeg

June 2015

We reported from Taipei on the chronic overcrowding at The National Palace Museum.

National Palace Museum (6)

July 2015

We turned our attention to the Chinese fashion industry in our article The Traditional Etihc in Chinese Fashion goes International. Below is Guo Pei’s stunning twist on Chinese blue and white porcelain. Also fashion label Doudu’s ‘Bodybelt’, a modern piece of lingerie based on traditional underwear.

guo pei hk fashion wk


August 2015

We published this photogrpah of a painting offered for sale at the June Olympia Art & Antiques Fair: the mystery gil with the penetrating gaze, artist unknown. Nobody volunteeered any information who she might be!



September 2015

London dealers Marchant, Kensington Church Street, celebrated their 90th anniversary with a collection of magnificient jades they had handled over the years.

Marchant jade 2

October 2015

A top Chinese official warns on the widespread destruction of the country’s cultural heritiage at the hands of tomb robbers and property developers. Below a photograph of the unique colonial style Arxan Shan Railway Station in northern China, destroyed by property developers.

 arxan shan railway station

November 2015

Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng celebrates the opening of his first exhibition in London The Winter Olympia Art & Antiques Fair. His 200 sq m stand was organised by his UK agents Paul Harris Asia Arts. His bust of HM Queen Elizabeth II (below) proved controversial and received massive TV, radio and press coverage. It was, however, only one sculpture out of almost fifty works on display.

Paul-Olympia 29


December 2015

The Berlin-based online auctioneer Auctionata put up a small Kangxi dragon vase for sale estimated at euro 5-10,000. It started at 5,000 and rose giddily to the heights of euro 875,000 – almost a million dollars.

lot lot34 dragon vase cu


Mao Tse-Tung letter sold at Sotheby’s for £605,000

Strictly speaking, it may not be art but a letter from Mao Tse Tung to British Labour Party leader Clement Attlee has challenged some of the higher prices in the market for Chinese bygones.

A 1937 letter from Chinese Communist Party leader Mao to Attlee, has sold at Sotheby’s London rooms for £605 000.

mao letter2

Excerpt from Chairman Mao’s letter to Clemet Attlee Image courtesy Sotheby’s

In the letter, Mao asks Attlee to help him battle against Japanese troops invading China. The typed letter reads: “We believe that the British people, when they know the truth about Japanese aggression in China, will rise in support of the Chinese people, will organise practical assistance on their behalf, and will compel their own government to adopt a policy of active resistance to a danger that ultimately threatens them no less than ourselves.”

mao letter

Mao’s letter, which has an extremely rare example of Mao’s signature (above), was sent to Atlee through the journalist James Bertram, along with a note to Attlee asking him to to “keep the enclosed letter, if only as a curiosity.”

The lot, which went under the hammer at Sotheby’s London premises, had an estimate of £100,000-150,000, was bought by a Chinese private collector who obvioulsy thought, at over £600,000, it was certainly a curiosity worth acquiring.

The sale was timed following the widely publicised four-day visit to the UK by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October, when interest in Chinese history is at a high in the UK. Not high enough, however, to keep it here!

Last month, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell famously threw a copy of the Chinese Communist Party leader’s Little Red Book at Chancellor George Osborne in Parliament, as he claimed UK assets were being sold to China.


Mao Tse Tung   Photo courtesy Bettman/Corbis


Staggering $1m. for Kangxi meiping dragon vase at Auctionata

lot 34 dragon vase

Earlier this week we picked out from the Auctionata Chinese sale, which took place earlier today, a Kangxi meiping blue and white dragon vase which we liked http://chineseart.co.uk/uncategorized/kangxi-dragon-vases-continue-to-challenge-the-collector/ . Estimated at around 5-10,000 euros,Lot 34 duly started at 5,000 euros before being knocked down online for a staggering 875,000 euros (around $1 million).

lot lot34 dragon vase cu

Detail of Auctionata’s million dollar vase

The vase in question was remarkably similar to another Kangxi dragon vase knocked down by Lyon & Turnbull at their December 3 sale last year. There were two differences from last year’s vase: the elevation of the head of the dragon and the arrangement of the mark to the base.

At the time of the L&T sale, it was generally thought that the hammer price of £240,000 must surely represent the top of the market. Today’s was almost three times last year’s record . . .  .

Prices at Bonhams in Hong Kong show the best still sells


An extremely rare Imperial celadon-glazed olive-shaped vase, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period (1723-1735), sold for an exceptional £1,500,000; a rare Imperial puce-enamelled blue and white ‘dragon’ moonflask, bianhu, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795), sold for £490,000.
Bonhams three Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sales in Hong Kong last week made an impressive £6,400,000. The sales had been carefully curated to present collectors with select groups of high quality works sourced from important collections. 
The top lot – from the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale – was an extremely rare Imperial celadon-glazed olive-shaped vase, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period (1723-1735) which sold for an exceptional £1,500,000 against an estimate of £260,000-430,000. The vase is an outstanding example of the innovation and remarkable technical perfection achieved by craftsmen working at the Imperial kilns in Jingdezen during the Yongzheng period.
In the same sale, an exceptional finely-inlaid ‘hundred-deer’ zitan box and cover, Kangxi, estimated at £300,000-400,000 sold for a remarkable £730,000; a very rare Imperial guan-type ‘fish basket’ vessel, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795), made £525,000; and a rare Imperial puce-enamelled blue and white ‘dragon’ moonflask, bianhu, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795), tripled its estimate of £130,000-170,000 finally selling for £490,000.
Bonhams International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Asaph Hyman said, “We were delighted with the exceptional prices achieved in our recent Hong Kong series of sales for many of the Chinese Imperial objects on offer, proving that objects of great rarity, quality and fresh to the market, continue to defy the challenging economic times. The curated sale allowed important buyers to focus on the remarkable ceramics and works of art, resulting in very strong prices for the finest objects, most notably the exceptionally rare imperial celadon-glazed olive-shaped vase, Yongzheng seal mark and period (1723-1735) and the very rare finely-inlaid ‘hundred-deer’ zitan box and cover, Kangxi.”
In the Exceptional Chinese Art from a European Private Collection Sale,  a rare Imperial flambé-glazed ‘Eight Trigrams’ moonflask, bianhu, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period (1723-1735) sold for £375,000 It had been estimated at £300,000-430,000. A small, rare copper-red-glazed waterpot, taibo zun, Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period (1723-1735) made £145,000 against its estimate of £25,000-35,000 and a reserved-decorated blue-ground ‘floral’ dish Yongzheng six-character and of the period sold for £130,000.
The Imperial Splendour Sale also saw high prices for, in particular, a rare pair of Imperial champlevé openwork garden seats, Qianlong (1736-1795), which were bought for £170,000 against an estimate of £140,000-170,000 and a rare and large archaistic gilt-bronze and cloisonné enamel vase, zun, Qianlong (1736-1795), which exceeded its presale estimate of £80,000-105,000 to make £140,000.

Qianlong vase brings £300,000 and new house record for Hansons

hansons lot 352

£300,000 house record for Hansons, Derbyshire

It is tall, slender and enormously elegant: one of the best looking Qianlong vases we have seen for a while. Exposed for sale at Derbyshire auctioneers Hansons on December 15, it roared away from its conservative £30,000-50,000 estimate to be knocked down to a buyer in the room for £300,000, plus commission and VAT.

The catalogue entry described it thus: ‘A Chinese famille rose vase, Qianlong mark and of the period (1736-1795), ovoid form with elongated neck, decorated in polychrome enamels with seven good luck symbols within a meandering foliate scroll ground, punctuated by lotus flowers, between key and ruyi bands and a band of upright lappets, the foot with a yellow ground ribbon of foliage, gilded to the rim, turquoise glazed interior and underside with iron-red six character seal mark, 32.5cm high.’

The vase came from a deceased estate in nearby Leicestershire.

The previous house record for Hansons was in 2011 when they sold another Chinese vase for £192,000. It’s good to see a provincial auctioneer coming up with results like this: too often the choicest pieces go straight to London.

Christmas has certainly come early for Hansons! We guess they will be breaking out the champagne tonight.

hansons 352 seal mark Qianlong red seal mark to base


Kangxi dragon vases continue to challenge the collector

lot lot34 dragon vase cu

Lot 34 in Auctionata sale of December 18 Meiping dragon vase detail

Just over a year ago, on December 3 2014 auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull at Crosshall Manor, Cambridgeshire, sold a Kangxi meiping vase 23cm. in height and with dragon decoration for £240,000 hammer. It was something of a surprise because it was estimated at £2,000-3,000, which was probably just about right as a selling price for a pretty but modest vase which had, historically, suffered damage. However, it came with a missive which revealed that it was a gift to its erstwhile owner, the late Lady Stewart, from her respected Hong Kong dealer (who sold her much of her very fine snuff box collection), Hugh Moss. This excellent provenance duly propelled the price into the stratosphere. There was much merriment in the room as it was knocked down to telephone bidder . . .

In case you were outbid on that vase, there is what might be good news. A very, very similar one comes up for sale on Friday on Auctionata (Berlin), lot no. 34. It is estimated at around euros 10,000. It is of the same form (meiping), same height (23cm.) and is also decorated with a very similar dragon design, but which is not exactly the same. To the base, however, there is a very different mark: a horizontal in-line mark as opposed to the two column vertical mark on Lady Stewart’s vase.

lot 162 L&T dragon vase

The Lyon & Turnbull vase

lot 34 dragon vase

 Auctionata vase

During the Kangxi period vases were made in this style in blue and white, as well as in copper-red. They are not that common, however, these days. Auctionata, in their catalogue notes aver, ‘Meiping Vases with such [a] brilliant painting and bearing the mark of the Kangxi Emperor are very rare. A very similar vase is illustrated in: Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013, p. 345, fig. 423. Another closely related example is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and was exhibited in the exhibition Sovereign Splendor in 2011. Cf. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Furthermore, other related versions can be found in some of the best collections of Chinese porcelain worldwide. Cf. a vase from the Palace Museum in Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Hong Kong 1989, p. 23, pl. 6 and one from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, illustrated in Imperial Perfection, The Palace Porcelain of Three Chinese Emperors, Hong Kong 2004, no. 1.

‘The five-clawed dragon continued to be an Imperial symbol throughout the Qing Dynasty. The depiction of the dragon as on the present vase is characteristic for the Kangxi period, which is exemplified by a fierce and dominant demeanour adding a stronger impression of authority and majesty. This representation is shown by the detailed painting of the head and the scales, which demonstrates a development of the later Ming Dynasty versions. The full-faced view of the dragon already existed in Ming times but was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty, distinguished by a greater feeling of vitality and a warlike spirit. ‘

We have compared both vases from photographs (we have only handled one and that was the Lady Stewart version). They are both equally well painted using the skills developed over the centuries by Chinese craftsmen. Such skills are, of course, extant to this day, particularly around Jingdezhen where exquisite work is achieved. Of the two marks, however, we much prefer the mark on the one sold by L&T last year. In our view, there is considerably less assurance in the creation of the in-line mark. As one expert put it, “The writing of the mark suggests someone trying to write in somebody else’s style, whereas the Stewart mark looks like someone just writing who has done it a thousand times.”

Marks, of course, are a tricky area and experts will often disagree on the very same mark. It is only our opinion and is not to demean what looks like a very pretty vase! As ever, it is a matter of caveat emptor . . .

lot162 mark cu   lot 34 draogn vase base

The marks to base: above, top The late Lady Stewart’s vase  Above Auctionata vase

Literature: Vgl. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Vgl. Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013

Condition: The vase to be sold this week is in good condition with a minimal chip on the underside of ring stand, barely visible to the naked eye. The height measures 23 cm.


Details of Year 2016 Asian Art Sales in UK just posted

SONY DSC Photo by Paul Harris

One of the most popular features of chineseart.co.uk is our well-nigh comprehensive listing of Asian art auctions taking place throughout the UK. This feature is used by collectors and dealers internationally and we post, as early as possible, updated locations and dates of all such sales. We also provide a link which takes the reader direct into the site of the auctioneer whose sale you might be interested in viewing online.

Of course, we are very well aware that some auctioneers apparently do not see the point in announcing their sales well ahead! Some of the largest, and poshest, auction houses are amongst the main culprits: they seem to take the view that collectors and dealers will clear their diaries at the last moment and process to St James’s of Mayfair without protest.

Congratulations then are in order to Cheffins, Sworders, Capes Dunn and John Nicholsons, all of whom have got up the dates for all their 2016 Asian sales! Quite a number of others have worked out their diaries for the beginning of the year and have posted dates accordingly.

Auction houses which have announced their dates have been included in our listing for 2016 available at http://chineseart.co.uk/?s=asian+art+auctions+nationwide. If we have unfairly missed you out, please get in touch with us right away and we shall post your details immediately!

Are UK owners of ivory in panic mode?

There are no statistics available so this might just be a guess on our part . . . but it does seem to us, at chineseart.co.uk, that there is an awful lot of Chinese worked ivory coming onto the market in the last few months. Indeed, there seems to be a plethora of beautifully worked pieces around at the moment. Are owners disposing of their collections in fear of the present Conservative government fulfilling its rash and ill thought out election pledge to ban the sale of ivory?

The many recent Asian and Chinese auctions have featured a considerable amount of ivory – certainly, rather more than usual. Some auctioneers, however, are abjuring ivory and not accepting it for sale at all. Chiswick Auctions went down that road after their prosecution and £3,200 fine in 2014 for selling a piece of worked ivory which turned out to date from the 1960s. In a recent Antiques Trade Gazette article on Asian Art in London, Lyon & Turnbull’s Lee Young went on record as stating his company would only accept some of the very best pieces and was drawing away from the area.

Effectively, if auctioneers stop selling historic ivory pieces they will simply pave the way for government legislation allowing the politicians to say, “Well, the market has decided not to sell the stuff so all we are doing is formalising it.”

Although there is a welcome academic initiative from the School of Law at Portsmouth University, which has just embarked on a year-long study of the possible outcome of a ban, it may well not have a direct impact on law making apart from spurring more unwelcome attention..

Our position here has always been that we think the existing CITES regulations are perfectly adequate as a basis for dealing in historic, worked ivory; and that any ban on trading such items would be unfair in the extreme on reputable dealers, collectors and those who have unwittingly inherited items of beauty and history which happen to be made of a material now ruthlessly condemned by the politically correct. As much as we deplore the killing of endangered elephants for modern use of ivory, it is not possible to turn back the clock. Historic pieces of worked ivory, many of them exquisitely accomplished centuries ago are a part of our heritage and should remain so. Any ban will, of course, drive the market underground, closing down availability and pushing up prices. So maybe now is actually the time to invest . . .

Illustrated below is one very fine piece which will be exposed for sale in Hannam’s next auction on December 11.

hannams lot 612

hannams lot 612 detailhannams lot 612 detail end

Lot 612 A Canton carved ivory tusk. Most probably 19th century, if not earlier, and particularly well carved.