Christies offer valuable advice for buyers of Chinese porcelain

We are approaching one of the two busiest periods of the year for Chinese art auctions. More than 12,000 pieces of Chinese art will be available for purchase throughout the UK over the next few weeks. Competition is intense between auction houses. Christies have some top drawer sales coming up and they are tempting buyers with information services. A good idea, we say . . . folow the links for images of porcelain they have for sale.

Christie’s Collecting Guide: 10 things you need to know about Chinese ceramics

From reign marks to firing flaws, the information every collector should be armed with

  • 1 Handle as many pieces as possible


Chinese ceramics have been copied for hundreds of years by Chinese potters. They copy out of a reverence for an earlier period but often just to fool the buyer. The market has many copies so buyer beware. When starting to collect ceramics, there is no shortcut to learning and authenticating pieces than to handle as many as possible. Take advantage of the large numbers of Chinese ceramics offered around the world at reputable auction houses. In many ways, auction houses are even better than museums as you can handle pieces in cabinets. In handling many pieces, you get a feel for what a ceramic should feel like in the hand, the weight of the piece, the quality of the painting.


A rare Ming-style blue and white pilgrim flask, Bianhu. Yongzheng six-character seal mark. 7 1/8 in. (18.3 cm.) high. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A turquoise-ground famille rose ‘five boys’ vase. Qianlong six-character seal mark in iron-red. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm.) high. Estimate: £300,000-500,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

2 Ask questions

Building the knowledge needed to authenticate Chinese ceramics can take many years. Reading reference books can give a structure to the field but pick specialists’ brains and ask as many questions as possible. There is nothing that a specialist with a little time on their hands likes better than to talk about their subject.

Video: Specialist Kate Hunt talks about her passion for Chinese porcelain

  • 3 Always buy what you love


Do not necessarily think of buying for investment. In that way you will never be disappointed. Try to buy the best quality example your budget will allow.


A famille rose yellow-ground bowl. Daoguang seal mark in underglaze blue and of. 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm.) diam.. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

  1. Familiarise yourself with the different palettes and glazes and when they were introduced

For example, the wucai (literally five-colour) palette was used in the Wanli period (1573–1619); from this palette came the famille verte palette introduced in the 17th century and the Kangxi period (1662–1722). This features a predominant green enamel together with blue, red, yellow, black. The famille rose palette was added to the ceramic painter’s repertoire in the 1720s and featured a prominent rose colour; the enamels are opaque and there is a wider repertoire of colours. In the 18th century there were many technical advances and glazes were introduced such as the copper-red glazes and flambé glazes.


A Longquan celadon cong-form vase. Sothern Song-Yuan Dynasty (1127-1368). 15 3/4 in. (40 cm.) high. Estimate: £15,000-20,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A rare flambé glazed vase, fang hu. Yongzheng incised six-character seal mark. 11 7/8 in. (30.2 cm.) high. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

  • Learn about the various kilns and the distinction in glazes between kiln sites


Ceramics were made all over China and kilns in the north and south produced different types of wares and glazes. For example, in the Song dynasty (960–1279) you get beautiful celadon glazed ceramics from the Longquan located in the southwest Zhejiang province, and also the Yaozhou kilns in the northern China Shaanxi province. The celadon glazes differ between these two kilns with the Longquan glaze giving often a warmer, bluish-green tone compared with the Yaozhou glazes that were more olive in tone. Jun wares in the Song dynasty were produced with beautiful lavender glazes often highlighted by abstract purple splashes. The Dehua kilns specialised in ceramics with white and cream glazes. In the late Ming dynasty in the 17th century the Dehua wares were creamy in tone but by the 19th century these became more ivory and white. From the Ming dynasty, the kilns at Jingdezhen in the south of China produced most of the blue and white ceramics.


A set of four doucai ‘shou’ dishes. Daoguang six-character seal marks in. 8 1/4 in. (20.8 cm.) diam. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

6 Turn it over

Always look at the bases of the ceramics as fakers often do not get these correct. The way a base of a vessel is cut, finished and glazed changes throughout the dynasties so looking at bases can help enormously with dating and authentication. Potters who are trying to fake ceramics often may not have an original example to look at, relying instead on photographs in auction catalogues or books that do not feature the bases.


A blue and white vase. Transitional Period, mid-17th century. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm.) high. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

Familiarise yourself with changes in underglaze blue decoration from the Ming to the Qing dynasty

This timeless Chinese decoration changed a lot over the centuries both in the designs favoured and the tone of the cobalt blue when fired. This helps with dating — a characteristic of 15th century blue and white porcelain is the so-called ‘heaped and piled effect’ — when the underglaze cobalt blue concentrates in certain areas, bubbling through the surface of the glaze and turning a deep blue-black. This inadvertently gave texture, energy and shading to the design and was highly admired in the 18th century when potters sought to copy the techniques on archaistic pieces made out of reverence for this early golden period. However, by the 18th century potters had mastered the technique of firing blue and white wares to achieve a more even, uniform cobalt blue tone and this was widely used on most porcelain. The blue varied throughout the dynasties. For example, during the Wanli period (1573–1619) blue and white wares often have a greyish-blue tone; in the Jiajing period (1522–1566) blue and white wares tend to have a vibrant, almost purplish blue.


A massive pair of famille rose ‘water margin’ vases. Daoguang Period (1821-1850). 54 1/2 in. (138.5 cm.) high. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A rare ming-style blue and white floral vase. Yongzheng six-character mark in underglaze. 8 in. (20.2 cm.) high. Estimate: £200,000-300,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

8 Pay attention to shapes and proportions

The shapes of ceramics changed and evolved throughout the dynasties. Familiarise yourself with the different shapes in different periods. For example, Song dynasty ceramics often drew on nature for their inspiration and have foliate forms. Ceramics from the Song dynasty are all about combining simple forms with beautiful monochrome glazes. Chinese ceramics also have beautiful proportions. A vase or bowl that looks out of proportion is an indication that a neck or mouth has been ground down.

An incised green-enamelled ‘dragon’ dish. Kangxi six-character mark in underglaze blue. 7 in. (17.8 cm.) diam.. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

9  Consider condition

What is an acceptable condition depends on whether the ceramic is Imperial quality or not and when it was made. For example, on a non-Imperial porcelain vessel made in the 17th century, such as a Kraak ware charger, you would expect to see a certain level of fritting to the rim, or see some kiln grit or kiln dust to the base and perhaps a firing flaw that would have occurred in the kiln. These would be acceptable and would not be considered condition issues.

However, you would not expect to find these kind of kiln flaws on an 18th century Imperial mark and period ceramic as the standard would have been higher and the firing techniques refined. The price of mark and period ceramics made for the great 18th century Kangxi (1662–1722), Yongzheng (1723–1735) and Qianlong (1736–1795) Emperors has escalated in the last decade. Whereas 15 years ago, only mint condition mark and period ceramics would have been considered acceptable to collectors, now collectors will accept certain condition flaws in order to buy these pieces. For example, ceramics that have been broken and restored or have hairline cracks.


A rare iron-red and underglaze-blue decorated square-form vase, Gu. Wanli six-character mark in underglaze-blue. 22 5/8 in. (57.5 cm.) high. Estimate: £40,000-60,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

10  Familiarise yourself with marks

Reign marks state the dynasty and the name of the emperor for which an item was made and were used on all ceramics made for the Emperor and his Imperial household. Familiarise yourself with the reign marks used in each period but do not rely on a reign mark to establish the age of a piece. Marks were often copied and can be apocryphal. A useful reference book is The Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, Gerald Davison, London, 1994. This lists all the Imperial Ming and Qing dynasty reign marks that appear in seal script form, zhuanshu, and regular form, kaishu.  These should be studied together with the many different variations of hallmarks, auspicious marks, potters’ marks and symbols that you find on the bases of Chinese porcelain throughout the ages.


Highlighted Sale

Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art

London, King Street

10 May 2016

Learn more


Related lots

A famille rose yellow-ground bowl

Daoguang seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1821-1850)

Estimate £15,000 – £25,000 ($21,720 – $36,200)

Lot 59 | Sale 13075


View Lot

A wucai dragon and phoenix bowl

Qianlong six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795)

Estimate £2,000 – £4,000 ($2,896 – $5,792)

Lot 144 | Sale 12289




Extraordinary scene as Mallams set house record of £750,000 with mystery man’s £12 vase

lr mallams Yonzheng vase offered   The Charles George Yongzheng vase is offered st Mallam’s yesterday.                 Photo Paul Harris

EXCLUSIVE by Paul Harris at Mallams, Cheltenham

It was an extraordinary scene at Mallam’s in Cheltenham yesterday morning as mystery collector Charles George’s Yongzheng vase ( , valued by him at a mere £10-12 in the 1950s, was knocked down after just a few minutes’ bidding for £750,000. The auctioneers had valued it at £20-30,000. The £750,000 price represented a house record for Mallams in Cheltenham. With buyer’s premium and VAT, the ultimate price is nearly £1m.

charles george collection

The £750,000 vase sold by Mallams April 27 2016 Photo Mallams

The sale was brief but dramatic. Phone and internet bidders were lined up to bid on the vase but, for once, never got a look in on the proceedings. Announcing the lot to bidders (who had been required to register in advance and deposit the meagre sum of £5,000!), auctioneer Robin Fisher asked the room, “Well, what shall we start at?” It was expected that it might start at £10,000 . . .

The room was electrified by a voice from the back row shouting out “£500,000, let’s start at 500,000”. Fisher looked incredulous. “Did you say £500,000?” It appeared that he felt he was being ‘wound up’ and he asked again. The ultimate buyer, who had set the starting price, affirmed his offer.

lr 750,000 vase knocked down at Mallams

Knocked down at £750,000 ! Photo Paul Harris

There were in the room between 30 and 40 Chinese buyers. It appeared most of them had arrived in search of the Yongzheng vase and many had flown from China in a bid to secure it. All the putative buyers seemed to be knocked off their stride by the surprise starting price. Two Chinese bidders took the vase up to £750,000 in a series of £50,000 bids . . . and it was gone within minutes and is said to be on its way back to China before too long. There were no bids from the internet or telephone (just like the good old days!).

lr 750,000 vase disappointed Chinese

Disappointment. This group of Chinese buyers made two bids in the region of £600,000 but lost out. Photo Paul Harris

Applause greeted the result but soon the room was virtually empty as dozens of Chinese exited the premises shaking their heads, disappointment etched on their normally inscrutable features.

The vase was put up for sale by the grand-daughter of Charles George, who died in 1966. The celadon glazed vase had been exhibited in the 1947 Oriental Ceramic Society’s exhibition of celadon wares and enjoyed an undoubted provenance. George kept detailed notes of all the pieces he bought, together with associated exhbition catalogues. This result strongly emphasises the appeal of new to the market porcelain with iundoubted providence. All the Charles George Collection lots sold at Mallams achieved prices well in excess of their estimates –  generally just a mere ten times or so over estimate.

A stunning, large jade with a story to tell . . .

jade buffalo at bonhams

An important 17th century grey-green jade water buffalo, known as the Atterbury Buffalo, after one of its previous owners, leads Bonhams Fine Chinese Art Sale in London on 12 May. It is estimated at £450,000-600,000.

As long ago as 1949, when this jade was sold by E.W.L.Atterbury, it was described as ‘magnificent’ and ‘important’ and it is highly likely that it was originally made for a Chinese Imperial Palace. There are very similar examples in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the British Museum that have well documented Imperial provenances. It is extremely rare to find animals of such striking size, and exceptionally large jade animals such as the present lot – it is more than 12 inches long – form a very select and unusual group within the tradition of Chinese jade carving.

The buffalo has long featured in Chinese art, reflecting its agricultural importance and its significance as a sacrificial animal. Buffaloes are also recorded as having an important role in certain imperial ceremonies during the Ming and Qing dynasties, particularly in Beijing in the third lunar month, when the emperor personally ploughed three furrows within the grounds of the Temple of Agriculture and made sacrifices to mark the beginning of the agricultural year and ensure a good harvest.

The Cunliffe Collection

The same sale also features items from the famous Cunliffe collection, formed by the second Lord Cunliffe over two decades from the mid-1940s. This is the third selection of fine ceramics and works of art from the collection to be offered at Bonhams – the first sale took place in 2002.

Highlights include:

A rare silver-inlaid bronze ‘champion’ vase Song/Ming Dynasty (£20,000-30,000). Inspired by archaic bronze vessels produced during the Western Han period, this vase encapsulates a highly auspicious symbolism conveyed by the combination of eagle, ying and bear, xiong, which form the rebus for ‘champion and hero’.

A rare underglaze-blue yellow-ground ‘gardenia’ saucer dish, Zhengde six-character mark and of the period (£20,000-25,000). Dishes depicting gardenia designs in cobalt blue on a yellow ground were produced from the Xuande through to the Jiajing reigns. Examples dating to the Zhengde period, however, are very rare.

Newly discovered ‘Chilong’ bottle vase

A rare imperial famille rose ‘Chilong’ bottle vase Qianlong seal mark and of the period (estimate £50,000-80,000) is particularly fine. Incorporating Western techniques and Chinese traditional designs, the present vase is a remarkable example of the ability of craftsmen during the Qianlong period. It also has an interesting present day history. It was brought to a Bonhams valuation day in Cumbria by the owner who had inherited it and had no knowledge either of what it was or how much it might be worth.

Bonhams chilong vase

A particularly fine Qianlong vase to be offered for sale at Bonhams in London



Who was the mysterious Charles George?

charles george collection vase base

In the annals of the great collectors of Chinese objets we all probably recognise names like Arthur Sackler, Joseph Hutong and Lord Cunliffe, but ‘Charles George’. Who he?

The question arises out of Mallams Chinese Art sale on April 27. Many lots bear the legend ‘From the Collection of Charles George 1879-1966′. Of course, he lived in an age long before Google was gathering info on every aspect of our daily lives. These days, once your name appears in the local paper you become, thanks to Google, an international personality (alongside tens of millions of others). These days, it is very difficult to slip under the net, so to speak.

Mallams have issued a press release which reveals a little about him, mainly anecdotal. Apparently, he collected a wide range of antiques but with an especial eye for for Chinese porcelain and furniture, examples of which, from his collection, appear in Mallams’ sale. He is described as being ‘knowledgeable’ and, it is understood, lived in London. And that’s about it . . . except for the fact that he meticulously documented all his purchases in a handwritten directory.

In 1952, he recorded that a vase he had acquired, which had been included in the 1947 Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition of celadon wares curated by founder member and expert Arthur L Hetherington, was, in George’s estimation, was worth £12-15. That same vase is now up for sale in Mallams’ sale next week in Cheltenham. It is today estimated at £20,000-30,000 and is expected by many observers to exceed that price range..

It is a celadon glazed Yongzheng (1722-35) mark and period vase (23.5cm. in height), which is illustrated below. The auctioneers describe it as ‘moulded to the base with bands of chrysanthemum petals and to the neck with ribs in imitation of bamboo, inspired by a Longquan prototype from the Southern Song period. The foot bears a six-character Yongzheng mark painted in blue in zhuanshu script under the watery celadon glaze, with a textured bluish tone that is characteristic of the period. It retains the Oriental Ceramic Society label and the exhibit No 130 to its base (illustrated above).

charles george collection

Clearly a collector of some taste. Can anyone amongst our readers come up with any more information about the mysterious Mr George?

Gearing up for another Asian art auction season . . .

semleys highlight

Our favorite from the upcoming series of Asian art sales . . . at Semleys in Shaftesbury on May 14

We have just updated the part of this site listing Asian art auctions nationwide throughout the UK. A busy time of the year approaches: between April 27, starting with Mallams in Cheltenham, culminating in Chorleys sale in Gloucestershire on May 25, we have found there are to be no less than 16 Asian art sales in less than a month.

A quick scan through sites and catalogues and the piece we like most amongst the plethora of objects is Semleys carved zitan and hongmu cabinet (illustrated above). This delightful 19th century piece is carved with dragons, phoenix flowers and scrolling lotus. The cabinet boasts two sliding doors above four drawers, with two further pin-hinged doors below. It is estimated at £4,000 to 6,000. Nice one.

Christies announce Asian Art in Europe programme for Spring & Summer 2016

a_turquoise-ground_famille_rose_five_boys_vase_qianlong_six-character_d5992017h One of Christies’ top sale items in current series

A TURQUOISE-GROUND FAMILLE ROSE ‘FIVE BOYS’ VASE QIANLONG SIX-CHARACTER SEAL MARK IN IRON-RED AND OF THE PERIOD (1736-1795) The vase is elaborately decorated with bats, eternal knots, peaches and multi-coloured lotus sprays, set against a bright turquoise ground. The mouth is encircled by a ruyi border and a band of classic scroll. The short foot is decorated with lappets and a key-fret band. The shoulder is moulded with two young boys, one holding a ruyi sceptre and the other holding a gold ingot. Three further boys are depicted to one side, climbing onto the vase. 12 ½ in. (31.8 cm.) high. Estimated at £300,000-500,000

This spring Christie’s will present a rich array of diverse and dynamic sales of Asian Art in Europe, including King Street and South Kensington in London, in Paris as well as online at Collectively the sales offer a wealth of Chinese and Japanese art, spanning over 3,000 years of artistic practice and featuring exceptional artworks from important European collections.

The sales kick off in April with an online sale Asian Art Inspired by Nature, running from 19 – 28 April at comprising over 120 lots from a broad range of collecting categories. From classical Chinese paintings, Japanese works of art, Chinese ceramics and works of art to Asian contemporary art, this sale presents a unique opportunity for emerging collectors and experienced connoisseurs to acquire works of art inspired by Nature, with estimates starting at just $600 and ranging up to $30,000. The online sales calendar also includes Japanese Prints, 14 – 28 June; Japanese Art at the European Court, 23 June – 7 July; and Chinese Works of Art Summer Sale, 1 – 15 July.

Christie’s Chinese auctions in London will take place between 10 and 13 May. Together these sales will offer almost 700 lots including Chinese jades, ceramics, scholar’s objects, textiles, paintings and furniture. Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art will be held on 10 May at King Street; Chinese Ceramics, Works of Art & Textiles on 11 and 13 May at South Kensington.

Following the auctions in London, Christie’s Paris will host the traditional sale of Art d’Asie on 22 June, and works from The Portier Collection of Japanese Art will also be on view on 18 and 19 June. 


Christie’s Late – Looking East: The Art of China

Christie’s South Kensington, 3 May

This May, the Christie’s Late event is dedicated to the arts of China – from the art of making tea and the Chinese language, to music, to artworks and objects that span thousands of years of creativity. The evening is free and open to all in London to meet Christie’s Chinese art specialists and will include talks, Mandarin Chinese classes, and a Chinese printmaking workshop lead by artist He Weimin from the Muban Educational Trust. Find out more at

Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art

Christie’s King Street, 10 May 

On 10 May Christie’s King Street will present Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art, a sale showcasing exceptional examples of Chinese ceramics, jades, Buddhist art, paintings and furniture, with many of the artworks originating from distinguished private European collections. The sale spans a broad period of Chinese history, ranging from an early Western Zhou Dynasty (12th-11th century BC) bronze ritual food vessel, gui (estimate: £40,000-60,000), to modern Chinese painting including Mouse and Candlestick by Qi Baishi (estimate: £80,000-120,000). The ceramics section features a rare Yongzheng mark and period (1723-1735) Ming-style blue and white floral vase (estimate: £200,000-300,000) and a Qianlong mark and period (1736-1795) turquoise-ground famille rose ‘five boys’ vase (estimate: £300,000-500,000). The sale will also feature an exquisite selection of Buddhist art, highlighted by a rare and large Ming Dynasty (15th-17th century) polychrome wood figure of Guanyin (estimate: £80,000-120,000); a 19th century silk embroidered Thangka depicting the Panchen Lama Ensapa Lobsang Dondrup (estimate: £40,000-60,000); and a magnificent set of four gilt-bronze figures of Buddhist guardians dating to the 17th-18th century (estimate: £120,000-180,000). 

Chinese Ceramics, Works of Art and Textiles

Christie’s South Kensington, 11 and 13 May

Christie’s South Kensington will offer the highly anticipated Chinese Ceramics, Works of Art and Textiles sale on 11 and 13 May with over 580 lots across a wide range of media, spanning over three thousand years of Chinese art and with estimates ranging from £1,000 up to £50,000. The sale includes a number of notable private collections which present imperial mark and period porcelain, jade carvings, Song and Ming dynasty carved Buddhist wood sculpture, hardwood and bamboo scholars’ objects and Chinese robes. A Private Asian Collection of 65 lots presents 19th and 20th century zitan, hardwood, bamboo and boxwood brush pots and scholar’s objects. The sale also features jade carvings, ceramics and works of art from the Lever Collection – further works from this collection will be included in the Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art auction at King Street on 10 May.

 The Dani and Anna Ghigo Collection

Christie’s King Street, 11 and 12 May

On 11 and 12 May, Christie’s King Street will present The Dani and Anna Ghigo Collection. A true antiquarian and discerning collector, Dani Ghigo was a leading Italian carpet dealer, who over the last 50 years, together with his wife Anna, formed this remarkable private collection. Housed in the Ghigo ancestral home on the hillside in Turin, the collection vividly captures the breadth of the couple’s knowledge and passion for carpets, South East Asian, Himalayan & Indian sculpture, French & Italian furniture, tapestries, and Chinese & Japanese works of art. The Chinese element of the collection dates from the early Ming to the late Qing dynasty (14 th-20th century). The majority of lots were made primarily for the Chinese domestic market. Highlights include two rare, almost life size, painted-wood Buddhist figures of bodhisattvas, which date from the late Yuan or early Ming period. The sale also features bronze and pottery Buddhist figures, jades, furniture, paintings including a large set of wallpaper panels, and decorative porcelain, as well as decorative Japanese laquer and works of art.

Arts d’Asie

Christie’s Paris, 22 June

On 22 June, Christie’s Paris will present its traditional summer Art d’Asie sale. The auction will offer over 400 lots of mainly Chinese and South East Asian works of art. Most of the pieces featured come from French and European private collections, including a fine selection of Ming and Qing fans and paintings from a French private collection. Highlights of the auction include a Chinese 18th century Zitan mirror stand decorated with dragons (estimate: €100,000-200,000) and an important Nepalese gilt-bronze repoussé figure of Vajradhara, 17th/18th (estimate: €100,000-150,000).


Asian Art Inspired by Nature

Online Only, 19 – 28 April

Asian Art Inspired by Nature will offer over 120 lots from a diverse range of collecting categories across Asian Art. The beauty of Nature has been celebrated by Chinese and Japanese culture throughout the ages and has found its expression in literature, music, Daoist and Buddhist beliefs and the arts, from classical paintings to porcelain, and from jade, cloisonné and bamboo to contemporary art. The online sale will be open for bidding at from 19 to 28 April, presenting a unique opportunity for emerging collectors and experienced connoisseurs to acquire works of art inspired by Nature.


Big can be beautiful, even if it’s recent . . .

In recent times, good quality twentieth century Chinese pieces have started to attract respectable, if not outstanding, prices in western salerooms. Most often such pieces are well made and, above all, attractive. If one was feeling rude about it, you might refer to them as designer or furnishing pieces.

Indeed, even in Jingdezhen, China’s procelain capital, where some very fine porcelain is churned out daily and the choice is enormous, good quality pieces are sold at very respectable prices going into he many thousands of dollars or pounds.

The Dreweatts & Blomsbury Interiors sale at Donnington Priory on April 19 features some 90 Asian lots. The majority of the lots are recent in vintage, mainly 19th century. ‘Interiors’ tends to be an acronym for good quality, attractive furnishing items. There are quite a number of these in the sale. If you happen to like big pieces which make a statement (and you have the space to house them), Lot 216 caught our eye ‘A large pair of Chinese blue and white ‘Fish’ vases and covers’. They look good despite their nouveau provenance. Standing an impressive 105 cm. high, and estimated at £500-1500, they would make a great piece of decoration for an entrance hall or stairwell . . .


Unusual Chinese art image 76 Kangxi monkey

Kangxi monkey

This strikes us as being a real curiosity! A Chinese famille verte biscuit monkey ewer of the Kangxi period, ca. 1700. Height 16.5cm. This is to be sold on April 23 in Bruges, Belgium, by Rob Michiels Auctions. Such pieces do crop up for sale from time to time, either in the former of ewers or wine pots.

Chinese photo albums feature in next Chiswick Asian sale

Three photographic albums, to be offered in Chiswick Auctions’ ASIAN ART sale on May 16 2016, each give a different perspective on the European experiences within China in the first three decades of the 20th Century.

Given the civil war, World Wars and Communist struggles across China throughout the 20th Century, photographic documentation of this kind tended not to survive. Largely because of this, albums of this kind are important historical documents and their value in auction has increased dramatically in recent years. Occasionally, they turn up at auction as family attics are emptied.

Clearly, such depictions are heavily influenced by the cultural values and backgrounds of the people involved. The album of Herbert Dixon Summers, Secretary Directorate-General of Posts Peking shows photography between the years of 1916 and 1920.

Summers album (1)

The album shows images of an idyllic lifestyle filled with picnics and outings as well as visits to attractions including the Great Wall in 1917, the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City, all in and around Beijing. There are also views of the Tianjin floods of 1917.

The album of Cpl. RS Knott, in contrast, is more directly engaged with the Chinese themselves. It includes images of the Bund, in Shanghai and the Ming tombs, but also images of Knott and his friends dressed up in traditional Chinese robes and pictures of a number of Chinese people with whom they were associated. One tantalising series of images depicts a boating trip in which we see Knott and friends clad in bow ties and summer hats on the one hand, and then the camera is turned to the shore to depict inquisitive Chinese peasants and traditional dwellings along the river bank.

Knott album (5)

It is clear from the playful nature of the images that Knott had a strong joie de vivre but sadly his life was cut tragically short by war. A short diary also loosely inserted and dated 1916, and documenting his passage back from China, states “all male passengers as well as the ship’s Doctor are going home to enlist”, and loosely inserted note from the Records Office states that he was killed in fighting at the Somme during WW1.

Knott album (1)

Image from the Knott album

Indeed the Great War put a stop to much European involvement with China for more than fifty years. This included grand infrastructure projects including the railway building projects. The third album, more official in its scope, tracks the building of the Tianjin-Pukou railway, constructed between 1908 and 1912 with photographs of trains, carriages, track and staff and comes from the collection of engineer George Ridgway,who is pictured at the start of the album in a group shot.

train album (1)

Strictly for the railway enthusiast!

The three albums, each to be offered with an estimate of £200 – 300, will be offered in ASIAN ART, 16 May 2016, are at Chiswick Auctions along with Chinese silver and other objects from the same collections.



Stiff jail sentences for gangleaders behind Chinese art thefts


Fourteen guilty men: the so-called ‘masterminds’ jailed for Chinese art theft April 4-5

Yesterday and today, Judge Murray Creed at Birmingham Crown Court has handed down heavy jail sentences to 13 gang members said to be ‘masterminds’ behind a series of Chinese art thefts in the United Kingdom. A fourteenth man plead guilty and was sentenced last year.

It was said to be a ‘conspiracy’ to ‘plunder’ British museums, galleries and collections whilst the Chinese market was seemingly inexorably rising three to four years ago. The gang, known as ‘The Rathkeale Rovers’, was largely made up of so-called ‘Irish travellers’ (for our overseas readers, ‘travellers’ is the politically correct term for what used to be referred to as ‘gypsies’). Many of the gang enjoyed close connections with the Irish town of Rathkeale, where they built opulent mansions.

Amongst the locations where they stole or attempted to steal Chinese art was The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge; University of Durham Oriental Museum; Norwich Castle Museum; and Gorringes Auctioneers in Lewes, Sussex. The court was told that the items stolen might have been worth as much as £57m. on the open market. A further sixteen men who actually carried out the raids have previously been sentenced. The case is not yet closed . . .


A composite of some of the many items stolen. Some are still missing.

Note: Facts are still emerging in relation to this case and we shall, shortly, publish a full account on

Year of the Monkey celebrated in Australia


‘Yin and Yang’: the year of the monkey celebrated in Cairns, Australia

The Cairns Regional Gallery in northern Australia is currently celebrating the Year of the Monkey with original artworks from two local artists, Hayley Gillespie and Yixuan Ruan. The exhibition explores the meanings of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.


Year of the Monkey is described as being a family exhibition which encourages visitors of all ages to learn more about Chinese language and culture. That was apparent when we visited recently as young people drew and sketched and dressed up in Chinese costumes. A must-see for anyone in the area.


Interpretation of the Chinese tiger zodiac sign


Interpretation of The Rat

Pair of massive vases from English country house back on the market


A particularly striking, massive pair of hexagonal vases, originally from Hooton Pagnell House, near Doncaster, are to be sold by Rob Michiels Auctions, Bruges, Belgium on April 23. They were previously sold last year, December 1, by Bonhams in Knightsbridge.

At 99cm tall, they are truly massive and are mounted on their orginal wooden stands. They are described by the auctioneers as being Cantonese 19th century in Dayazhai style. They are supposed to have been acquired by the Warde Aldam family mid to late 19th century and have been incorporated into the furnishings of the house at that time. Bonhams described the vases in their catalogue in the following terms:

‘Each boldly enamelled to the neck and body with a sinuous dragon writhing amidst flowering chrysanthemum on a rich turquoise ground, the rim, shoulder and foot with decorative borders of scrolling prunus and floral medallions, key-fret and stiff archaistic lappets, the cover enamelled ensuite, the finial potted as a seated lady, wood stands. 99cm (39cm) high (without stands) (4). ‘


Condition is described as being ‘very good’ with slight wear to the glaze surface. One cover has historically been broke into several pieces and has been restored. Decoration is strong and it will be interesting to see the degree of interest second time around. The estimate is euros 25,000-35,000. Bonhams achieved a price, including premium, of £19,750.


The vases in situ at Hooton Pagnell Hall, Doncaster, England