L&T sell Thornhill cup in Hong Kong for over £3m.

Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull today sold in Hong Kong the so-called Thornhill Cup, a blue and white ‘dragon’ stem cup, for an impressive HK$ 36 million, approximately £3,170,000 in sterling. The rare and important item was valued at between £2m. and £4m. so the price was perfectly respectable.

L & T Thornhill stem cup The Thornhill Cup

Initially, bidding was fast with several bidders in the room and a bidder on the telephone. Once the bidding passed 25 million, it slowed into what appeared to be a thoughtful battle between the bidder on the phone and a bidder in the room. Bidding rose in increments of HKD 500,000 before eventually being knocked down in the room for 36m. HKD. At the time the hammer fell, that equated to just over £3,169,000. The hammer price if, of course, subject to a buyer’s premium of 25% on the first HK$800,000, 20% up to 15m. and thereafter 12% which take the price well over £3.5m.

The cup was sold on behalf of Staffordshire University which was bequeathed the artefact by London pharmacist and collector Ernest Thornhill. Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University, Rosy Crehan said today: “This is a fabulous result for the University of Staffordshire, it will allow us to care for and display the Thornhill Collection for future generations to enjoy. The funds raised will allow the remaining pieces of Chinese Oriental Ceramics to be curated, conserved and enjoyed in a new Ceramic Education and Research Facility. This is something Ernest Thornhill always hoped for and I am pleased that we will now be able to make his dream come true. ”

Chinese artefacts feature at Harewood House Fair

A long-established event in the calendar for afficionadoes of art and antiques in The Antiques & Fine Art Fair at Harewood, supported by Knight Frank Harrogate, opens in The Marquee, Harewood House, Harewood, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS17 9LQ from Friday 10 until Sunday 12 June 2016.

There will be Chinese artefacts at the Fair, offered by Odyssey and by J A Yarwood Antiques.


19th century ivory card case

An early 19th century Canton carved ivory card case, 8.3cm long x 4.5cm wide x 1cm deep, c1820, £835 from JA Yarwood Antiques

This beautiful card case is of an unusual design and diminutive size. The delineated design is rare, more commonly the entire surface of the case was covered with figures amongst trees and pavilions. The case’s small size suggests that it may have been made for use by a lady.

It is in excellent condition, showing only light wear appropriate to its age and substance. It has no damage and no restoration. Early 19th century Canton carved ivory card case, 8.3cm long x 4.5cm wide x 1cm deep, c1820, £835 from JA Yarwood Antiques


Carved ivory box with Napoleonic association

Rare early 19th century hand carved Canton ivory box showing Napoleon’s tomb, 4cm diameter x 3cm high, £565 from JA Yarwood Antiques

This fascinating box was produced in Canton in China. It has a hand carved thread allowing the lid of the box to be screwed on or off. In the early part of the 19th century, the flourishing trade routes between China and Europe meant that it was not unusual to have Oriental items of this period having a European theme. French sailors with time in dock would often place orders for snuff boxes, gaming boxes and other small items to take home with them. After Napoleon’s death in 1821, his body was initially buried on St Helena. Various drawings and prints were made of the site and it is likely that the image of the tomb shown on this box was taken from one of them.

The box is in excellent condition, having no damage, loss or restoration and shows only light wear appropriate to its age and substance.

HR ODYSSEY Head of Guanyin

Carved stone Budhai head

Chinese marble head of the Bhuddist Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin), 9½” high, including stand, c1680-90, £450 from Odyssey.

Enquiries and tickets (£5 each) from The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited, telephone: +44 (0)1797 252030 or email: mailto:info@adfl.co.ukinfo@adfl.co.uk, http://www.mayfairfair.com/www.harewoodfair.com










A very special dragon jar features at Christies HK

One of the highlights of the Christies special  30 Years: The Sale  auction in Hong Kong on 30 May is a magnificent 15th-century 
guan. Here, say Christies, are 7 reasons why it excites collectors


  • With its four powerful five-clawed feet and its head turning backwards, the dragon on this 15th-century jar is depicted with terrific dynamism. It appears to be an early variation of the forward-facing dragon found on blue and white ceramics developed from the Yuan period (1271-1368). The inspiration for such an unusually portrayed dragon probably originated from Southern Song (1127-1279) paintings.
A magnificent very rare large blue and white ‘dragon’ jar, guan. Xuande four-character mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1426-1435). 19⅛ in. (48.5 cm.) high. Estimate HK$60,000,000-80,000,000  $7,764,834-10,353,112. This work is offered in 30 Years The Sale on 30 May at Christie’s Hong Kong
A magnificent very rare large blue and white ‘dragon’ jar, guan. Xuande four-character mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1426-1435). 19⅛ in. (48.5 cm.) high. Estimate: HK$60,000,000-80,000,000 / $7,764,834-10,353,112. This work is offered in 30 Years: The Sale on 30 May at Christie’s Hong Kong
  • The jar contains details that have not been seen before on porcelain of previous dynasties — short spiky bristles in front of tufts of long flowing hair at the elbows of the dragon, for example. These details do, however, appear on the dragons in paintings by Chen Rong (circa 1200-1266), which were widely admired and had provided inspiration since the Song and Yuan periods.
  • 3

In the long history of Chinese ceramics, the Xuande period (1426-1435) is generally regarded as the highpoint of blue and white porcelain production. This was due to a combination of enthusiastic imperial patronage, technical ingenuity and the finest levels of artistry. Xuande was the first Ming emperor to be a really serious patron of the arts. His three most celebrated areas of imperial patronage were court painting, building projects and the manufacture of fine porcelains.


Xuande-period porcelains were low in calcium and high in potassium, which made them more translucent. The glaze was rich and lustrous, while the underglaze decoration demonstrated complete mastery of painting in cobalt on a porous porcelain body. The use of darker and lighter blue tones is more commonly seen on Xuande dishes or stem bowls painted with dragon-and-wave patterns. It is very unusual to see such subtle techniques employed on such a large jar — a feature that underlines its great rarity.


The three main motifs on this jar — dragon, monster masks and clouds — are all painted with varying tones of blue in bold and fluent brush strokes. This powerfully-depicted imperial dragon perfectly symbolises the authority of the emperor. Many connoisseurs consider the painting of dragons on Xuande imperial porcelain to be the finest in the history of Chinese porcelain, and this example has exceptional vitality.


The porcelains of the Xuande reign frequently bore reign marks in regular script. The placement of reign marks on Xuande porcelains was variable — under the rim, inside the vessel, on the base, or on the shoulder, as on this vessel. More often, Xuande reign marks contained six characters, but this large jar belongs to one of two small groups of imperial vessels with four-character marks, which appear to have been made for special occasions. All the vessels in these groups are unusually large and all are decorated with powerful dragons among clouds and masks. In one group the dragons have five claws and backward turned heads, as on this jar, while in the other group the dragons have three claws and face forwards.


The massive size of this dragon jar suggests it was a very special commission. The decoration on it is identical to that on the pair of blue and white ‘dragon’ meiping  vases in the Nelson Atkins Museum, and it is possible that the three vessels formed a set, made for a special imperial occasion or ritual. This magnificent dragon jar, however, appears to be the only one of its type to have survived intact, although fragments of a similar jar have been found at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen.

Lyon & Turnbull’s ‘Far East Adventure’ kicks off


Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have already chased the Chinese market with a series of auctions near to the capital, London, and now they are going the whole hog with a May 31 sale in Hong Kong. Even on their own website, they term it ‘An Adventure’.

It is certainly that. It is also something of a gamble. In Hong Kong, they will, of course, be on the doorstep of the greatest repository of serious buyers of Chinese art. It is, arguably, the best way to reach that market but it still represents a financial and reputational gamble. If the gamble comes off, L&T will be in clover but if, for some reason, it fails then the cost will be enormous. Reputational most but also in terms of costs (getting there, setting up the auction, shipping, staff, etc.) which will represent a multiple of effecting the same operation on home territory.

L&T have produced what is probably their finest catalogue ever: size bumped up to full A4 and printed on the best heavy 180gsm glossy art paper. In the 198 page catalogue, the 151 lots in the sale are described in more than usual detail. Only the very best has made it into the catalogue and the star of the show has to be the so-called Thornhill Cup, which we wrote about in February http://chineseart.co.uk/news/high-hopes-for-sale-of-the-so-called-thornhill-cup/. Xuande mark and period, it is estimated at an ambitious UK £2-4 million, sent for sale by Staffordshire University who have owned it since 1944 following the bequest of collector Eric Thornhill. In many ways, the whole sale hinges on this one item . . .

L & T Thornhill stem cup

The Thornhill Cup to be sold by Lyon & Turnbull

Busy, indeed, but no sensations . . . we look at an auction-packed week

Last week was one of the busiest weeks of the year in the UK Chinese art market calendar with major Asian auctions held at Chiswick Auctions, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (Donnington Priory), Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and Duke’s in Dorchester. We attended all these auctions and, indeed, were buyers at all four and, further, visited Halls in Shrewsbury to collect purchases from the previous week’s Asian sale.

Prices held steady throughout all the auctions. There was no evidence of any collapse in the Chinese market. There were Chinese buyers evident at all the sales. There were not so many of them as in recent years but those who were evident on the ground were all serious buyers. Good things, generally speaking, sold well and although there were no sensations in terms of prices achieved, there were good solid results at all the houses.

May auctions (15)

Calm before the storm. Chiswick auction room before the sale. Picture by Paul Harris

In financial terms, the Chiswick sale was particularly good for the auction house and its vendors. A large number of lots estimated in the low hundreds climbing into the many thousands surprised those of us in the room. A pile of sundry books sold for £2,000 (one particular book being a sought after item). The sale started well with the first 69 lots coming from the collection of John Marriott and Count R L Sangorski. Purchased from major dealers like Spink and auction houses like Christies, these lots, many accompanied by the original invoices, sold spectacularly well, generally exceeding their estimates. Progress during the sale was painfully slow thanks to half a dozen telephone lines in almost constant use and the usual internet bidders. Around 50 lots per hour was achieved.

For Chiswick, this was their best sale ever seen in its 25 year history. It achieved an 85% sold rate with 82 lots from the Marriott collection bringing in £84,000 including premium. There were also strong results from Transitional period blue and white and photographic albums up for sale.May auctions (32)

Dreweatts sale at Donnington Priory  Photo by Paul Harris

At Dreweatts & Bloomsbury’s delightfully sited auction  room at Donnington Priory, near to Newbury, things were a little less frenetic despite there being several internet connections for bidders. The auctioneer welcomed the fact that there were around 40 active buyers in the room (approximately half Chinese) and commented on how unusual it was. Despite the many ways available to buy (half a dozen telephone lines, four Internet servers and room bidding), it was still possible to buy well, especially for those in the room. Chinese buyers ascribed their good luck to the presence in the room of a large ceramic statue of the Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung!

May auctions (26)

Mao Tse Tung presided over the Asian Sale at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Donnington Priory.  Photo by Paul Harris courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

There were certainly a few ‘sleepers’. We think we found one in the form of a mid-to-late 19th century Chinese stick stand very well decorated with dragons and bearing the original label of the vendor, Charles Sleight of London’s Royal Arcade, which pinned down the date of sale to the 1880s.

Dreweatts stick stand (15)

Dragon decoration on a 19th century stick stand sold by Charles Sleight, London, around 1880. Photo by Paul Harris

At the same time as the Dreweatts sale there was day one of the Woolley & Wallis two day sale in Salisbury. The first day always tends to be the most expensive at Woolleys and this was no exception. There were many lots in five figures but no sensations. The sale was dominated by telephone internet with only a dozen or so people in the room. This number was considerably larger the following day, a reflection of the more modest, attainable prices. However, if you had wanted the catalogue raisonne of the ceramic works in the Imperial Palace Museum, Beijing, you would not have got it for a few hundred pounds . . .  it was knocked down after competitive bidding at £11,000! Stands also fared particularly well: one lot with half a dozen rather attractive stands got £3,800. There were few bargains to be had, all in all.

For those who needed a rest from the seemingly relentless circuit, Thursday was a day of rest, so to speak. We took the opportunity to view the Friday sale at Duke’s in Dorchester. Amongst the fine things seen was a large, black jade Buddha which would actually fail to sell! We spotted a number of things, however, which we were able to secure bidding on the Internet the following day.

113 dukes Sold at Duke’s

Famille rose box with relief moulded figures and Qianlong mark to base but probably later, £1170 inclusive of premium


It’s a busy auction week in the UK!


Viewing at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Asian Sale on Tuesday of this week is overseen by a large porcelain figure of Mao Tse Tung Photo by Paul Harris

It is a frenetic week for Asian auction enthusiasts – one of the busiest of the year. Staff from this website have aready attended Asian events at Chiswick Auctions (London) and Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (Newbury, Berkshire). Today, we are at Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and tomorrow we move on to Dukes in Dorchester!

We shall post a full report in a couple of days but, thus far, there is no evidence of a collapse in prices in  the Asian market. Quite the contrary. Good things continue to sell well thanks to telephone and internet.


Viewing at Chiswick Auctions on Monday Photo Paul Harris


Viewing at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Tuesday Photo Paul Harris


Underrated Chilong vase sells at Bonhams for £110,5000

Bonhams chilong vase

A Chinese vase “forgotten” for years in a living room in Cumbria has sold Bonhams for more than £100,000.

The 18th Century famille rose Chllong bottle vase, thought to have maybe graced a Chinese imperial palace, was discovered at a Bonhams valuation day in Kendal in the English Lake District.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the vase was “plonked” on top of some furniture and she took it along at the last minute.

Bonhams senior valuer Chris Jarrey said they were “bowled over” when the vase was unwrapped from the owner’s towel.

He said: “She had a bag full of items, of which this [the vase] was the last item she brought out expecting it to be the least interesting.She had a box of quite nice silver spoons and one or two other bits and pieces, and then she just pulled this out, it was wrapped up in an old towel and she could see the expression on our faces.”

Mr Jarrey said the Chilong vases were “highly desirable” as they were produced for Chinese emperors.

Bearing the six-character seal mark of the great Emperor Qianlong, the vase was expected to fetch £50,000-80,000 so it came in just ahead of expectations. It sold for £110,500 at Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale in London today.

Even bigger prices are expected next week with major sales at auction houses all over England, including Woolley & Wallis, Chiswick Auctions, Dreweatt & Bloomsbury and Dukes of Dorchester. Even remote Northumberland has an auction with more than 50 Chinese lots tomorrow, Saturday (www.the-saleroom.com).

Daoguang lotus vases reach over £100,000 at Halls

lot 121 halls

Daoguang very much seems to be the flavour of the month. Good Daoguang pieces are very much in demand these days. We wrote a couple of days ago about a couple of Daoguang bowls which are expected to do well at Woolley and Wallis next week (http://chineseart.co.uk/auctions/two-daoguang-bowls-and-their-owners/). Meantime, a very attractive pair of lotus vases and covers scored yesterday at Halls in Shrewsbury.

Described in the catalogue as, ‘An impressive pair of Chinese famille rose turquoise ground ‘lotus’ vases and covers, Daoguang seal marks and of the period, of ovoid form, the domed covers with cone finials, finely painted with lotus flowers, peaches, bats and scrolling foliage around gilt ‘double-happiness’ symbols, within ruyi and lappet borders, all against a turquoise ground, the interiors and bases with a pale sea-green glaze, 28cm high (restoration to one). Provenance: The property of Dr Wilfred Watkins-Pitchford (1868-1952), thence purchased by the vendor at auction in Shropshire during the 1950s. Watkins-Pitchford was a prominent physician, spending much time in South Africa, specialising in bacteriology and pathology before retiring in 1926 and returning to the UK where he settled in Shropshire.

‘Footnote: For a near identical single vase and cover of the same period, see Christies ‘Appreciating Elegance: Art from the Sui Yuan Zhai Collection’, 11 May 2015, lot 37. The use of enamel colour on a turquoise ground is thought to be inspired by cloisonne decoration and similar examples can be found in the National Palace Museum, Beijing. ‘

They were sold in the room at £85,000 hammer which means the buyer had to pay over £100,000 for the stunning pair. Internet or absentee bidding was not allowed.


Unusual ‘Kiangnan’ vase to come up at Dukes

pear shape kiangnan vase

An unusual type of Chinese vase, once popular with significant collectors, comes up at Dukes in Dorchester on Friday May 20. A so-called Kiangnan vase (Kiangnan, also known as Jiangnan, is the name given to the region around the Yangtse River delta in southern China) the genre is known for its creamy ‘ostrich egg’ glaze with fine crackles.

Dukescatalogue it as ‘Lot 125 A LARGE CHINESE KIANGNAN PEAR-SHAPED VASE with a long neck, covered in a creamy ‘ostrich egg’ glaze with fine crackles, one side with a subtle foliate pattern, Ming, 20.5″ (52cm) high

‘Provenance: Bluett & Sons, London 1940. J.C. Thomson Collection. Private collection, South Wales.

‘So-called Kiangnan Ting ‘ostrich egg’ glazed vases of this type were highly sought after by collectors in the mid-20th century. Sir William Burrell acquired a piece from Bluetts in 1943 which is now in the Glasgow collections. Lord Cunliffe also bought one from Bluetts for £75 in 1947 which was exhibited at the 1948 OCS Exhibition (no. 140). For published examples see A.L. Hetherington “The Early Ceramic Wares of China”, 1922 pl.22; and Hobson and Hetherington “The Art of the Chinese Potter”, 1923, pl.61.’

The vase is most reasonably estimated at £1,500-3,000. Given its established provenance, it will surely do much better than that

Two Imperial Daoguang bowls and their owners

351 woolley

Two particularly beautiful Daoguang (1821-50) bowls are coming up at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury on May 17. They are delicately enamelled with four  roundels containing blossoming trees, divided by stylised lotus sprays and reserved on a pink sgraffito ground; the interiors are painted in underglaze blue with a central roundel containing a rabbit resting under a tree. They are each 14.8cm. in diameter.

Another pair of bowls of this design were shown at The Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition The Wonders of the Painter’s Palette in 1984. There is an established provenance: they come from the collection of Colonel Geoffrey R Pridham CBE DSO (1872-1951) who was stationed in Peking around 1900. They have been sent for sale by the family and are estimated at £30,000-50,000.

And we just love this! Below is a very charming and telling photograph of the Colonel and his wife.

351 woolley photo

Colonel Geoffrey R Pridham (1872-1951) with his wife.


Chinese reverse glass paintings feature at Chiswick Asian sale

lot 121

Lot 121 An 18th century Chinese reverse glass painting of a beauty for sale at Chiswick Auctions May 16 2016

There are a couple of Chinese reverse glass paintings coming up for sale at Chiswick Auctions on May 16: one of these is particulalry interesting and is classifed as being that of a Chinese ‘beauty’ and referenced to the work of court painter to the Qianlong Emperor, Guiseppe Castiglione, and Bertholet’s book Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chinese Erotic Art.

The auctioneer supplements the printed catalogue entry for the work (no. 121) with an interesting explanation. ‘Reverse glass paintings occupy a special position within Chinese art, crossing over the genres of Chinese export art, glass working, the painting genre of meirenhua (paintings of beauties) and erotic art. Generally associated with English country house collections throughought the 18th century and later, when their vibrant colours and exotic flavour made them the hight of fashionable sophistication and, indeed, both lots 120 and 121 were almost certainly produced for the export market. Lot 120 follows a European original [it depicts the Maddonna and child together with John the Baptist and is painted after a European engraving] which would have been reversed and meticulously painted in oils onto the glass by use of a Chinese brush by artists working in and around Guangzhou to serve the Southern Chinese ports and the [associated] export market.

‘However, since the point of its inception within China, reverse painting was very much an Imperial concern, with Chinese rulers themselves appreciating their exotic foreign characteristics. Huc (1858) mentions that Castiglione learned to paint in oils on glass in Le Christianisme en Chine, en Tartarie and Au Tibet. Amiot (1786) notes that the Qianlong Emperor commissioned Castiglione to paint large mirrors in Memoires concernant l’histoire, les sciences, les arts, les moeurs, les usages, etc. des Chinois, Vol.2.

‘Beurdely’s 1971 catalog raisonne of Guiseppe Castiglione does not include any examples of reverse glass painting. However, one painting in oils, plate 85, a portrait of a young woman dressed as a European Shepherdess, bears close compositional similarities to works on glass . . .  listed as being in the Imperial Palace Collection. . . the oil, said to depict the Qianlong Emperor’s favorite concubine, Rong Fei, presents a Chinese lady seated in a relaxed pose in loose flowing robes and staring directly at the viewer, all features shared with the beauty depicted in Lot 121. The erotic undertones of both paintings, explain why the latter painting was selected by Bertholet for inclusion with his book on the subject [Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chineses Erotic Art]. The piece also fits into a wider category of beauty paintings which has experienced an expansion of academic attention led by James Cahill (2010) and the recent exhibition, Beauty Revealed (2013). Neither, however, addressed reversed glass paintings despite its contribution to the genre. Whilst primarily an export art, its Imperial patronage, technical sophistication and Chinese aesthetics demand that it receive closer academic attention within the canon of Chinese painting art.’

Northumberland auctioneer Railtons to sell Chinese treasure trove


A small pretty jar with delicately enamelled decoration of a phoenix is coming up at Railtons on May 14

Northumberland auctioneer Jim Railton (www.jimrailton.com) has just posted more than 50 Chinese lots on the-saleroom.com for auction on Saturday May 14 (http://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/railtons/catalogue-id-srra10012) in his quarterly antiques sale.

It is rather a mixed assemblage but there are a few distinctly interesting lots including an early Ming dish (possibly Yuan); a pretty little jar with Imperial ‘Heaven’ mark to the base; an unusual Hongxi mark dish; several doucai vases, and a striking Mongolian bowl. Auctioneer Jim Railton says they come from a couple of ‘good’ private collections in the Borders, from owners ‘fed up with being messed about by posh London auction houses’. It has been a common complaint of late levelled against certain ‘top’ auction houses that they take ages to reply to potential vendors and then hold on to items for an unconscionable length of time.

‘I think there are some rather worthwhile lots coming up. Let’s see what happens . . . ‘, said Jim yesterday. For those who think that a trip to the wilds of Northumberland is a bridge too far, the sale will be available live on the popular platform the-saleroom.com. Estimates vary widely – from £20 to £8,000. There seems to be adequate room for a few ‘sleepers’ here . . . There is a table screen which is labelled as having come from Carlton House in London, inlaid with semi-precious stones to one side and gilded on the other.

Meantime, we have selected a  few of what we think are amongst the most interesting lots. An early Ming blue and white dish boasts peony flowers to the cavetto, anhua dragons around the rim, and an unglazed base.


Detail of an early Ming dish at Railtons May 14

15a Base of a colourful Hongxi dish at Railtons May 14

10 Blue & iron red bulbous flask with Xuande mark but later at Railtons May 14

11 Blue & iron red bowl also with Xuande mark, but later, at Railtons

12 Mongolian bowl at Railtons