Bonhams offer Warhol’s Chairman Mao


Bonhams will lead the Post-War and Contemporary Art season with a spectacular Andy Warhol painting of Chairman Mao, estimated at £580,000-780,000, to be offered at New Bond Street on 29 June.

The stunning, densely-textured painting comes fresh to the market having originally been handled by the artist’s legendary dealer Leo Castelli in the 1970s. The distinctive coloration and clarity of composition makes this arguably the finest of the series ever to appear at auction. Renowned as one of Warhol’s most significant, signature images, the Mao paintings feature in many of the world’s most prestigious public and private collections worldwide.

Warhol was transfixed by the People’s Republic of China in 1971. ‘I have been reading so much about China,’ he said at the time. ‘The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’ Inspired, Warhol made his first picture of the communist leader the following year. The Mao series is based on a photograph taken from the cover of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao – otherwise known as the Little Red Book, of which almost a billion copies were printed in China, leading to an acute paper shortage during the Cultural Revolution. During the early seventies, Warhol used to carry the Little Red Book around in his pocket. Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol museum, describes the artist as ‘smitten with communism – with everyone wearing the same clothes and reading the same books’.

In the early 1970s, after a decade of screenprinting, Warhol returned to painting. His Maos tend to be more painterly than his earlier pop art, developing from the relentless replication of the 60s into more personalised, one-off works combining silkscreens with gestural painted additions. This particular piece has unusually thick impasto, with expressive brushwork in subtle blue hues and a halo of vivid scarlet interrupting the almost blinding vibrancy of the acid green background.

‘It is one of the finest – if not the finest – example of Warhol’s small format Maos out there,’ said Ralph Taylor, Senior Director for the Bonhams Post-War & Contemporary Art department. ‘It’s an absolute classic, brilliantly executed, with sterling provenance. Collectors who target the very best will find much to admire with this painting.’

Works depicting Chairman Mao appear to be the subject of growing demand in China. Last month a rare porcelain statue came on the market and is currently beng offered by Chinese Art in Scotland ( for a six figure sum.

May auctions (26) Statue of Chairman Mao also on offer

Chinese ink painter Li Huasheng is on show at the Mayor Gallery & Masterpiece

Li Meditation Room

Li Huasheng  The Meditation Room at The Mayor Gallery, London


London’s Mayor Gallery is showing a selection of recent ink paintings on paper by Li Huasheng (b. 1944, Yibin, Sichuan Province). This is a rare opportunity to admire the revealing abstract works by this self-imposed reclusive Chinese artist whose paintings have been collected by respected international institutions including the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum, M+ and the National Art Museum of China.

After studying socialist realism, Chinese traditional painting, seal carving and calligraphy, Li quickly became one of the foremost traditional Chinese landscape painters of his generation, distinguishing himself in China and abroad for his original, vibrant and colourful water-and-mountain landscapes. The five-month official trip to the US where he was invited to partake in various lectures and exhibitions in some of the most prestigious American universities in 1987 resulted in a dramatic change in his life and artistic practice. Li’s repeated exposure to works by international artists in the US triggered a chain reaction of reflections on Chinese art history and to an escalating process of radical life transformation.

In near complete seclusion, Li barely painted throughout the following decade. It is in this period that Li began his increasingly frequent ventures to Tibet. During one of these journeys, Li was inspired by the image of the lines formed by the Tibetan monks marching toward Jokhang temple, and by their repeated chanting of the mantra “Om Mani Padme Um”. From that moment, Li began to visualize existence in the form of a line. “Our life is based on time,” the artist commented. “Time represents the preciousness of every person’s existence. Through the flowing of my lines I am preserving and registering my personal time.”

Starting from the late Nineties, the line becomes the artist’s most fundamental expressive cipher and reflects Li’s mental and physical state at the time of its execution. Reminiscent of an ECG trace measuring the electrical activity of the heart, it records the rhythm of the artist’s qi (气, ‘vital energy’), the slightest fluctuations of which are detectable in the inherent character of the brushstrokes—speed, force, turn, pause and direction of the brush. Since the beginning of his breakthrough into abstraction, Li has adopted a strict work routine based on meditation and controlled reiteration of the gesture. Slowly seeping into the overall pictorial structure of his ink paintings on paper, completed from 1997 onwards, this methodology leads to the formal systematization of intersecting freehand linear compositions arranged in grid-like configurations inspired by architectural elements and natural patterns. Alongside his lines and black and white grids, during the last twenty years, Li has developed an increasingly radical formal simplification of both Chinese calligraphy, of which he evidences the track and speed in abstract double-layered compositions combined with grids, and the natural landscape, where the majestic Himalayan peaks are portrayed either in the artist’s sublime “one stroke paintings” style or in his rarefied and highly spiritual series known as “misty landscapes”.

Li’s works are in the permanent collections of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing; British Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Chicago Art Institute; Art Museum, Shanghai; Guangdong Museum of Art; He Xiangning Art Museum-OCT Contemporary Art Terminal; and permanent collections of Harvard University, Yale University, University of Michigan and University of Washington.

Li Huasheng

If you can’t make it to the show, do at least drop by the Mayor Gallery stand at Masterpiece where there will be a single work on show.


Hansons have high hopes for blue & white vase

Hansons vase

Blue & white vase due to appear at Hansons on July 1

Hansons, the auctioneers based in Etwall Derbyshire, clearly have high hopes for a large blue & white vase coming up on July 1st during their 3-day Summer Sale. They have taken the unusual step of taking a full page advertisement in The Antiques Trade Gazette, upcoming issue of June 25 devoted to this single lot, 807a.

They are estimating it at £300,000-500,000 with a curiously charming provenance as ‘By family descent, recorded in the collection of a great-aunt in Cornwall in the 1930s’. It is unclear at the present time as to whether we will be apprised of the identity of the great aunt. The purpose is, of course, clear. In a procelain market rife with copies, all auctioneers are desperate to grasp at any straw which might place a Chinese item on record as dating from before the 1940s, when modern copies started to appear in profusion. The Qianlong seal mark (below) looks OK and the base appears to bear suitable marks of age.

hanson base Hanson mark to base Qianlong seal mark to base

Hansons supply a full catalogue entry:

Lot Number: 806a

A fine Chinese blue and white vase, seal mark of Qianlong, of hexagonal mallet form, painted in imitation of Ming ‘heaped and piled’ style, the bulbous body with cut branches of peaches alternating with flower and lingzhi stems, similar stems on the waisted neck, all facets framed at the corners with European derived Baroque scrollwork spandrels, the shoulder encompassed by a wan-diaper between barbed borders, the rim and foot with key-fret bands, height 66cm, seal mark of Qianlong in underglaze blue.

Notes: The ‘Baroque’ elements of the design recall the influence of European decorative arts in the art and architecture seen at The Summer Palace.

Provenance: By family descent, recorded in the collection of a great-aunt in Cornwall in the 1930s. A very similar example was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 5th October 2011, where the catalogue records the example of this particular imperial pattern in museums & private collections.

There have been some examples of individual Chinese vases doing well this summer after auctioneers invested in advertising and publicity – notably, the Malletts of Cheltenham sale of a vase formerly owned by a Mr George (a largely unknown collector) at a stunning £750,000. Clearly, Hansons are hoping for a similar result!

Hansons ATG ad104 Antiques Trade Gazette advertisement

Belton House contains little known Chinese treasures

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (101)

Belton House is an outstanding 300 year-old mansion located in Lincolnshire, England   Photo by Paul Harris

It is not known as being one of the foremost English country houses, but, in fact, Belton House, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, has been described as ‘the perfect country house estate’ and also harbours a very fine collection of Chinese treasures, some of them put together by the 1st Earl Brownlow during the early part of the 19th century.

He created a Chinese bedroom with 18th century Chinese wallpaper specially imported for the purpose. Brownlow’s passion for things Chinese was inherited from his 17th and 18th century ancestors, all of whom made significant acquisitions. The bedroom was designed by Jeffry Wyatt (also known as Wyattville). The wallpaper is important in historical terms and has been well catalogued by The National Trust who own and operate the property.

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (141)

‘Combined figural/floral wallpaper with small human figures and birds on an undulating foreground and much larger bamboo and flowering plants towering above against an originally pink background and with birds and butterflies among the branches. National Trust Inventory No. 433859

The birds include ducks, magpies, parrots and pheasants. The mannerist juxtapositioning of small-scale figures with large-scale flora was a relatively late development, seen in Chinese wallpapers dating from the 1790s until about 1840.4 A further note of fancy is evident in the climbing plant growing through the bamboo sprouting a variety of different flowers, a motif that may have been influenced by Indian chintz designs.5 A floral wallpaper with bamboo and climbers on a white ground, with a similar visual rhythm and some almost identical details, but without the human figures, is in the Ballroom at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. Another very similar wallpaper, but with peonies along the bottom, is at Penrhyn Castle (cat. 34). In addition, a wallpaper fragment painted in a different style, but with a similar disposition of bamboo culms, is in a private collection in Bangkok.

‘The design is painted on paper, with Chinese numerals visible along the bottom of the individual sheets, presumably as an aid to the production process.6 Similar numerals occur on wallpapers at Belton (cat. 4), at Ickworth (cat. 19), at Nostell Priory (cat. 27), in the Ballroom at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. In certain places butterflies cut out from other sections of wallpaper have been pasted on, especially along the joins between sheets. The wallpaper was pasted onto decorator’s lining paper, which in turn was pasted directly onto the plaster. The pink background of the wallpaper has largely faded to white due to light damage. Some areas have been affected by detachment from the wall, water staining and retouching. Conservation treatment by Catherine Rickman (1988) and by Sandiford and Mapes Ltd. (2002) has been limited to in situ surface cleaning, re-attachment of small lifting areas, reinforcement of tears and consolidation of some dark-green pigments in the bamboo leaves.

The wallpaper hangs in the Chinese Bedroom. It appears to have been installed in about 1840 for John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (1779–1853) and his third wife, Emma Sophia, née Edgcumbe (1792–1872). It is framed by a European paper border in two separate parts, comprising a latticework pattern printed in silver, now tarnished to black, on green machine-made paper, which is banded by strips of possibly machine-made paper block-printed with a representation of bamboo. The use of machine-made paper dates the production of the border to 1830 at the earliest, and it appears to have been hung at the same time as the wallpaper. The wooden cornice, dado and door surrounds are painted in imitation of bamboo, a Regency-period decorative conceit also seen at, for instance, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. The curtains, bed hangings and seat covers are made of a European chintz with an orientalist design of vases filled with flowers which is probably contemporary with the wallpaper.’

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (130)

A special display area was constructed for the Brownlows’ Chinese porcelain collection Photo by Paul Harris

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (128)

Wrongly described in the National Trust literature as a lion dog, this is, in fact a luduan (Chinese unicorn) censer on display at Belton House. The horn of the luduan projects from the back of the head in Chinese lore.    Photo Paul Harris

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (157)

17th century Chinese dehua porcelain collected by Sir john Brownlow (1659-97) on display at Belton House   Photo Paul Harris

Rare Tingqua tea trade painting for sale at Art Antiques London

248, Tea preparation  Tingqua (1809-1870)

There is a particularly interesting Chinese painting which will be available for sale at Art Antiques London when it opens for business in Hyde Park on June 24.

It is a rare export painting by Tingqua (1809-1870, depicting various stages involved in the production and preparation of tea. Reckoned to be the most famous and prolific of all Chinese watercolour and gouache painters, he was known to foreigners as Tingqua, though his true name was Kwan Luen Chin. Tingqua was the brother of Lamqua, an accomplished Chinese painter in the Western style who had been the protégé of the English painter George Chinnery.

Tingqua chose gouache and watercolours as his medium in part out of familial deference to his older brother, who worked primarily in oils. Tingqua’s studio at 16 China Street, Canton, specialised in gouache and watercolour paintings influenced by Western artistic traditions. These works became known in America primarily through the American China trader Augustine Heard, who brought a substantial collection of Tingqua paintings back to the United States circa 1855. These are now located at the renowned collection in The Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

An example of his tea trade work – not quite so fine as this one – came up for auction in the last few weeks and was knocked down for £10,000. This example will be exhibited for sale on the stand of H A Gibson Antiques.

Newark weather dismal but spirits were high


Newark Antiques Fair June 2 2016. Many a true word in jest!  Photo Paul Harris

June 2/3 saw the great antiques fest that is the Newark International Antiques & Collectors’ Fair, the largest held anywhere in Europe. Thousands of antiques industry professionals shouldered their way through the crowds of buyers in search of ‘finds’ on the densely packed stalls of exhibitors in aircraft-hangar sized halls, cowsheds and marquees.

The weather may have been dismal on the trade day Thursday (entry £20, or £55 before 9 am) with skies overcast and a chill north easterly which made it seem more like an autumn day.Nevertheless, spirits were high amongst exhibitors. Put that down to optimism if you like, but sales appeared to us to be brisk. What’s more, most exhibitors were prepared to deal and those who were found themselves rewarded with sales.


A foxy exhibitors stand at Newark.  Photo Paul Harris


They say sex will sell anything but this ‘lady’ remained unloved at Newark! Photo Paul Harris


I remember watching the Coronation on one of these! A Bush 12inch TV now selling at £90 . . .  Photo Paul Harris

The photographs above may suggest that there was an awful lot of junk on sale, sometimes posing as antiques or collectables. True. However, if you really cast your eyes about and penetrated the ephemera and the paraphernalia, there were gems to be found. Below we post some images of examples of Chinese art we bought at the Fair. There were some very collectable things there if you looked hard . . .

P1120001 Detail of a Chinese stone seal bought from a Dutch dealer Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110985 Chinese Soapstone fun carving of monkey group Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110962 A Yixing teapot signed and with Tongzhi reign mark Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110946 19th century large Chinese bronze guanyin Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110931 Well decorated 19th century Chinese vase Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1120019 An 18th or 19th century bronze Buddha on fitted stand Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

All the above objects, discovered at the Newark Fair can be seen on the Chinese Art in Scotland website