Probably the Thangka Sale of the Century coming up at Bonhams!

complete set of thangks of Kalachakra

Complete set of thangkas of Kalachakra. Picture courtesy Bonhams.

Bonhams are highly delighted to offer on Thursday 11 May in New Bond St, London, The Jongen-Schleiper Collection of Fine Thangkas. The collection comprises nearly 60 thangkas, which have been collected during the 1970s. Many of the thangkas were published in the important reference work by Armand Neven, Etudes D’Art Lamaique et de L’Himalaya, Brussels, 1978; and a number were also published in M.Brauen, ed., The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History, Zürich, 2005. This unique collection offers a rare opening onto the highly diverse, complex and colourful world of Tibetan devotional paintings, with thangkas estimated from as low as £800 and up to £300,000. Most probably this high estimate will be exceeded, in our opinion.

One the highlights of the collection is an exceptionally rare complete set of thangkas of the Panchen Lamas of Tashilhunpo, circa 1835, estimated at £200,000 – 300,000, Lot 26, (measuring each with mounts 266.5cm long x 165.5cm wide). The set which includes three paintings depicting the First, Fourth and Third Panchen Lamas, would have been presented with the Fourth Panchen Lama in the honoured central position as they were commissioned during his time.

A further highlight of the collection is an exceptionally rare complete set of thangkas of Kalachakra, circa 1780, estimated at £60,000 – 80,000, Lot 42, (with the largest measuring with mounts 225.5cm long x 116cm wide). The superb triptych of paintings is a rare visual document of the complex philosophies contained in the Kalachakra Tantra, a Sanskrit text emphasising the importance of time, cycles and the use of man’s most subtle energies as a means to transform from mundane existence to enlightened consciousness.

Two superb rare thangkas of Lamas and the Life of Buddha, 18th century, estimated £40,000 – 60,000, Lot 7, (the largest measuring with mount 118cm long x 74cm wide), are very rare in their compositions as the central figures depict a Tibetan teacher or Lama rather than Buddha. An inscription on one of the thangkas identifies the central figure as Drokun Gewa’i Shenyen, a 17th/18th century Drugpa Kagyu Lama from Eastern Tibet.

A lecture by Jeff Watt, a leading scholar and curator of Tibetan and Himalayan art, who also wrote the introduction to the collection catalogue, will be held in New Bond St., London on Monday 8 May at 6pm; please RSVP at

Asaph Hyman, International Head, Chinese Art commented yesterday: “We are delighted for the opportunity to bring this uniquely diverse collection of Tibetan thangkas, which has been prized by its owners for the last four decades, to the forefront of today’s Tibetan art collecting, to be admired by future generations.”

Something of a scoop for Bonhams!

Complete set of Panchen Lamas of Tashilhuno

A complete set of the Panchen Lamas of Tashihuno  Picture courtesy Bonhams.


Chinese art collection comes to market at John Nicholson’s

Qianlong blue & white flask 20-30k A Qianlong blue & white moon flask from the Collis Collection                           estimated at £20,000-30,000

These days it is very rare for a great Chinese art collection to come to the market. So many of the great collectors are, alas, deceased and collectors today, unless they have very deep pockets, are somewhat restricted in their ability to build great collections.

But a very good Asian art collection, including numerous Chinese ceramics, from the estate of an administrator in the Indian Civil Service is to be sold at in Surrey in ten days time at the Fernhurst rooms of John Nicholson’s.

Maurice Collis started collecting Chinese ceramics when he was in Burma during the 1920s and ’30s, working within what was, in those days, the very great British Empire. His collection started when a gold miner brought him objects discovered near the old city of Tenasserim, not far from where Collis was based in Mergui, in a part of Burma bounded on two sides by Siam. he would go on to write many books about the region.

This began his fascination with and research into collecting Chinese ceramics, an interest that he maintained after returning to Britain where he became an active member of the Oriental Ceramic Society, eagerly contributing articles and documenting his research and discoveries.

Following his retirement in 1936 Collis began his career as a writer. He wrote on south east Asia, China and various historical subjects. He had become very involved with historical research while still in Burma, and in 1941 he published ‘The Great Within’, about Chinese life in the era of the Ming dynasty through to the

Maurice Collis

Maurice Collis in his study

overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. Another book, ‘Foreign Mud’, was about the opium trade and the Anglo-Chinese war. In ‘The First Holy One’, Collis wrote about Confucius and the significance of his doctrines to the Chinese people.

Collis also wrote several significant  biographies, including one on Stamford Raffles, a biography of Lady Astor, and a major biography of the painter, Stanley Spencer. He was also an author of plays, poems, and an extensive writer on art and artists for publications and catalogues. ‘The Journey Up’, a volume of his memoirs, was published in 1970.

The Maurice Collis collection sale takes place on April 26th at John Nicholson’s. Unconnected Oriental ceramics will be sold after the main event.

Scottish expertise to be central in artistic renovation of The Forbidden City

forbidden city aerial             An aerial view of the vast complex that is The Forbidden City in Beijing

News of a remarkable and highly unlikely cooperation between Scottish experts, with a proven track record in the conservation of ancient buildings and artistic works, and the guardians of China’s most revered historic site, The Forbidden City in Beijing, has just emerged into the public print. The Sunday Times broke the news in its issue of April 2 2017 with a large article in its Scottish edition.

The key figure in the unlikely arrangement is Professor Richard Oram, dean of arts and humanities at Stirling University. Very much in the Chinese way of doing things, when he arrived at Beijing Airport on business, a government official met him and whisked him away to The Forbidden City, must to his surprise. Ever alert to expertise and the requirement to learn and absorb special skills, the Chinese authorities had noted with interest work by Scottish experts on a number of buildings and, particularly, Stirling Castle.

Built over a period of 500 years, the constructions of The Forbidden City are suffering from the twin assaults of vast numbers of visitors and environmental damage occasioned by pollution and changing weather patterns.

In addition to the resources of Stirling University, heritage body Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is involved with the agreement forged with the Chinese authorities. It encompasses Scottish expertise in following changing weather patterns; stonework repair; tracking damp within buildings using thermal imaging and microwave moisture imaging; and in the use of reparative materials.

It is understood the Scots experts will not be undertaking repairs themselves but, instead, imparting their knowledge and experience to the Chinese, probably under what is known as The Foreign Experts Scheme.

forbidden-city-steps Within the Forbidden City there are many hundreds of buildings and a great deal of exposed, ornamental stonework which is shoing signs of decay and age.