Twelve years, twelve great treasures Woolley & Wallis record their success in a new book

Woolley book cover  Cover of the newly released Wooley and Wallis celebratory volume

There are two times of the year when there is the relentless thud of heavy packages hitting the floor below our capacious letter box. One of those times is April, ahead of the May sales of Chinese art, and the other is now upon us ahead of Asian Art in London (November 2-11) and the plethora of Chinese art auctions in the UK (curently standing at almost three dozen!).

Some of these catalogues are relatively modest affairs, others are massive heavy objects which bring to mind the story told to me by a former well known editor of The Los Angeles Times. In the 1970s, their paper became so large that one reader sent them a legal missive alleging that the destructive force of their paper had killed his dog on its downward trajectory. They didn’t find it necessary to pay up; that is another story.

The story came to mind last week when the Bonhams Chinese Fine Art Sale (November 9) catalogue popped through the letterbox. At just under 400 pages, and printed on 180gsm paper, although potentially a fearsome weapon, it is, in the event, a treasure trove of exquisite objects.

Rather different was a package from Salisbury auctioneers Woolley & Wallis. It was, by far, the most modest and unassuming of the week.s packages. However, it revealed a most beautiful, slim harback book bound in cloth and stamped in gold. Twelve Years, Twelve Treasures is, effectively, the story of the twelve highest achieving Asian lots handled by W&W. It is a chronicle of some remarkable pieces.

Wooley Alexander vasr

The W&W reputation was on the road to establishment in July 2005 when W&W sold a magnificent Yuan dynasty double-gourd vase for £2,600,000 (above), the record price for any object sold in a UK provincial auction house. It became known as The Alexander Vase after its original UK owner (1876). In May 2009 the record was broken again with an Imperial spinach-green jade water buffalo from the Qianlong period (below), which sold for a hammer price of £3,400,000. It, in turn, would become known as The Pelham Water Buffalo, after its former owner Sackville George Pelham (188-1948).

The May 2010 sale outperformed the equivalent Asian sales at the London salerooms, containing the season’s two top lots and becoming the then highest grossing sale ever at any regional auction house in the UK; a record we were to later beat at our November 2010 sale.

Woolley bull

As might be expected, the reproductions are superb and the text represents an important record of the history of twelve distinguished pieces. The book already occupies a permanent place on my crowded Asian art shelves . . .

You can look at the book online at http://www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk

 

‘Fantastic’ vase with seven figure estimate fails to sell in Glasgow

Mulberry Bank vase

High hopes were dashed today at Glasgow’s Mulberry Bank Auctions as their much vaunted sale of an Imperial yellow Jiaqing vase failed to take off. Estimated at £1.5-2m., the bidding started on the telephone at £650,000. Two telephone bidders were pitted against each other but bidding was slow and petered out at £780,000. Internet bidding was not allowed, which may have been a mistake.

The Glasgow auctioneer, who had repeatedly described the vase as ‘a fantastic piece’, was palpably disappointed and advised the room ‘this is just not going to be enough’. He added, ‘Please contact us after the sale.’

The auctioneers had sent out more than a dozen information packs all over the world. They also averred that it was just as good as a similar vase sold in Hong Kong by Christies at £9m. That may or may not be the case but one London dealer, who did not bid, told us that, in his opinion, ‘the decoration is not that good’.

Mulberry Bank will doubtless hope that it can be sold by private treaty in the coming days. It is understood to have a reserve in the region of £1m.

Mulberry Bank vase base Mulberry Bank vase mark

The catalogue entry for the vase reads as follows:

VERY RARE EARLY JAIQING (1796 – 1820) IMPERIAL CHINESE YELLOW GROUND FAMILLE ROSE BOTTLE VASE BEARING QIANLONG BLUE FOUR CHARACTER SEALMARK Profusely decorated in colourful enamels with four large blossoming lotus around the lower body, the neck with iron red and blue bats suspending intertwined wan emblems, ruyi and further lotus, all on a lemon yellow ground, with out-curved shaped rim decorated with ruyi, raised on a circular foot decorated with petals, the base bearing labels for ‘Dartington Hall Chinese Exhibition 1965’ and ‘J.A.G. Saunders Collection – 631’, 32.5cm high Notes The vase dates from the very early Jiaqing reign but bears the Qianlong mark, which was not uncommon on these early transitional pieces. Turned-down ruyi mouths of this type are rare on porcelain vessels, as they would have been difficult to make and fire successfully. These mouths seen on Ming and Qing dynasty porcelains may ultimately derive from the vases with lobed turned-down mouths made in the 12th and 13th centuries. The distinctive ruyi shape of the mouth on vessels such as the current vase appears to be a Qianlong innovation, an example of which can be seen in the Palace Museum Beijing. A very similar example was sold by Christie’s as part of the Fonthill Collection. It was sold on 1st December 2010 in Hong Kong as lot 2981and achieved HKD90,260,000. The similarity between the two vases could even suggest that they are from the same kiln and potter. The decoration on the vase includes various auspicious emblems: upside-down bats symbolising the arrival of happiness. This happiness is multiplied by the wan characters, meaning ten thousand, which hang from the ribbons. These same ribbons are slotted through ruyi, from which in turn lotus blossoms are suspended. The ruyi symbolises ‘everything as you wish’, while the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of purity and beauty. Provenance J.A.G Saunders Collection label – Sir John Saunders CBE, DSO, MC (1917-2002) was chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation from 1962 – 1972. Sold in 1982 to a private collector by renowned American dealer Charlie Gerhardt.

THIS LOT IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR ONLINE BIDDING PLEASE CONTACT THE AUCTION HOUSE DIRECTLY ON 0141 225 8181 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

 

 

The saddest sale of the year? Mallett takes stock

lot 35 mallett sale

It must be the saddest sale of the year. Simply titled Mallett:Taking Stock the once great retail emporium, located on London’s elite New Bond Street and New York’s plush Madison Avenue, is disposing of the rest of its retail stock at Dreweatt’s Donnington Priory saleroom on November 8.

Unsurprisingly, there are many extraordinary and quite beautiful Asian pieces in the sale. What is surprising, however, are the staggeringly low estimates. Our eye has particularly been taken by Lot 35, a Chinese export carved bone model of a pagoda (illustrated above) which is well catalogued – and estimated at just a ludicrous £100-200! It is difficult to see the logic in this. It would seem to us to be worth a very substantial four figure sum, if not more, or are we missing something? Look at the catalogue description:

Ω A rare Chinese export carved bone model of a pagoda, 19th century, with seven storeys , each level intricately carved with pierced walls and gallery with a fluted roof hung with gilt pendant bells, of each room centred by a small figure, the base within a fenced stylised polychrome garden with an elaborately carved and decorated gateway, with a group of painted figures carrying ceremonial batons, retaining the original pine stand, 61cm high 26cm wide, 20cm deep, with losses and damage
During the 19th century, the principal centre in China for the manufacture of export wares such as the present lot was the city of Guangzou (or Canton as it would be known in the West after the 1839-1842 Opium War). Situated on the Pearl River delta near the South China Sea. Canton was culturally and economically the most important city in south China, and a hub of trade in all manner of artefacts, including ivory.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, it had become fashionable for English landed gentry to create decorative buildings and follies in their gardens and estates, particularly of eastern design. Perhaps the most notable English example is the pagoda at Kew Gardens of 1761-2, built as a surprise for Princess Augusta, the Dowager Princess of Wales and mother of George III. The designer, Sir William Chambers, had worked previously as an employee of the Swedish East India Company, during which time he spent several months in Canton. Whilst there he made architectural drawings of typical buildings which he later published as a book of Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). His pagoda at Kew was very well received, and went on to inspire further examples, such as the three-storey version built at Alton Towers in the 1820s.
Please note, this lot may be subject to CITES regulations if exported from the EU.

Associated with the sale is a private treaty opportunity to acquire a famous Qing dynasty ivory and lacquer six-fold screen owned by Mallett and loaned to the V&A from 1965-81. This important property deicts episodes from the classic work Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Presently the Mallett business remains part of the troubled Stanley Gibbons group. Untril very recently, Dreweatts were also part of the group but have just been bought out by investment business Gurr Johns. Mallett was acquired in 2014 by the Stanley Gibbons Group for around £9m. but has, arguably, failed to adapt successfully to new trends in purchasing which have swung sharply away from the retail environment.

 

Chiswick eagerly anticipate Huang Binhong sale

Paintings by the Chinese Modernist master Huang Binhong are rarely offered at auction in London and fierce bidding is expected for a work to be offered at Chiswick Auctions on November 13 during Asian Art in London..

Included in the top 10 ranking artists sold at auction internationally, alongside Picasso, Warhol and Monet, for the first half of 2017; his painting Yellow Mountain sold for a record 345 million yuan (US$50.5 million) at China Guardian Auctions’ sale in Beijing (Artprice.com, Aug 2017).

Huang-smaller-version

Ink and wash painting by Huang Binhong to be offered at Chiswick Auctions

Of course, if Chiswick were to knock down their offering, entitled simply Landscape, for a price in ths range then the sale would fit very nicely into their current expansion programme, which includes the estabishment of a central London showroom in the wake of the sudden closure of Chrsties South Kensington.

An internationally recognised master of 20th Century Chinese ink painting, prices for works by Huang Binhong have sky-rocketed in recent years and his reputation as a world-class modernist artist has been truly cemented.

His work innovatively combines Eastern traditions with influences from Impressionist and Modernist art, visible in his use of light and free brushwork.

The painting offered at Chiswick Auctions depicts the landscape of Xuancheng (宣城), a city in North East Anhui Province in China. The work was acquired by the present owner from the successful Chinese businessman Mr. David Lau (Lau Chi Man).

Chiswick Auctions is the only London saleroom to offer dedicated sales of Chinese Paintings.

Head of Asian Art, Lazarus Halstead, commented: “Since opening our Fine Chinese Paintings department there has been an overwhelming response from collectors wishing to consign and buy fine and rare works by Chinese artists.”

The November sale also includes works by 20th Century masters Qi Baishi, Pu Ru and the female artist Fang Zhaoling, as well as classical works attributed to Wang Jian and Ba Da Shan Ren.

Hide away your ivory! Beleagurerd British government announces U-turn ban on historic ivory

mallams-550

The beleagured British government in the person of Environment Secretary Michael Gove, hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer of a decidedly dim and declining political regime, has today announced it will imminently ban all trading in virtually all antique ivory.

This incredible U-turn in policy has been made by a government quite possibly on its last legs before it is forced to face the electorate. Apparently, government advisers have told it that if it wishes to pander to the younger members of the electrorate it must proceed with a number of palliative meeasures, including a vifrtually total ban on the sale of historic worked ivory previously regarded as part of the national heiitage of Britain.

Worse still, it is tonight rumoured that private collections of beautiful historic ivory pieces may be seized for salutary public destruction. Tbis appalling prospect means that private owners may be best advised to hide away some of their most treasured possessions before the political police arrive at their door at the dead of night.

Apparently Gove himself possesses a piano with ivory keys and the Minister may have to allow in the piano smashers! Shame on the UK government!

Bonhams appoints Jessica Zhang as China representative

JZ II

Jessica Zhang, just appointed Bonhams China representative.                                 Photo courtesy Bonhams

Bonhams, the international auction house, has announced the appointment of Jessica Zhang as its representative in mainland China, with immediate effect. She will be based in Beijing with a brief to build the Bonhams brand throughout the country.

Bonhams is, of course, on of the ‘Big Three’ auction houses in the UK and, alongside rivals Sotheby’s and Christie’s, is seeking to make inroads into the China market which enjoys tremendous untapped potential. All the auction houses are adopting different strategies and Bonhams has clearly decided to identify itself as using Chinese talent as opposed to entering into occasional sales and ‘tax free’ deals.

Bonhams Executive Director in Asia, Edward Wilkinson, said, “I am delighted to welcome Jessica to the Bonhams team. Her impressive experience in luxury brand building signals our commitment to expand the Bonhams brand throughout China. This important role requires a mould-breaker and I believe we have found that in Jessica.”

Jessica Zhang commented, “I am very excited by this new challenge. The Bonhams name is respected throughout the world and I am looking forward to using my knowledge and experience to build its profile in China and enable new and existing Chinese collectors to become better acquainted with the wide range of services offered by Bonhams around the world.”

Jessica has a strong background in brand management and the marketing of luxury lifestyle. As managing director of Quintessentially China – a provider of tailored luxury services for high net-worth individuals – she established the business in China and was responsible for its branding, marketing and strategic planning. Jessica graduated in International Trade, is a native Mandarin speaker and fluent in English.