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.
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.
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