Ullens collection of Chinese art goes online with reproductions available worldwide

Fang Lijun, Plate for Superganbei, Porcelain Plate         Fang Lijun Plate for Superganbei, porcelain

 

The Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation has given exclusive access to the complete collection of its important limited editions to online platform ArtAndOnly.

Influential collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens changed the landscape of contemporary Chinese art with their acclaimed collection, a seminal gathering of works from the 1980s to the present. Their strategic and passionate accumulation of the best contemporary works from China is unmatched, and the Ullens Collection is internationally renowned. The Ullens have been patrons of the arts in China for over thirty years, and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has been at the hub of the contemporary art world in China since its inception.

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal estimated that the Ullens Collection numbered over one thousand works and individual pieces in the collection have broken sales records. The extensive reach of the collection encompasses works of extraordinary provenance, rarity, interest and skill. Guy Ullen’s passion to make these artworks appreciated, in their original forms, and through curated replication of key works to extend the reach of key artists and the genre, has been unrivalled. The most prominent artists of the Chinese contemporary art scene are represented in the new limited editions collection. The quality of reproduction has been tightly controlled for excellence with rxisting media faithfully replicated. 

and Sister, Photography Huang Yan Brother and Sister, Photography

The decision by the Ullens Foundation to offer the rights of the limited editions collection to ArtAndOnly is in line with Guy Ullen’s recognised desire to make the original work in the Ullens Collection known to, and accessible for, a global audience. The Ullens have been quoted as saying “Collecting is our passion; showing and sharing is our duty”. ArtAndOnly’s online viewing platform will further enhance the accessibility and awareness of these works – a key factor in the decision to partner on these sales.  

 Guy Ullens commented “Today’s technology is amazing and with the online buying phenomena through the internet, it means that everyone worldwide can have access to these pieces and not just those lucky ones travelling to China.  We are proud of our collaboration with Art and Only and look forward to reaching, through this state-of-the-art technology, the many collectors who like us have a passion, existing or yet to be discovered, for this work.” Prices range from the hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. 

Frédéric de Senarclens of ArtAndOnly says “This is an opportunity for the art collector to obtain a piece of Chinese and artistic history. The Ullens Collection is the leading name in contemporary Chinese collecting. Securing the rights to sell the prints in this extraordinary collection to a global marketplace is an honour for ArtAndOnly and a terrific opportunity for our own collectors. Bringing the editions to ArtAndOnly means the works can be easily viewed and acquired by both existing and new contemporary Chinese arts enthusiasts.”

He An, Miss you, Sculpture

He An Miss You, Sculpture

Guy Ullens adds “It is our ambition to allow every art lover to have the opportunity to acquire a work of art which we bought first and foremost for the benefit of the artist; to inscribe their notoriety in modern Chinese cultural history and to quench our passionate desire as collectors and believers.”

The print and lithograph collection includes works by Chen Wenbo, Cui Xiuwen, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Feng Zhengjie, Han Lei, He An, Hong Hao, Huang Yan, Huang Yongping, Ling Jian, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, Paul McCarthy, Peng Wei, Qiu Zhijie, Rawanchaikul Navin, Rong Rong, Shen Yuan, Sui Jianguo, Wang Guangyi, Wang Ningde, Wang Quingsong, Weng Fen, Yang Fudong, Yang Jiechang, Yang Shaobin, Yang Yong, Yu Youhan, Yue Minjin, Zheng Hao and Zhang Xiaogang. Feng Feng.

Han Lie, Shan Shui Series-5, photography                      Han Lie Shan Shui Series-5, Photography

 

ArtAndOnly (http://www,ArtAndOnly.com) is a new sales platform specializing in contemporary art across many disciplines including; painting, sculpture, drawing, video, printmaking, photography and mixed media. By connecting collectors, artists and a network of professional dealers, ArtAndOnly expands the passion and expertise of an exclusive art gallery into the global online art market. With a focus on quality and a carefully curated selection of unique work by both established and emerging talent, ArtAndOnly aims to be a collector’s comprehensive and trusted partner.

 

Unusual Chinese art image no. 88

Nanjing Rd 1932 Asian Art Museum blog

A watercolour of Nanjing Road, Shanghai in the early 1930s. Of course, it is the aeroplanes which make the picture setting it perfectly in a time warp, monoplane and biplane together above the city at the hight of its success and influence before the Second World War and the Japanese invasion would destroy its louche charm for ever.

Picture from Orientally Yours blog on Tumblr.

On surprises and uncertainty in the Chinese art market

opinion

In our first editorial of the year we predicted turbulence in the Chinese art market with unexpected prices and lots of surprises (http://chineseart.co.uk/news/unpredictability-will-set-the-tone-for-2016-as-mis-catalogued-vase-exceeds-the-quarter-million-pound-mark/ ). Following a series of ‘mysterious’ and inexplicably high prices at the beginning of the year, the results of last month’s Asian sales again graphically illustrated that point of view.

christies Qianlong vases Qianlong vases: £13m.

The headline price was, of course, a staggering £13m. (yes, thirteen million pounds!) for a pair of 23cm high Qianlong vases decorated with butterflies in falangcai enamels and exposed for sale by Christie’s in London St James’s. They were estimated at £2-3m. To us, bearing in mind the prices achieved by two broadly similar pairs in 2003 and 2008, a price of £5-6m. would not have seemed altogether unreasonable. We think £13m. is, frankly, ludicrously speculative for a couple of pretty 18th century vases, notwithstanding their noble provenance.

Down at Christie’s South Kensington, sadly due to be closed in a matter of weeks, there was a final unexpected price for a pair of 9cm high landscape-painted seals, decorated and signed by He Xuren (1882-1940), which were estimated at £30,000-50,000, and which soared to £180,000. There was no particular provenance and they had been acquired relatively recently, according to the auctioneers.

a-fine-and-rare-pair-of-famille-rose-landscape-sealsrepublic-period-1912-1949-dated Pair of seals £180,000

Up the road at Sotheby’s a large (45cm.) cinnabar lacquer charger achieved £1.3m. against its pre-sale estimate of £400,000-600,000. Probably Yuan, or at least early Ming, it did at least come with good provenance having been in at least three significant collections, including that of Sir Percival David (1892-1964) one of the greatest collectors of the 20th century.

For Bonhams, their highlight was the sale of 49 thangkas from The Jongen-Schleiper Collection and of which we previously wrote (http://chineseart.co.uk/news/probably-the-thangka-sale-of-the-century-coming-up-at-bonhams/) . The triptych depicting the lineage of the Panchen Lamas of Tasilhunpo climbed to £455,000 which was truly spectacular for a 19th century thangka.

In the view of the trade magazine Antiques Trade Gazette, some of these spectacular prices reflect ‘supply issues after decade boom’.  Wrote Roland Arkell, ‘Certainly, many [sale] catalogues were self-consciously trimmed to reflect growing selectivity and the increasing need to err on the side of caution wherever debatable items are brought for valuation.’ ATG highlights a ‘circular’ movement of goods, emanating from China, sold in the UK and quite probably returning, on the back of the provenance afforded by a London sale, to China! It warns of an undermining in the market which could ultimately result from this if it becomes an established trend.

We are not altogether convinced by this. At our sister business Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk), we have increasingly turned to objects which can be valued entirely on their intrinsic beauty rather than marks or reputed provenance. That means, of course, that we have increasingly turned our backs on porcelain, unless it is of such indisputable beauty and craftsmanship that it does not matter if it is mid, or even late, 20th century.

Instead, there are exquisite objects around which are rather more difficult to fake and which have yet to be ‘discovered’ by the market: small furniture, wood carvings, 18th century bronzes, soapstone figures, and curiosities which fit no particular category. Lyon & Turnbull last month sold a collection of Chinese inksticks, estimated at £2-3,000 for £191,000 which goes to substantiate this point.

We recently bought for a modest hammer price, from a well known auctioneer, a massive solid bronze figure (100kgs or thereabout and which requires three people to lift!) catalogued as a Japanese warrior. In fact, it is a bronze of the legendary and hugely popular Chinese unfrocked Buddhist monk, Ji Gong. You can’t doubt that something of that weight and substance, superbly crafted, is a superb investment.

It is our considered view that there are still many beautiful objects out there. And there are bargains. Let the players in the £13m.market get on with it. In our view, they are bidding at the top of the market for names (in this case, Qianlong) and provenance, unable to countenance the beauty and investment value of objects at what they might think of as ‘downmarket’. Rather better, and much more fun, to buy things in the low thousands with virtually unlimited potential.

You can well be sitting on the next ‘inexplicably high’ price!

Leading Chinese porcelain producer to locate its European base and museum in Scottish Borders

 Greenlaw imposing facadeThe facade of A Listed Greenlaw Town Hall     Picture courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust 

One of the most important porcelain manufacturers in China, the Shanghai-based Hanguan Company, is to locate the base for its European operations in the Scottish Border region in the town of Greenlaw, in an iconic Grade A Listed Building.

Amongst its many activities the company, which is run my Master Ceramicist and Professor of Ceramics at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Li Youyu, produces some of the finest ceramics in the whole of China, which is borne out by the fact that it is used by the government of China to create the official gifts given out to foreign dignitaries. Many world leaders, including those of the UK and USA, have received wares crafted by Hanguan.

Greenlaw pub1 lr In the entrance hall of the building the bust of Sir Archibald Campbell, the original patron, looks down this week on the new investors. Left to right: Ms Huang Ping, Professor Master Li Youyu and Sulee Harris, Photo Paul Harris

At 11 am on Wednesday May 31, Scottish Borders company Coldingham Investments Ltd (controlled by Coldingham man Paul Harris and his Chinese wife, Sulee) bought the massive Grade A listed building Greenlaw Town Hall from The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust. SHBT finished a £1.95m. restoration of the building in 2011, at which time it was re-opened by HRH Prince Charles.

The Coldingham-based company will continue to own the building and, although equity is being bought by the Chinese, the present ownership will retain a ‘significant’ shareholding in the new operation. The Coldingham duo Paul and Sulee recently launched Coldingham Borders Auctions, operate half a dozen websites selling Far Eastern art internationally, and have The Coldingham Gallery in the High Street and which was founded more than six years ago.

Greenlaw pub 3 lr Professor Master Li Youyu in the the Great Hall of the building this week. Photo Paul Harris

Paul Harris told the news website chineseart.co.uk , part of the Coldingham group of businesses, last night that he and his wife used to live and work in Shanghai. ‘We have a large network of contacts in China and we are delighted to be able to bring an important Chinese company to the Scottish Borders. We shared images of Greenlaw Town Hall when it came available for sale with Mr Li Youyu, principal figure in the Hanguang Company. He is primarily an artist with vision – not just a businessman – and, even from faraway in China, he was immediately struck by the amazing beauty of the building that is Greenlaw Town Hall.

‘The building won’t just be a collection of offices but the vast public hall will house an exhibition and museum area telling the story of Chinese porcelain – a product which was entirely the invention of the Chinese. The building will be open to the public and Mr Youyu aims to promote direct personal relations between Chinese and Scottish ceramicists through practical sessions, conferences and social events. There will be practical displays showing the creation of porcelain.’

Greenlaw Town Hall, built in 1831 as The County Hall of Berwickshire by local architect John Cunningham, is one of Scotland’s outstanding Greek Revival neo-classical buildings and its vast dome and pillared portico dominate the junction of two main roads through the Scottish Borders at Greenlaw. The building consists of a vast hall and two pavilions (wings) containing offices. In recent years The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust has spent just under £2m. renovating what was then the derelict building in a high profile restoration.  Until now, though, a sympathetic new owner has not been found.

Greenlaw main hall The Great Hall in Greenlaw. Photo courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust

‘We are hopeful that the proposed use of Greenlaw Town Hall will help to build the local economy and bring tourists to the area, including many Chinese. The development may also encourage other Chinese businesses we are in touch with to come to the Scottish Borders,’ said Sulee Harris last night. Sulee, using her Chinese name Sun Yumei, is today listed at Companies House as a director of Coldingham Investments Ltd along with Ms Huang Ping who, it is understood, represents the interests of the Hanguang Company.

It is understood that Coldingham Investments Ltd is in active discussions with architectural advisers. A spokesman for the company said there will be an impact on local employment ‘but it is a little early to be specific’.

Greenlaw portico by night The iconic portico of Gfreenlaw Town Hall. Photo courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust

 

Qianlong scores at Woolley & Wallis

017 The Qianlong mixed media diorama whch scored at Woolley & Wallis this week

Items from the Qianlong period continue to lead at the salerooms symbolising the apogee of taste. Two Qianlong lots were amongst the highest achievers this week at Salisbury auctioneers Woolley & Wallis. We particularly liked the Imperial diorama, Lot 17, which was a mixed media lot incorporating paper, glass and stained ivory (no demonstrators outside the saleroom this time!). It beautifully depicted figures in a river landscape with two ladies peeping through the door of a pavilion. The foreground with a small group of figures on two sampans and a trio of musicians by a pavilion under the shade of weeping willows serenading two scholars beside a tall rock. The frame was glazed with a sheet of glass painted on the inside with clouds and a skein of geese, 58cm x 45.8cm. From an English private collection in Surrey, it got £36,000 on the hammer.

The highest scoring lot in the sale was a Chinese pale celadon jade rectangular-section vase standing 15cm. high. Also Qianlong, it was carved in relief with a band of studs bordered by key fret, with a ferocious scaly five-clawed dragon climbing to one side, its sinuous tail extending around the vase, raised on a reticulated scrolling hardwood stand, It was in many ways similar to one illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Jade 10, Qing Dynasty, p.76, no.47.

Sold for £58,000, it was purchased by a Hong Kong Collector.

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Imperial inksticks make their £191,000 mark at L&T

Edinburgh auctionneers Lyon & Turnbull held one of their periodic Asian sales in London this week on May 9.  An impressive range of objects from the scholar’s desk featured in this particular sale which kicked off with a private collection of no less than 58 scholar’s rocks fashioned from a wide variety of materials. Nearly all of them achieved respectable  figures around their estimates in the low thousands.

L&T 401 £191,000  A box of Imperial inkstickes sold by Lyon & Turnbull £191,000

However, the surprise of the day went to a rare set of 48 Imperial inksticks estimated modestly at £2,000-3,000 which were eventually knocked down at £191,000, inclusive of premium and costs.
They were by Wang Weigao, and were described as ‘Qianlong mark and of the period’.
These finely crafted pieces,comprising forty-eight inksticks contained in two fine gilt-lacquered ‘dragon’ boxes, illustrate the process of cotton cultivation and manufacturing in imperial China, each inkstick delicately carved on the one side with a particular stage of the process, accompanied by a gilt caption, and inscribed and gilt with a poem by Emperor Qianlong on the reverse, one of the inksticks inscribed with a ‘table of contents’, another inscribed with an introductory essay and signed ‘carved by Wang Weigao, supervisor of ink-making in the Imperial Library’ (Yu shu chu jiao xi zao mo jian sheng, chen Wang Weigao juan) . Each inkstick was just 6.9×2.5cm.

Paul Harris Asia Arts launches new auction house in Scottish Borders

The Paul Harris Asia Arts group has just launched a new auction house in the Scottish Borders near to Berwick upon Tweed. The new business is called Coldingham Borders Auctions (CBA) and is added to a portfolio of interests which includes the online retail businesses chineseartinscotland.co.uk and vietnamart.co.uk; the consultancy business Coldingham Investments Ltd; this website chineseart.co.uk; and the gallery and warehouse complex The Coldingham Gallery.

CBA Paul, Sulee 3

Paul & Sulee Harris with some of the items from their upcoming auction on May 13

Coldingham Borders Auctions will host its first auction on Saturday May 13 at 11am in Coldingham Hall, a public venue just 50 yards from the auction house 300 sq m store and offices. It is a venue which was outfitted seven years ago at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds and contains state of the art facilities including electrically operated seating. CBA events will be live on the internet courtesy of EasyLiveauction.com and the catalogue for the first sale of 230 lots is already live on the EasyLive platform at https://www.easyliveauction.com/catalogue/142754615ff77000b97cc951635a5761/0af8d24542e81eb9357e7ef448a6646f/sale-of-art-antiques-collectables-including-asian/

Although there are around 50 Chinese and Asian lots in the sale, there is also an intriguing array of collectables: a first UK edition of Vladimir Nabakov’s novel Lolita (1959); the brass shell casing from a German battleship dated 1917 and converted into an ice bucket; an 1840s French ‘Gavre & Champet’ iron cannon; a bronze of two female lovers signed J M Lambeaux; and a selection of 19th century artists’ easels.

The front runner in the Chinese art category has to be an 18th century horseshoe backed huanghuali folding chair estimated at £2,500-5,000. The auctioneers think it will get rather more. . .

jpg.118 Huanghuali horseshoe backed folding chair

Auctions will be held every three months and the next is scheduled for September 30. The auctioneer will be Paul Harris assisted by his Chinese born wife, Sulee. The appearance of Coldingham Borders Auctions follows upon the closure of other auction houses in the Scottish and English Borders regions: The Berwick Auction House has been trned into a night club and long-established Jedburgh auctioneers Swan Turner has closed with the reitrement of Mr Turner after more than thirty years in the business.

jpg.127 jpg.107                A couple of other Chinese items in the sale: a bronze Buddha 18th century; and a very large scroll

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 sophie.plender@bonhams.com.

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.

 

Rumours abound in the trade: what is going on in the Chinese auction business?

opinion The View from Here

We reported a couple of weeks ago on the staggering price of £810,000 achieved for a 20th century vase at auctioneers Fellows in Birmingham. It had enjoyed a rather more conservative low five figure estimate pre-sale (http://chineseart.co.uk/news/tales-of-the-unexpected-roll-on-with-another-staggering-price-for-a-chinese-vase/). This, in turn, had followed another remarkably high price for a 20th century altar vase sold by Lawrence’s of Crewkerne for 150 times estimate, £252,000. The latter lot did come apparently with some provenance but one was surprised to learn the frank admission from Fellows that their lot was submitted by a Chinese vendor or vendors.

The trade in London, and, indeed, in the provinces, is awash with rumours and talk of ‘money laundering’. There is no suggestion whatsoever that any auction house is involved in any conspiracy. After all, an auction house cannot put a cap on spirited bidding! Nor would they want to.

Set against this scenario is the move to the top of the market of the London auctioneers, exemplified in the closure of Christies South Kensington. The last time we took in an object for sale at South Ken we were rebuffed on the grounds that it would not reach a minimum lot price of £5,000, and was probably worth £2,000-3,000. That is clearly regarded as too low by the bean counters who have ordered the closure of South Ken! Probably realisable values of at least £10,000-20,000 will be sought by the ‘Big Three’ auction houses in London. And, of course, as ever, they will require firm evidence of impeccable provenance.

The inevitable result is that competent provincial auctioneers like Woolley & Wallis, Dukes of Dorchester, Sworders, Bonhams in Edinburgh, Mallams and Lyon & Turnbull will be offered a greater quantity of lots in the £100- 10,000 range for their sales. That could be very good news for auctioneers in the provinces. It will also likely be good news for buyers who will see a level of quality at achievable prices reach the salerooms. However, some smaller auction houses might lack resources in cataloguing and areas of provenance. That is particularly so when schemes originating in the Far East are often exceedingly cunning and sophisticated.

In many such schemes buyer and seller are often in bed together, to utilise a graphic metaphor for a strong relationship. The seller will, effectively, be the same party as the buyer. Let us postulate that you had £1m. of ‘black’ money to remove from a country where the laws have become harsh and uncompromising in terms of corrupt and/or criminal wealth. You might take a vase which looks good enough to actually be an original, and which might have cost up to £10,000 to make in somewhere like Jingdezhen over a period of as much as one to two years. It is offered for sale with a convincing story in a provincial auctioneer’s sale and the seller (who might not, of course, be the seller at all but his agent) agrees to a very modest estimate.

Railtons Feb 17 (14) Section  of a vase catalogued in a recent sale as ‘Republic’ period. Pretty but certainly not . . .

Such a piece will probably generate a considerable degree of interest and the ‘safe’ prevailing feeling will probably be that it is 20th century, Republic period. This era is becoming something of a catch-all description being safely in the 20th century but also producing some increasingly desirable pieces. There will be a plethora of low bids in the £5,000-10,000 range but, exposed at public auction, it will take off as internet bidders push the price to, let us say, £1m.

The piece will be paid for (unlike some other scams), out of, say, Hong Kong and the auctioneer will net buyer’s premium (£200,000, say) and seller’s commission (say, £150,000). Net funds of around £600,000 will have effectively been removed from the maw of the government of the country in which buyer/seller lives and or works. The loss of £400,000 being a perfectly acceptable price to pay , , , And funds of £600,000 have been laundered and are available for whatever legitimate use might be required. The vase can go to the tip or to the back of a cupboard. It does now, of course, have a stunning sales record and, perhaps, it could be returned to the market at some later date with a successful track record . . .

All this is, of course, entirely hypothetical and we are not suggesting for a moment this might apply to any or all of some recent sales. There are endless variations on this theme. Maybe a fruitful area of research for novelist Lord Archer!

‘It’s Edinburgh’s own Asia Week’ as two Asian sales compete

Bonhams Edinburgh  Edinburgh Bonhams saleroom nicely dressed with rather a lot of huanghuali for Wednesday’s sale   Photo Paul Harris

There aren’t usually many Asian sales in Edinburgh. This week there are two – both on the same day. Ribbed about this, Bonhams’ Ian Glennie joked, ‘It’s Edinburgh’s own Asia week’. Of course, two swallows don’t make a summer and there isn’t much else Asian going on in Edinburgh this week . . .

Glennie avers, ‘We set the date for our spring Asian sale last October, then Lyon & Turnbull announce they are having an Asian sale the same day.’ It does seem that some sort of competitive accommodation has been reached between the two rooms: Bonhams sale is at 11 am and the Lyon & Turnbull event has been put back to 2 pm.

We viewed both sales on Sunday. The Bonhams sale is notweworthy for some rather fine pieces of furniture with rather a lot of huanghuali. The Lyon & Turnbull sale is a mixter maxter: you get the impression it is a ‘filler’ in between its more high profile Asian sales held at locations in London and St Neots. They haven’t printed a catalogue for the sale. That is a bit unusual. Even a roneoed list (you remember the roneo machine?) would have been useful, and very cheap. It is, of course, up online, as usual, but you will need to do your homework in advance and do the computer printouts if you are going to bid in person on site. In the event, we’ve left bids (in both sales) and will be off to London for the day . . .