Pair of massive vases from English country house back on the market


A particularly striking, massive pair of hexagonal vases, originally from Hooton Pagnell House, near Doncaster, are to be sold by Rob Michiels Auctions, Bruges, Belgium on April 23. They were previously sold last year, December 1, by Bonhams in Knightsbridge.

At 99cm tall, they are truly massive and are mounted on their orginal wooden stands. They are described by the auctioneers as being Cantonese 19th century in Dayazhai style. They are supposed to have been acquired by the Warde Aldam family mid to late 19th century and have been incorporated into the furnishings of the house at that time. Bonhams described the vases in their catalogue in the following terms:

‘Each boldly enamelled to the neck and body with a sinuous dragon writhing amidst flowering chrysanthemum on a rich turquoise ground, the rim, shoulder and foot with decorative borders of scrolling prunus and floral medallions, key-fret and stiff archaistic lappets, the cover enamelled ensuite, the finial potted as a seated lady, wood stands. 99cm (39cm) high (without stands) (4). ‘


Condition is described as being ‘very good’ with slight wear to the glaze surface. One cover has historically been broke into several pieces and has been restored. Decoration is strong and it will be interesting to see the degree of interest second time around. The estimate is euros 25,000-35,000. Bonhams achieved a price, including premium, of £19,750.


The vases in situ at Hooton Pagnell Hall, Doncaster, England

Some interesting lots feature in Dreweatts 2-day sale

Over the next ten days, with the Asian sale season not yet upon us, four English auction houses have some very mixed sales with Chinese lots cropping up randomly. As we have a penchant here for the curious and the unusual, these general sales (often termed ‘Interiors’) seem to turn up intriguing items which have somehow not made it into the specialist Asian sales. For the buyer, that can be good news as occasionally it cuts down on the competition! H0442-L88863219 Lot 238 at Dreweatts Four large Chinese porcelain figures of Lenin, Stalin and Mao (43-67cm. high) probably dating from the late 1950s or the 1960s. Estimate £4-600. We wrote a couple of days ago about Duke’s upcoming sale on February 18 and 19 ( Also Gorringes in Sussex ( have an Interiors Sale on February 23 with many Chinese lots, and Dreweatts at Donnington Priory have an Interiors Sale on February 23 and 24 which boasts over 100 Chinese lots on the 23rd. On the 24th, they are selling the contents of Cherkley Court, the former home of newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. Cherkley is a late Victorian mansion near Leatherhead in Surrey, bult in 1893 in the French chateau-style. It was bought by Lord Beaverbrook in 1911 and was filled with antiques and miscellanea. There are a few Chinese items and several lots feature ‘lamped’ vases and stands. One of these seems interesting to us. Lot 319 is a very large Chinese yellow ground baluster vase, probably early 20th century. Standing at nearly 54cm. high, the honeycomb ground encloses flower heads reserved with panels of Taotie masks and Buddhistic lion masks, the shoulders decorated with wufu and shou medallions. It is an imposing piece and is estimated at £600-900. Cheap, if it falls within that price range. 319 Lot 319 at Dreweatts  Large and imposing lamped vase.

We have just been made aware that Hannam’s (Selborne, Hampshire) also have a Fine Antiques & Collectables sale on February 18/19 which features a large number of Chinese items (

Duke’s sale hosts some interesting curiosities

Dukes of Dorchester have a two day sale coming up next week (February 18-19) which is marked by a high standard of entries: An Important European Private Collection, Ceramics, Asian Art & Furniture. The private European Collection is the source of the first day’s entries. It is the second day of the sale which will be of most interest to the Asian art enthusiast with more than 440 Chinese, Korean and Japanese lotss although Lot 52 on the first day stands out as an item of some interest to collectors in the field of Chinese export art.

dukes 52

Lot 52 at Dukes  Estimated at £2,000 – £4,000

Lot 52 is a Chinese export lacquer model of a paddle steamer. It is beautifully and intricately crafted with a central red funnel flanked by twin-lidded compartments with gilt decoration of figues and buildings in landscapes, the lifting to reveal further compartments. The ship is on rotating paddles and decorated with stylised waves, 25 inches in length. It has some provenance – having been acquired from Mallett Antiques in London. It was probably made in the early 19th century and there is a similar model in The Peabody Essex Collection in the US, and there is some record of one formerly in the collection of the Earl of Perth. The present one for sale is estimated modestly at £2,000-4,000.

Dukes 699

Lot 699 at Dukes also estimated at £2,000-4,000

Our eye was also taken by Lot 699 which is said to emanate from ‘a West Dorset manor house’. It is a massive blue and white covered vase painted with creatures and trees and the lid sporting a biscuit lion finial. Quianlong and a massive 52.5 in in height, it  again appeared to be far too modestly estimated at £2,000-4,000. However magnificent it appears from the front when you first look at it, alas, there absolutely no back to the piece – half of it has simply disappeared in some terrible accident and, apparently, nobody thought to collect the pieces! Quelle domage!

Indeed, the Dukes estimates in the catalogue tend to be modest. There are some very beautiful small objects in the sale – in jade, hardstone and wood – which we predict will do very well indeed.

An Important European Private Collection, Ceramics, Asian Art & Furniture Dukes Auctioneers, Brewery Square, Dorchester DT1 1GA  Lots 1-511 on Thursday February 18; Lots 600-1247 on Friday February 19.

Unusual Chinese furniture coming up on Auctionata

Berlin-based internet auction sales platform Auctionata ( have some interesting items of Chinese furniture on their Treasures of Asian Art sale this coming Monday, January 25..

Two pieces seem to us to be particularly interesting: Lot 61, an 18th or 19th century daybed, and Lot 84 an 18th or 19th century ornamental towel rack and basin.


Day bed to be sold by Auctionata  Photo Auctionata

The daybed is the type of furniture known in China as ‘luohanchuang’, or Luohan bed. As is typical for such a piece, it has a revolving, moveable armrest and boasts a large rectangular reclining area. Dimensions are 88.5 (height) x171 x71.5 (depth) cm. The stepped backrest is a feature which lends it great style and the wood is most attractively grained. Apparently, The metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a similar example and the late connoisseur Robert Hatfield Ellsworth illustrated one in Chinese Furniture (New York 1971). Othe sources accompany the catalogue entry.

daybed dtlDetail of the daybed to be sold by Auctionata.       Photo Auctionata

Lot 84 is a rare towel rack and washbasin stand, probably either 18th or 19th century. It is well carved with floral ornamentation and carving of noble ladies. An adjustable stand is crafted with six wheel-shaped spokes. Dimensions are 153.5 x 63 x 39cm. Again, the online catalogue supplies references for further reading.

towel rack and stand

A rare Chinese towel rack and washbasin stand     Photo Auctionata

Mao Tse-Tung letter sold at Sotheby’s for £605,000

Strictly speaking, it may not be art but a letter from Mao Tse Tung to British Labour Party leader Clement Attlee has challenged some of the higher prices in the market for Chinese bygones.

A 1937 letter from Chinese Communist Party leader Mao to Attlee, has sold at Sotheby’s London rooms for £605 000.

mao letter2

Excerpt from Chairman Mao’s letter to Clemet Attlee Image courtesy Sotheby’s

In the letter, Mao asks Attlee to help him battle against Japanese troops invading China. The typed letter reads: “We believe that the British people, when they know the truth about Japanese aggression in China, will rise in support of the Chinese people, will organise practical assistance on their behalf, and will compel their own government to adopt a policy of active resistance to a danger that ultimately threatens them no less than ourselves.”

mao letter

Mao’s letter, which has an extremely rare example of Mao’s signature (above), was sent to Atlee through the journalist James Bertram, along with a note to Attlee asking him to to “keep the enclosed letter, if only as a curiosity.”

The lot, which went under the hammer at Sotheby’s London premises, had an estimate of £100,000-150,000, was bought by a Chinese private collector who obvioulsy thought, at over £600,000, it was certainly a curiosity worth acquiring.

The sale was timed following the widely publicised four-day visit to the UK by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October, when interest in Chinese history is at a high in the UK. Not high enough, however, to keep it here!

Last month, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell famously threw a copy of the Chinese Communist Party leader’s Little Red Book at Chancellor George Osborne in Parliament, as he claimed UK assets were being sold to China.


Mao Tse Tung   Photo courtesy Bettman/Corbis


Kangxi dragon vases continue to challenge the collector

lot lot34 dragon vase cu

Lot 34 in Auctionata sale of December 18 Meiping dragon vase detail

Just over a year ago, on December 3 2014 auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull at Crosshall Manor, Cambridgeshire, sold a Kangxi meiping vase 23cm. in height and with dragon decoration for £240,000 hammer. It was something of a surprise because it was estimated at £2,000-3,000, which was probably just about right as a selling price for a pretty but modest vase which had, historically, suffered damage. However, it came with a missive which revealed that it was a gift to its erstwhile owner, the late Lady Stewart, from her respected Hong Kong dealer (who sold her much of her very fine snuff box collection), Hugh Moss. This excellent provenance duly propelled the price into the stratosphere. There was much merriment in the room as it was knocked down to telephone bidder . . .

In case you were outbid on that vase, there is what might be good news. A very, very similar one comes up for sale on Friday on Auctionata (Berlin), lot no. 34. It is estimated at around euros 10,000. It is of the same form (meiping), same height (23cm.) and is also decorated with a very similar dragon design, but which is not exactly the same. To the base, however, there is a very different mark: a horizontal in-line mark as opposed to the two column vertical mark on Lady Stewart’s vase.

lot 162 L&T dragon vase

The Lyon & Turnbull vase

lot 34 dragon vase

 Auctionata vase

During the Kangxi period vases were made in this style in blue and white, as well as in copper-red. They are not that common, however, these days. Auctionata, in their catalogue notes aver, ‘Meiping Vases with such [a] brilliant painting and bearing the mark of the Kangxi Emperor are very rare. A very similar vase is illustrated in: Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013, p. 345, fig. 423. Another closely related example is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and was exhibited in the exhibition Sovereign Splendor in 2011. Cf. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Furthermore, other related versions can be found in some of the best collections of Chinese porcelain worldwide. Cf. a vase from the Palace Museum in Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Hong Kong 1989, p. 23, pl. 6 and one from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, illustrated in Imperial Perfection, The Palace Porcelain of Three Chinese Emperors, Hong Kong 2004, no. 1.

‘The five-clawed dragon continued to be an Imperial symbol throughout the Qing Dynasty. The depiction of the dragon as on the present vase is characteristic for the Kangxi period, which is exemplified by a fierce and dominant demeanour adding a stronger impression of authority and majesty. This representation is shown by the detailed painting of the head and the scales, which demonstrates a development of the later Ming Dynasty versions. The full-faced view of the dragon already existed in Ming times but was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty, distinguished by a greater feeling of vitality and a warlike spirit. ‘

We have compared both vases from photographs (we have only handled one and that was the Lady Stewart version). They are both equally well painted using the skills developed over the centuries by Chinese craftsmen. Such skills are, of course, extant to this day, particularly around Jingdezhen where exquisite work is achieved. Of the two marks, however, we much prefer the mark on the one sold by L&T last year. In our view, there is considerably less assurance in the creation of the in-line mark. As one expert put it, “The writing of the mark suggests someone trying to write in somebody else’s style, whereas the Stewart mark looks like someone just writing who has done it a thousand times.”

Marks, of course, are a tricky area and experts will often disagree on the very same mark. It is only our opinion and is not to demean what looks like a very pretty vase! As ever, it is a matter of caveat emptor . . .

lot162 mark cu   lot 34 draogn vase base

The marks to base: above, top The late Lady Stewart’s vase  Above Auctionata vase

Literature: Vgl. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Vgl. Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013

Condition: The vase to be sold this week is in good condition with a minimal chip on the underside of ring stand, barely visible to the naked eye. The height measures 23 cm.


Art Europe launches with Chinese items on the menu

 New auction house Art Europe has issued the catalogue for ONE Art Europe’s Preview Sale on December 13. Auction and viewing is in Amsterdam (Loods 6, KNSM-Laan 143) and catalogue online at www.arteurope The first offerings are something of a pot pourri but we have noted some interesting Asian lots. Specifically, a relatively early ancestor portrait of a high official and an unusual and attractive late 20th century oil painting.


Lot 184 China, Ming dynasty late 16th Century

Ink and colour on silk 159.5 by 90.7 cm.

Provenance Private Collection, United Kingdom.

Depicting an official adorned with a winged black hat and long flowing red robes, decorated with the gold rank badge, and a green inlaid belt, seated on a chair decorated with a geometric pattern, framed.

There is an interesting background text to the catalogue entry, ‘Chinese ancestor portraits came into vogue during the late-Ming (1368-1644) dynasty. In Imperial China, it was a sacred family duty to care for the spirits of deceased ancestors. Food offerings were commonly placed before commemorative portraits commonly referred to as “ancestor paintings.” These were painted specifically for use in ancestor worship and it was believed the power of the living person resided in their portrait after death. Ancestor portraits almost always depicted their subjects in a nearly live-size frontal pose, most often seated in some sort of throne with a lavish carpet at their feet. Typically, they would be wearing semiformal gowns with insignia that proclaimed their rank or status.

‘All ancestors were painted with virtually the same expression- a symbolically somber and detached look- to suggest some sort of objective, otherworldly status. It has been argued that great care needed to be taken when depicting the face since the Chinese believed that capturing the likeness was crucial for the portrait to be able to function as a ritual object. If the portrait did not capture the likeness, it was said that all future prayers would go to someone else’s ancestor, a tragedy at best. Before the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, ancestor paintings were rarely available for purchase or exhibited publicly. Today, they are recognized as a significant and unique Chinese art form, appreciated by audiences far greater than any ancestor might ever have imagined.’

Our eye was also caught by Lot 129, an artwork of an artwork, so to speak. It is an interesting oil painting by Liu Zhaowu (born 1973) of a typical piece of Socialist realism derivative of the Soviet influence on sculpture and other art forms which persisted until the Peking Spring of 1989. Statues like this, with rather more finely worked detail, were common during the Maoist era when artists were  shipped off to hone their craft on revolutionary lines in the Soviet Union. This painting entitled From the series Heroes, No. 4, very effectively captures the political and spiritual energy of the time. It is estimated at Euros 5,000-7,000.



No sign of market collapse in recent auctions

There has been no sign of market collapse in the many recent auctions and, as ever, quality pieces of Chinese art have not only sustained their values but appear to have climbed considerably. We have recently reported on the success of snuff bottles (Bonhams Edinburgh ) and Chinese lots sold in Wales (Peter Francis Carmarthen ), There was also a most West country successful sale at Dukes in Dorchester where a wide range of lots achieved very substantial prices well in excess of their estimates. Lyrically entitled In Pursuit of the Scholar’s Spirit, the sale, held on November 12, was notable for many five figure prices. The sale started with a Chinese sancai cup (Lot 1), which sold for £15,860 against a modest £2,000 estimate. Dukes bamboo brush pot A small 4.5in. high 18th century bamboo brushpot achieved £58,000 (plus 22% premium) on the back of the high quality of its carving and auspicious nature of the subject matter, depicting the goddess Yaochi Jinmu (Queen Mother of the West) holding court within her palace on the mythological Mount Kunlun. It was accompanied by a 1984 receipt from Spink showing that it had been purchased for £700. It was one of 159 lots which came from a substantial private collection said to have been formed by a member of The Oriental Ceramics Society over a period of almost half a century from the 1950s onwards. Other items included dukes parcel-gilt double phoenix bronze scroll weight £51,240 Chinese parcel-gilt bronze ‘double phoenix’ scroll weight sold for £51,240 (incl.) dukes green jade horse A large green jade recumbent horse sold for £63,440 (incl.) dukes cloisonne miniature vase 46,000 A Chinese cloisonné miniature vase sold for £46,000 hammer

Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury held a 2-day sale and although they failed to sell the much vaunted Imperial clock (, there were a number of substantial prices. The highest price of the sale was achieved by a deep Chinese 40.6 cm. blue and white basin which got £74,000 hammer against an estimate of £2-3,000. In many respects it was a fairly ordinary piece of porcelain from the first half of the 19th century but the presence of a dragon in the centre of the piece probably served to get buyers excited, despite the absence of a mark.

222 woolley wallis  £74,000 basin washed its face at Woolley & Wallis

The message from recent sales is unequivocal: the best, or the unusual, will always sell if the reserve is not set too high. Vendors need to have the courage to submit their lots and let the market decide. However, the era of silly prices for practically anything are now well and truly over.

Rare Tingqua export painting coming up at Bonhams

248, Tea preparation  Tingqua (1809-1870)

The Tingqua  tea trade export painting which comes up at Bonhams this week

This week in London is, of course, a bumper week for Asian art sales, set in the context of Asian Art in London. There is a plethora of goodies but this picture which comes up in the Bonhams sale on Tuesday has caught our eye.

It is a rare export painting by Tingqua (1809-1870), estimated at £20,000 – 30,000 (Lot 248), 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.

Wooley & Wallis offer exquisite Qianlong clock

lot 62 woolley wallis clock

Salisbury auctioneers Woolley & Wallis are renowned for their bi-annual two day Asian art sales which take place in May and November. Although there are uncertainties surrounding the market for Asian and, specifically, Chinese art, the auction house is excited about one particular lot that comes up on November 17.

Lot 61 is described as ‘a fine and rare Chinese Imperial ormolu mounted striking gourd-shaped clock with swinging movement’. It is confidently reckoned to be Qianlong (1736-95) and is estimated at £200,000 – 300,000.

The provenance is the usual ‘property of a Gentleman’ and it is said to have formerly been in the possession of the Greek collector Dimitri Mavromattis. There are said to be only three examples of this type of Chinese clock in existence. The same clock, or another of the examples, have recently appeared at auction (Christie’s The Exceptional Sale July 5 2012, Lot 15, unsold, and Christie’s Hong Kong Magnificent Clocks for the Chinese Imperial Court from the Nezu Museum, May 27 2008, Lot 1501. It is an impressive 61cm in height.

lot 62 woolley wallis clock2

Chinese furniture, paintings and Qing ceramics perform well in New York

International auctioneers Christie’s report from New York that their Asian Art Week sales there, which took place from September 15-18, totalled US$54.9m. There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from this strong performance.

Firstly, it suggests that that private collections with good provenance can still outperform the market. It also serves to indicate that demand for quality Chinese furniture and paintings is particularly strong, trailed by demand for Qing ceramics. The top of the market is evidently unaffected by the more general slowdown.

 Christie’s concluded its Fall Asian Art Week with a combined total of $54,891,189 (£35,331,837/ €48,558,639/ HK$425,412,188) achieved over four days of nine sales, September 15-18.


The Sporer Collection of Himalayan Sculpture – 15 September                                         

Total: $6,099,000

TOP LOT: Lot 18


Estimate: $400,000-600,000

Price Realized: $989,000

Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art – 15 September                                        

Total: $2,946,750

TOP LOT: Lot 66


Estimate on request

Price realized: $1,085,000

Fine Chinese Paintings – 16 September                                        

Total: $4,597,000

TOP LOT: Lot 411


Estimate: $300,000-400,000

Price realized: $1,805,000

The Ruth and Carl Barron Collection of Fine Chinese Snuff Bottles: Part I – 16 September                                       

Total: $1,253,438                                                           

TOP LOT: Lot 248


Estimate: $18,000-22,000

Price realized: $68,750

Mandarin & Menagerie: The Sowell Collection, Part II  – 16 September                                            

Total: $927,875

TOP LOT: Lot 631


Estimate: $20,000-30,000

Price realized: $112,500

Elevated Beauty: Fine Chinese Display Stands From An Important Private American Collection – 17 September                                           

Total: $428,875

TOP LOT: Lot 1066


Estimate: $12,000-18,000

Price realized: $32,500

The Lai Family Collection of Fine Chinese Furniture and Works of Art – 17 September                                        

Total: $6,989,313                                                        

TOP LOT: Lot 919


Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000

Price realized: $2,261,000

Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art – 17 and 18 September                        

Total: $22,878,875

TOP LOT: Lot 2030


Estimate: $1,800,000- 2,500,000

Price realized: $4,197,000


L & T fine modern Chinese paintings on offer at Crosshall Manor

Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have a group of interesting Chinese paintings by an accomplished contemporary artist coming up for sale on Tuesday at Crosshall Manor, St. Neots, some 50 miles north of London. They are to offer for sale a collection of three paintings by artist Chen Yanning (born 1945) in the upcoming Fine Asian Works of Art auction on 16 June 2015.  The works are in a strong realist tradition which will appeal to buyers who are not attracted to so-called ‘cutting edge’ modern works but who rather cherish traditional, painterly skills.

The paintings have come from Susan and Michael Gassaway, owners of the Syllavethy Gallery, Aberdeenshire, who have something of a fascinating background with Chen Yanning. They first met Chen Yanning on a trip to China in 1984, when he was Head of the Guangdong Institute of Fine Art. To reciprocate his hospitality, Susan and Michael invited Yanning to visit the UK to view some of the Old Masters of Western Art that he had only seen in books back in China.

Two years later, Yanning arrived in Aberdeen and together with Susan and Michael, he visited the museums in Scotland and London. (Yanning, it is recorded, made the museum attendants nervous as he wanted to get up close to study the thickness of paint on his favourite masterpieces!) He, Susan and Michael communicated by using sign language and drawing sketches and quickly established a great friendship.

CHEN YANNING (B. 1945)  STILT-HOUSE  oil on canvas


Yanning was invited to visit the US in the Eighties. When he decided to remain there, Susan and Michael offered to support him by finding portrait commissions for him in the UK. With hard work they amassed a fine collection of portrait commissions from a very wide variety of people, from those who scraped together the money because they so admired Yanning’s talent, to dignitaries including the Lord Mayor of London, Richard Branson, all the Body Shop family and the Royal Family including the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne. Yanning’s portrait of the Queen was subsequently used by Royal Mail for the Jubilee Year stamp.

Susan made all the arrangements for portrait sittings, from booking flights, to hotels and sittings, often several in different parts of the UK during one trip. She accompanied Yanning as the driver and Jill-of-all fixer. During the sessions, Susan would chat to the sitters placing herself in their direct line of their vision so that they moved as little as possible and Yanning could concentrate on his work. This is a very exceptional friendship going far beyond a mere business association.

During his career, Yanning’s paintings have been acquired by major museums including the Chinese National Gallery, the Museum of Chinese History and the West Australian National Gallery and elsewhere around the world. His paintings have also been selected for the Chinese National Art Exhibition, the Paris Salon, and others around the world including Australia, Japan, Canada and Brazil.

Yanning’s exposure to Eastern and Western influence has come to define his unique style and accomplishment, which continues to achieve a broad appeal; this collection of paintings (as pictured) is anticipated to spark interest amongst Chinese contemporary art collectors and galleries around the globe.

CHEN YANNING (B. 1945)  SERENITY  oil on canvas