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 and; the consultancy business Coldingham Investments Ltd; this website; 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 and the catalogue for the first sale of 230 lots is already live on the EasyLive platform at

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

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.


‘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 . . .


Tales of the unexpected roll on with another staggering price for a Chinese jar

fellows vase Tales of the unexpected: the Fellows vase sold for £810,000. Photo courtesy Fellows Auctioneers

Last month we confidently predicted that ‘unpredictability will set the tone for 2017’ after a miscatalogued Chinese rare altar vase catalogued as 20th century soared to £252,000. Well, folks, it has happened again, on an even more mega scale. On February 27, at auctioneers Fellows in Birmingham, another supposedly 20th century jar, without any convincing provenance, soared 450 times over estimate (£1200-1800) to reach a staggering £810,000.

Mr Huddleston of Fellows said “We are delighted with the house-record sale of the Chinese wucai fish vase. This vase was consigned via a Chinese client.” Surprising, indeed. The jar/vase went into a general antiques and collectables sale after the auctioneers decided it was 20th century. “Initial research when cataloguing had pointed to a number of historic precedents sold in the tens and hundreds of thousands.

“However, we examined the decoration to the collar and felt that it lacked sophistication of these early pieces.” The idea of it being a real Jiajing (1521-7) 500 year-old jar without cover was rejected but the auctioneers were in for a shock, albeit a pleasant one as the house record was broken.

Bidding began at £1,000 with a handful of telephone bidders plus the usual hundreds online and several bidders in the room. Eventually a bidder in the room caved in at £800,000 and the vase went to a telephone bidder.

One bidder had even flown in from Japan but will have returned home empty handed.

Auctioneers faced in recent years with a flood of fakes now, it appears, are becoming too nervous to take an optimistic view on Chinese items submitted for sale without rock solid provenance. That means the trend of ‘surprises’ will be a feature of the market. And, of course, there will be the ones that get away . . .


Controversial artist Qi Baishi to feature in upcoming Chiswick Chinese sale

Chiswick Auctions have announced a sale on May 15 dedicated to Chinese paintings. Following recent successes in the field of Chinese paintings, including the Buckman Collection (total sales £55,000), the Aldrick Collection (total sales £31,000) and Pearson Collection (total sales £24,156) all with 100% sell through rates, they have just announced their inaugural specialist paintings sale with one by Qi Baishi heading up the event.

Qi Baishi, oft copied  Qi Baishi: prolific and controversial

Qi Baishi (1864-1957) is a controversial artist and assessment, and valuation, of his work isalmost always tricky, to put it mildly. Works ascribed to him can vary in price from just a few hundred pounds to a record US$65.4m. This extremely high figure was the hammer price in Beijing in May 2011 for ‘Eagle on a Pine Tree’. The vendor was the renowned taxi driver and handbag seller turned collector and gallerist from Shanghai, Mr Liu Yixian. Celebrations for the high price achieved were aborted after the purchaser read a critique by a well known authority of his new acquisition in the Beijing press alleging it to be a forgery. It was never paid for and, so far as we know, it still lurks in Yixian’s extensive collection.

Qi Baishi eagle $65.4m. unpaid Eagle in a Pine Tree

Attribution of works to Qi Baishi is rendered difficult both by the very large numbers of copies – actually forgeries – which abound and also the techniques employed in his own studio. As a result of the high demand which existed for his work towards the end of his life, virtually his entire (and very large) family worked in his studio adding features to his work. Exactly how much of a later picture is the work of the master is much confused by these well known studio practices.

Qi Baishi Bees & Chrysanthemums Bees and Chrysanthemums

It is difficult to pass an opinion on ‘Bees and Chrysanthemums’ which will be sold May 15 from the collection of David Chipp (1927-2008). It is an attractive enough picture and Chiswick have put a very modest estimate of just £20,000-30,000 on it. Effectively, they are allowing the market to decide and potential purchasers will doubtless be seeking out Qi Baishi experts. The painting was certainly done at the very end of the artist’s life: Chipp was recommended to buy it by his translator when he was working in China for Reuters news agency during the period 1956-60.

Clearly, the old adage applies, caveat emptor.

Jorge Welsh to offer ‘soldier vases’ at TEFAF

Jorge Welsh_pair of vases_TEFAF2017

Top end Chinese art dealer Jorge Welsh, who is based in London’s Kensington Church Street and in Lisbon, will be showing two very large and magnificent so-called ‘soldier vases’ at the upcoming edition of TEFAF in Maastricht. These large vases (140cm. in height) are what auctioneers usually term ‘massive’. However, they are not just massive. They are also wonderfully decorated and are thought to be from the period 1750-55 during the Qianlong dynasty. They are meticulously decorated in overglaze polychrome enamels and gold.

Not only were such vases difficult to successfully decorate and fire, but they also took up a lot of room on board the ships whch exported them to Europe. Accordingly, they were always very expensive. This particular pair bears the coat of arms of the Spanish nobleman Francisco Jose de Ovando y Solis and would have been made to order.

The descriptive term ‘soldier vases’ came into use in the early 18th century. In 1717, Frederick Augustus Strong (1670-1733), the Elector of Saxony and a passionate collector of Chinese export porcelain, traded an entire regiment of 600 soldiers for 18 such vases from Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.

They are still made today in Jingdezhen, China. These days, however, you can pick one up for US$300 or so. Not quite the same thing, of course.


Modern ‘soldier vases’ lined up for shipping from Jingdezhen. 2015 photograph by              Paul Harris.

Swan song for auctioneers Swan & Turner

Long-established auctioneers in the Scottish Borders Swan and Turner, in Jedburgh, held their last sale on Saturday February 11. The saleroom was packed with buyers sometimes paying extraordinary prices before the gavel fell for the last time on Lot 793, an Edwardian Lady’s Writing Desk.

There are still many grand houses in the Scottish borderland with unplundered collections. One house had given up a fair number of Chinese lots for which there was stiff competition between public, dealers and telephone bidders. A fairly ordinary Kangxi ginger jat soared to £650 but the high prices were reserved for ivory pieces.

swan turner ivory purse

A quite exceptionally well carved set of two small ivory panels, which fitted together to form an Imperial purse, well exceeded their estimate in the low hundreds to get £2,600 on the hammer.

swan turner ivory

Even the imminent threat of a comprehensive ban on ivory does not, apparently, deter buyers when it comes to high quality, exquisitely carved pieces like this.

The closure of a successful and profitable firm like Swan & Turner operating on the High Street of busy Jedburgh seems regrettable. The firm clearly had access to good, saleable lots and an extensive clientele amidst the well-heeled Borders inhabitants. End of lease was being quoted as the reason for closure but it seems likely other factors were involved.

Asian Art in London announces Gala Party for 2017

logo                                The organisers of Asian Art in London (AAL) have announced a prime location for the 2017 Gala Party: at the newly opened Hutong Gallery at the British Museum. It will take place on Thursday November 9 and, as usual, will be a strictly ticket-only event characterised by the free flow of champagne. This will be the 20th anniversary year for AAL and the BM will most likely be a rather more popular locus than last year’s Soho event which took place in somewhat Spartan surroundings.

AAL runs from November 2-11 2017. In a break from previous practice, the Gala Party will take place towards the end of the ten day event, rather than at the beginning. Those who would normally head to London for the beginning of AAL may now, rather, hang back so as to combine the meet and greet opportunities of the Gala Party with their daytime visits. It is possible that the organisers have made a decision to try and avoid the ‘tailing off’ of the event after the first seven days by holding back on the popular gathering.

There are no further details of exhibitors or events at this early stage.

ed-roger-keverne-declares-aal-2016-open Flashback to last year’s Gala Party addressed by Roger Keverne  Photo Paul Harris

Unpredictability will set the tone for 2017 as mis-catalogued vase exceeds the quarter million pound mark

It didn’t take long before 2017 saw the first mega-price for a piece of Chines art. On January 19, a rare altar vase catalogued as Republic (20th century) soared 150 times over estimate to reach £252,000 (plus buyer’s premium, VAT and the rest) at Lawrence’s in Crewkerne, Somerset.

lawrences-chinese-vase-a-2277nedi-26-01-17 The rather peculiar looking vase which soared beyond a quarter of a million pounds at Lawrences of Crewkerne. Picture courtesy Lawrences

Although it bore the mark of Emperor Jaiqing (1796-1820), the auctioneers cautiously ascribed it to the Republic period: increasingly, large numbers of ‘doubtful’ lots at auction are being ascribed to this ‘catch all’ period, replete with copies but also harboring its own gems. In this instance, the market decided that the vase, in excellent condition and bearing a convincing mark to the base, must be Jiaqing of the period.

Even so, a hammer price of just over a quarter of a million was an exceptional price for a Jiaqing piece. The vase had sat on a mantlepiece in Wiltshire for some thirty years before the owner sent it to Lawrence’s. The vendor was the descendant of a solicitor who had worked in Shanghai during the early part of the 20th century.

Such rare altar vases are known as ‘benbaping’, and are generally regarded as ritual vessels commissioned by the Qing court for ceremonial use in temples and palaces. Doubtless, it was this possible Imperial connection which signalled lift off for this particular rather peculiar-looking piece. It was bought by a Hong Kong dealership.

Expect more surprises during 2017. The Chinese art market will be as unpredictable as ever. Rare Imperial ware of the conventional type is becoming ever more difficult to find and even relatively recent pieces like this rather unattractive one (in our view) will find eager buyers.

AFE exhibitors featured Asian art

The Antiques for Everyone (AFE) debut show at London Excel closed on Sunday after three days of trade. First editions of shows like this are always difficult and exhibitors reported widely varying results which ranged from ecstatic to downcast.

Several exhibitors showed items of Asian art but three had a significant part of their stand devoted to the genre. Paul Harris Asia Arts displayed a wide variety of mainly Chinese art, including a very large white ceramic statue of Mao Tse Tung created in 1967. It is believed to be unique and carried a £500,000 price tag. It was not sold but it did become something of an attraction and brought many visitors to the stand. The exhibit recorded a number of ‘modest’ sales.

Paul Harris Asia arts stand LR

The Mao statue, extreme left, on the Paul Harris Asia Arts stand at AFE

Philip Carrol, from Yorkshire, is a regular exhibitor at fairs like AFE. He had secured enough sales to make the venture profitable and was generally positive about the experience. Many dealers pointed out that the costs of showing were modest for a London venue. ‘Where can you show in London at this very modest cost?’ one pointed out, ‘We shall take a long term view and stay on board for such a small outlay. The results will come later.’

Philip Carol stand

Also showing was Koos Limburg from Scotland. The firm is also a regular exhibitor at fairs and were showing a number of Chinese items, including some fine ivory.

Koss Limburg stand

Visitor numbers were somewhat depleted on the opening day: it snowed in London (an event which tends to set off panic in the metropolis) and Southern Rail were engaged in one of their regular strike actions. Saturday seemed to be considerably busier. Exhibitors who had circlated their regular clientele in the London area appeared to be rather busier than those trying to built a customer base.

One significant advantage of the fair, from an exhibitor’s point of view, had to be the ease of set up and breakdown. Exhibitors were given the use of an empty hall right next to the exhibition for car parking during both set up and break down. Reactions to this were overwhelmingly positive.