Outsider Bonhams overtakes the field to come first in Asian Art in London auctions

Bonhams six Asian Art sales in London this week produced a number of stunning results for Japanese and Chinese art, confirming the strength of this market sector for a company that was once very much of an outsider eclipsed by ‘the big two’. The company’s sales total of £11.2m was well ahead of other auction houses offering Asian sales this week.

Bonhams UK and Asia Chairman, Colin Sheaf, said: “The strong sales for Asian art in London reflect well on the company policy of treating  sales of Asian art on a global basis. Japanese art is clearly most saleable at auction in London and New York where we hold our premier sales. Chinese art sales are split between Hong Kong, London, New York and San Francisco with every object being consigned to the city where it will sell best. This policy is succeeding as our exceptional sales in London and Hong Kong this month demonstrate. It has never happened before that a work of Japanese art takes top spot in this annual Asian Art in London week.”

The top Japanese work in Bonhams sales was by Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), an artist admired by Western collectors for over a century. A very rare lacquer panel based on a Noh play, made in 1883 in imitation of Western paintings on canvas and executed in lavish silver on black lacquer, it had been estimated at £80,000–120,000, but after furious bidding made £842,500 in the Misumi Collection of Important Works of Lacquer Art and Paintings.

The three Japanese sales at Bonhams this week – The Wrangham Collection, the Misumi Collection and Fine Japanese Art – made a total of £3.4m over two days.  The 16-item Misumi Collection was a white-glove sale and fetched £1,424, 500.

The top item in Bonhams three Chinese Art sales was a rare imperial gilt bronze ‘double phoenix’ vessel , from the Imperial Qianlong period (1736-1795) lavishly decorated with hardstone and glass. It sold for £482,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £50,000-80,000. The ‘double-phoenix’ vessel is an exceptional example of Qing magnificence at its peak. It exemplifies the sumptuous Imperial taste during the Qianlong period with no expense spared in its lavish production.

The three Chinese art sales at Bonhams – Asian Arts at Knightsbridge, The Roy Davids Collection and Fine Chinese Art made a total of £7.8m

The second highest price in the Chinese art sales was £440,500 for a porcelain  ‘lotus pond’ jar from a European private collection that had not been seen at auction for over half a century. The jar bears the mark of the Chinese Emperor Chenghua who ruled between 1464 – 1487. For centuries most Chinese connoisseurs have considered Chenghua period ceramics as the finest ever created in China.

Lotus pond jar

Colin Sheaf, Bonhams Asia Chairman, says: “Three decades in the Chinese Art trade does not entirely prepare you for an object like this. When I saw it for the first time, after years of storage, it had that certain something, that charisma of the truly spectacular object which creates a frisson of excitement in anyone who knows about Chinese porcelain.”

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