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.
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.