Bonhams emerge as top player in The Big Three after Asian Art in London

Last week’s Asian Art in London was particularly notable for witnessing the emergence of Bonhams auction house as the top player, historically regarded as No. 3 after Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Recent months have seen its more famous rivals grappling with problems financial and organisational and the evidence strongly suggests that Bonhams have cleverly snuck in to grab the laurels.

Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale at New Bond Street London on November 9 made £11,971,313, the highest total for an Asian art auction in London last week.

Leading the Bonhams sale was a set of four Huanghuali Folding Chairs that achieved a well-nigh incredible £5,296,250, winning the accolade for the most valuable Asian work of art to be sold last week in London. As one wag put it, ‘Not bad for a set of deckchairs !’

4 chairs bonhams

The folding chairs appear to be the only known version of this form and type, and may now be considered a masterpiece of Ming Dynasty furniture. They had been estimated at £150,000 – 200,000 and came from an Italian aristocratic vendor. In a packed saleroom, the bidding war finally came down to a tense battle between a bidder in the room and one on the phone, with the chairs finally knocked down to the phone bidder.

The chairs came from the collection of the distinguished Italian diplomat, Marchese Taliani de Marchio, (1887 – 1968) and his wife, Maragaretha, the Archduchess d’Austria Toscana (1894 – 1986). From 1938 to 1946, Taliani served as Ambassador to the Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek Government. Despite spending only eight years in China, the Talianis were shrewd and gifted connoisseurs who assembled a collection of extremely important pieces that convey the rich history of Chinese decorative arts. 

An important and exceedingly rare pair of Huanghuali Tapering Cabinets from the Ming Dynasty from the same collection, estimated at £200,000-300,000, sold for a remarkable price of £1,688,750.

Bonhams International Head of Chinese Art, Asaph Hyman said, “The exceptional prices realised for the rare set of folding chairs and the pair of cabinets are amongst the highest ever achieved for Chinese furniture, a result that reflects their importance. We feel very privileged to have been entrusted with this historic collection.”

Earlier in the week on 6 and 7 November, Bonhams Asian Art sale at Knightsbridge made £2,377,150. The top lot was a famille rose scholar and fisherman dish that sold for £93,750.

Thursday November 9 turned out to be an auspicious day for Bonhams. That evening it was awarded the prestigious Asian Art in London prize for the outstanding work of art offered by an auction house. It was presented to Suzannah Yip, Director of Bonhams Japanese Department, at AAL’s Gala Evening at the British Museum. It was a joint winner with Chiswick Auctions.

The prize-winning object was a beautiful roiro – black lacquer panel – by Shibata Zeshin (1807-91). The panel is decorated with bell crickets on grasses growing on a bank, set against a silver lacquer full moon, and embellished with silver dewdrops.

The award – sponsored by Apollo Magazine and the Antiques Trade Gazette – was judged by museum curators from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, together with representatives from the sponsors Apollo magazine and Antiques Trade Gazette.

20171108_180114 William Sargent addresses a packedroom at Bonhams London on November 8      Photo Paul Harris

It should also be noted that Bonhams took the opportunity of AAL to mount a series of receptions, lectures and special exhibitions. Most impressive was a display of Chinese tureens made for the Spanish Nobility, which was accompanied by a lecture from William R Sargent, formerly at the Peabody Essex Museum.

All in all, a great performance from Bonhams and a shot across the bows of Sotheby’s and Christie’s who, as one observer put it, ‘will need to buck their ideas up.’

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One of the Fantastic Creatures on display at Bonham’s, London.  Photo Paul Harris

Here is our pick of Asian Art in London at 20

We spent four days seeing as much as we could of the 20th year of Asian Art in London, a veritable panoply of wonderful things on display and many on offer. Here are our favorite objects and exhibits, in no particular order.

20171109_160458 Eskenazi Limestone Hands being a portion of a much larger funerary piece and curiously modern in its appearance. Northern Qi period 550-575. Xiangtangshan Cave Temples. From Eskenazi’s exhibition of Six Dynasties Art from the Norman A Kurland Collection.  Photo Paul Harris

20171109_160633 Eskenazi Two Caparisoned Horses From the same outstanding exhibition, two painted earthenware horses, Northern Qi. Photo Paul Harris

20171109_160903 Eskenazi  Two Figures Earthenware Northern Wei period (early 8th century). As with all the Eskenazi exhibits, superb lighting which made photography a delight! Photo Paul Harris

20171110_105831Marchant  Kangxi Famille Verte Within their Kensington Church Street premises old-established dealers Marchant held a breathtaking exhibition of Kangxi famille verte pieces put together by them from stock items dating back more than a decade and including several bearing the provenance of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A great show.  Photo Paul Harris

20171109_155703 Ben Janssens  Their lease at an end in their Jermyn Street premises, Ben Janssens put on his show, as usual marked by the exquisite small objects on display, in temporary space in Old Bond Street. We particularly liked the exhibit in the foreground Group of Black Pottery Horses, Figures and a Carriage (Yuan Dynasty 1279-1368).  Photo Paul Harris

20171109_162345 Berwald Our attention was grabbed by this evocative rendering of a Silk Road mercant and his camel. Tang Dynasty. Photo Paul Harris

20171110_161203 Cohen & Cohen showed their usual large selection of Chinese export pieces, this time in the capacious premises of Colnaghis in St James’s which served to show off the exhibits at their best. Probably the most eyecatching was a pair of wall sconces, design attributed to Cornelius Pronck (1736-40) and entitled The Flamethrower. If you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it . . . offers please in the region of £280,000 for these exquisite pieces.   Photo Paul Harris

20171109_132648East Meets West Exhibition at The Design Centre in Chelsea concentrating on the work of contemporary young Japanese and Chinese artists. Centre, The Winter at Lianghe Village (2011) a woodcut  by Yu Chengyou.  Photo Paul Harris

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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