Unusual Chinese art image no. 90 The wrist rest

Mao wrist rest2 lr The wrist rest, historically, was a valued accoutrement on the scholar’s desk. It came in many forms: wood, ivory and, even, jade and served the purpose suggested by its name as the scholar inscribed, wrote and painted. This is a rather more modern version. It dates from 1967 or 1968 and celebrates the great leader (as he was seen at that time) Mao Tse Tung at the height of his charismatic power in the days of The Cultural Revolution. This one is a rather up market souvenir made for local consumption within China.

Picture courtesy www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk

Chinese Art in Scotland opens new showroom in Scottish Borders

Chinese art room June 23 2017 (1)lr             A view of the new showroom of Chinese Art in Scotland   

Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk), a sister business to this website, has just opened its new 78sq m showroom Chinese art showroom in the Scottish Borders. More than 250 works of Chinese art, encompassing porcelain, furniture, scrolls, paintings, bronzes and wooden sculptures, have gone on show in the Scottish Borders village of Coldingham. Coldingham is 20 minutes drive from the border town of Berwick upon Tweed, which is situated on the main East Coast rail line, in turn just three and a half hours travel from Kings Cross, London.

The showroom is located behind the Coldingham Gallery (www.coldinghamgallery.co.uk) which was established seven years ago by Paul and Sulee Harris. They are both part of the Paul Harris Asia Arts Group (www.paulharrisasiaarts.co.uk) which also includes the recently established Scottish Borders Auctions (www.scottishbordersauctions.co.uk). Another associated business, Coldingham Investments Ltd., bought Greenlaw Town Hall, a massive neo-classical pile, on May 31 this year and which is to become a Chinese porcelain museum and European headquarters for the Shanghai-based Hanguang Company.

Chinese art room June 23 2017 (3)lr At the end of the showroom can be seen the large porcelain statue of Mao Tse Tung, formerly to be seen in the Chinese Embassy in Rome and now offered by Chinese Art in Scotland at £500,000.  Photo by Paul Harris

 

Making sense of Chinese censers

Rowleys Ely (8)

A valuable Ming censer in the form of a lion dog with a hinged head ca. 1620s  Photo courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

Chinese censers crop up on the market all the time: with dealers, auction houses and on exhibition. But what is a censer and why are some so much more valuable than others?

A censer is simply a bowl made to hold burning incense. It may be crafted from a wide range of available materials. The most popular forms are bronze, stone, porcelain, cloisonne, copper and, even, jade.

We think that the first vessels specifically designed to burn incense appeared during the Western Han dynasty (206BC – 8AD). These first vessels were often based upo traditional three-legged bronze ding or ceramic dou ware. Typically, they stand on a tripod base with two loop handles. These designs were often copied much later but many styles and shapes have been used historically, ranging from such simple bronze bowls to elaborate and highly decorated cloisonne vessels in the form of elephants or fantastic, mythical animals.

Mythical animals were very much favoured. During the early 1th century, during the Ming dynasty, censers were made in form of luduan or Buddhistic lion dogs, either with detachable heads or, less commonly, with hinged heads. The incense would be placed within the body of the beast and then set light. Smoke would then issue from the open, menacing mouth of the best.

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An early 17th century bronze censer in the form of a luduan (Chinese unicorn) which was sold at TEFAF 2016 for a figure in the region of euros 20,000. Photo courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

More ordinary small censers might be used as hand warmers in winter, slightly larger ones for perfuming clothes or bed linen. However, most cencers would be used to burn incense at private (domestic) shrines as well as being a form of everyday fumigation at a time when unpleasant smells were, let us say, rather more pervasive.

 

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An attractive very small cloisonne censer, probably used as a handwarmer or dressing table decorative item. Courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

What determines the value of a censer? Many of the simple but heavy bronze bowls, typically on tripod bases, bear Xuande marks. Such original pieces usually command high prices: later copies are not regarded as so valuable. Design is obviously a factor. Elaborate designs involving a high quality of craftsmanship will inevitably increase value. Rarity, of course, as with any article, also plays its part in determining value. Amongst the most sought after is the so-called ‘incense sphere’ consisting of a latticed metal orb that hung on a chain and opened in half along a centre hinge. The sphere surrounded a small cup that was suitably weighted to ensure the incense would not spill as it was carried.

Cambridge, Ely, Belton House (128)  A very rare Ming incense burner, blue and white porcelain in the collection of Belton House, Lincs.  Photo by Paul Harris

The incense itself was created using dried aromatic plants and essential oils and there were particular skills and special equipment involved in successfully burning incense. There was a large market for incense: by the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) incense sulture was common to all classes in China. Alongside flower arranging, tea-whisking and painting, incense burning was regarded as one of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar.

cloisonne vase mctears A gold-splashed incense tool vase used to store utensils used in the process of burning incense. Photo courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

Of course, not all censers are particulalry valuable and it is possible to pick one up at auction or via a dealer for just a few hundred pounds. 19th century examples like the fairly large censer illustrated below are usually available on the market.

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A late 19th or early 20th century bronze censer with detachable head and crafted in the form of a fantastic animal. Photo courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

Bonhams offer Warhol’s Chairman Mao

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Bonhams will lead the Post-War and Contemporary Art season with a spectacular Andy Warhol painting of Chairman Mao, estimated at £580,000-780,000, to be offered at New Bond Street on 29 June.

The stunning, densely-textured painting comes fresh to the market having originally been handled by the artist’s legendary dealer Leo Castelli in the 1970s. The distinctive coloration and clarity of composition makes this arguably the finest of the series ever to appear at auction. Renowned as one of Warhol’s most significant, signature images, the Mao paintings feature in many of the world’s most prestigious public and private collections worldwide.

Warhol was transfixed by the People’s Republic of China in 1971. ‘I have been reading so much about China,’ he said at the time. ‘The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’ Inspired, Warhol made his first picture of the communist leader the following year. The Mao series is based on a photograph taken from the cover of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao – otherwise known as the Little Red Book, of which almost a billion copies were printed in China, leading to an acute paper shortage during the Cultural Revolution. During the early seventies, Warhol used to carry the Little Red Book around in his pocket. Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol museum, describes the artist as ‘smitten with communism – with everyone wearing the same clothes and reading the same books’.

In the early 1970s, after a decade of screenprinting, Warhol returned to painting. His Maos tend to be more painterly than his earlier pop art, developing from the relentless replication of the 60s into more personalised, one-off works combining silkscreens with gestural painted additions. This particular piece has unusually thick impasto, with expressive brushwork in subtle blue hues and a halo of vivid scarlet interrupting the almost blinding vibrancy of the acid green background.

‘It is one of the finest – if not the finest – example of Warhol’s small format Maos out there,’ said Ralph Taylor, Senior Director for the Bonhams Post-War & Contemporary Art department. ‘It’s an absolute classic, brilliantly executed, with sterling provenance. Collectors who target the very best will find much to admire with this painting.’

Works depicting Chairman Mao appear to be the subject of growing demand in China. Last month a rare porcelain statue came on the market and is currently beng offered by Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk) for a six figure sum.

May auctions (26) Statue of Chairman Mao also on offer

Newark weather dismal but spirits were high

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Newark Antiques Fair June 2 2016. Many a true word in jest!  Photo Paul Harris

June 2/3 saw the great antiques fest that is the Newark International Antiques & Collectors’ Fair, the largest held anywhere in Europe. Thousands of antiques industry professionals shouldered their way through the crowds of buyers in search of ‘finds’ on the densely packed stalls of exhibitors in aircraft-hangar sized halls, cowsheds and marquees.

The weather may have been dismal on the trade day Thursday (entry £20, or £55 before 9 am) with skies overcast and a chill north easterly which made it seem more like an autumn day.Nevertheless, spirits were high amongst exhibitors. Put that down to optimism if you like, but sales appeared to us to be brisk. What’s more, most exhibitors were prepared to deal and those who were found themselves rewarded with sales.

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A foxy exhibitors stand at Newark.  Photo Paul Harris

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They say sex will sell anything but this ‘lady’ remained unloved at Newark! Photo Paul Harris

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I remember watching the Coronation on one of these! A Bush 12inch TV now selling at £90 . . .  Photo Paul Harris

The photographs above may suggest that there was an awful lot of junk on sale, sometimes posing as antiques or collectables. True. However, if you really cast your eyes about and penetrated the ephemera and the paraphernalia, there were gems to be found. Below we post some images of examples of Chinese art we bought at the Fair. There were some very collectable things there if you looked hard . . .

P1120001 Detail of a Chinese stone seal bought from a Dutch dealer Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110985 Chinese Soapstone fun carving of monkey group Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110962 A Yixing teapot signed and with Tongzhi reign mark Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110946 19th century large Chinese bronze guanyin Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1110931 Well decorated 19th century Chinese vase Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

P1120019 An 18th or 19th century bronze Buddha on fitted stand Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

All the above objects, discovered at the Newark Fair can be seen on the Chinese Art in Scotland website www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk

 

 

Horses under the Hammer last weekend

The Horse has long been represented in Chinese art. There are many thousands of attempts to characterise this noble animal, not least amongst the thousands of terracotta warriors in Xian.

‘Throughout China’s long and storied past, no animal has impacted its history as greatly as the horse. From its domestication in northeastern China around 5,000 years ago, the horse has been an integral figure in the creation and survival of the Middle Kingdom. Its significance was such that as early as the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1100 BC), horses and vehicles they powered were entombed with their owners so as to be with them in the next life . . . As the empire grew, horses became essential for maintaining contact and control and for transporting goods and supplies throughout the vast and diverse country.’ (Bill Cooke in Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History, Kentucky 2000).

Some rather smaller examples cropped up at auction a few days ago. At Auction House Bath, an attractive abd quite large Tang dynasty walking horse with some original pigment (size 61 cm height and 58cm length) was knocked down for £1800.

Bath Tang horse£1800 in Bath

Further north, at Swan & Turner in Jedburgh, a rather smaller but very finely worked and cast bronze of a Tang horse (16cm in height) appeared in a mixed lot of Orientalia. It did not get that sort of money ( it was sold in a lot of a dozen pieces of Chinese porcelain, gold-plated boxes and other sundries) but it is now available at £795 from Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk/bronze-tang-style-figure-of-a-horse/ ). The small, heavy sculpture, which is thought to be 19th century, came up at a sale of the residual contents of Hallrule House, Bonchester Bridge, once the home of the Usher family of whisky repute, lately occupied by the St James family.

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Available at £795 from Chinese Art in Scotland

The bronze horse illustrated above accurately displays many of the distinctive characteristics of the Tang horse (see diagram below from Imperial China).

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Yongzheng chicken bowl comes to light in Scotland

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Sun Yumei’s daughter, Lucy, holds the Yongzheng chicken bowl for sale in Scotland

A rare Yongzheng chicken bowl has come to light in Scotland. Chinese Art in Scotland have been asked to sell the bowl by an anonymous collector, who is simply described as ‘a well known international film director’. No further information is to be given out as the owner who, it is understood, is very ill wishes to protect his identity at this sensitive time.

Genuine old chicken cups or bowls, correctly ascribed to their period, are in considerable demand these days. Most prized are 15h century Chenghua reign bowls and last year Shanghai collector Liu Yixian paid a record US$36.3m hammer for such an example.

Chicken cups have, of course, been much copied over the years and, even, Liu Yiqian has authorised copies of his own purchase at around $60 US.

“This is the crowning glory for collectors,” says Nicholas Chow, Sotheby’s Chinese ceramics expert.

The painting on the cup bought by Yixian is a naive, almost childish, coloured depiction of a rooster and a hen taking care of a young chick—a parable for Confucian virtues that extend to an emperor’s looking after his subjects. The simplicity is what makes this cup so desirable, said Mr. Chow, and the artist’s “impressionistic” style is atypical for that time.

But, as usual with Chinese porcelain, it is a case of caveat emptor. Mr. Chow says the chicken cups are the most-copied bowls in China, and even the Chenghua examples in museums have aroused suspicion. In a Sotheby’s catalogue essay about the chicken-cup sale, ceramics expert Regina Krahl has written that former Sotheby’s Chairman Julian Thompson had maintained that the two examples at the Palace Museum in Beijing were fakes.

The new discovery is not in perfect condition. There are signs of use and wear to the inside and hairline cracks visible to the base.

Chinese Art in Scotland director, Sun Yumei, says they are ‘completely satisfied’ with the authenticity of their chicken cup. ‘Everything about it is right: the translucence, the whiteness of the porcelain and its fragility. It is well painted in the doucai tradition and we are sure it is right.’ And what will be the price?

‘Understandably, it will not appear on our website (chineseartinscotland.co.uk). There are a few parties possibly interested but, most likely, if it is not sold privately, it will eventually go to auction. Meantime, we shall enjoy having it around.’

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Yongzheng mark to the base of the cup

 

Of Chinese teapots, wine pots and wine ewers

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Still life with Yixing teapot

So, when is a teapot not a teapot? This may sound like a trick question from Mastermind, but it is a valid query when it comes to the Chinese version of the vessel. The answer is, ‘When it is not a wine pot.’

The Ch’a Ching, the earliest book on the subject of tea, appeared in China in 780. Legend has it that tea was first drunk there more than three thousand years before, but it was under the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that the drink became fashionable and the wild tea plant, Camellia sinensis, was brought into cultivation (Source: Hampshire Cultural Trust, The Allen Gallery).

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Fanciful ivory teapot (left) and Qianlong cloisonné wine pot (right)

The first significant imports of tea to Europe arrived in the early years of the 17th century. They came thanks to Portugal’s development of sea-routes to China and the trading skills of the Dutch. Surprisingly, there is debate as to whether the Chinese used teapots at this time. If so, they would have represented quite a recent change to the traditional method of making tea, in which the drink was brewed in open pans or in the actual cup using specially prepared ‘tea paste’.. Such teapots as were manufactured were unglazed, the Yixing style of pot, made from brown or purple clay, being most common and these started in production some time around 1500.

teapot_yixing Typical unglazed Yixing teapot

Assuming it existed, the Chinese teapot was indistinguishable from what is termed a wine-pot or wine-ewer. Vessels of this type were exported along with the tea itself and if not actually intended for tea-making, may have been interpreted as being so here in the West.

As James Norwood Pratt writes in The Tea Lover’s Treasury, ‘The teapot has not always been the undisputed lord of the tea service; historically the teacup comes first.’ He explains how tea ‘bricks’ were crumbled into kettles filled with boiling water. Pratt also notes that the first teapots of which positive records exist only appear around the year 1500.

However, he does find this discovery hard to believe because there has been much conjecture among tea scholars that the wine ewer, a tall, water-pitcher-shaped vessel with a spout, resembled a teapot, and, ‘it strains credulity to believe so inventive a people as the Chinese never thought to brew tea in their so-called wine ewers.’

As Laura Everage points out in Teapots through the Ages (December 2006), ‘During the 17th century, Europeans were introduced to the beauty of Chinese pottery through the East India Company, which imported the tea and used the pots as ballast in the lower portion of the cargo ships, while the tea was stored above the water line.’

A true distinction between wine-ewers and teapots was only established after 1694, when the British East India Company directed that teapots made for them in China must have “a grate… before the spout”. In other words, they wanted a sort of pierced barrier where the tea enters the spout so as to hold back the tea-leaves. Of course, it was not long before European ceramicists started to copy examples arriving from China and sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the two.

Anita Gray, at Gray’s Antiques Market in London has some interesting examples of teapots manufactured during the Qianlong era and which are shortly to go on open sale.

A Chinese Armorial Teapot and Cover (ref BC60). Of oval form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body boldly painted in shades of overglaze blue with large well-drawn flowering branches, including lotus, continuing around the pot, an armorial painted on either side of the pot in iron-red, black and gilding of a cockerel holding a branch in its beak above a winged coronet, both below a border of fleur-de-lys outlined in iron-red and gilding around the base of the short neck, the cover similarly decorated with large blossoming blooms and a fleur-de-lys border around the rim, the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height: 12.5 cm; 5 in

A Chinese famille rose ‘European-Subject’ Teapot and cover (ref BC69). Of rounded form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body painted in famille rose enamels with a European figurative scene of a lady dressed in long robes carrying a basket of flowers, a male figure with his hand on her shoulder dressed in short trousers, a blue jacket and a black hat stands next to her holding a garden fork, a multitude of flowers grow nearby with a further woman similarly dressed in European clothing watering the flowers with a large vessel, a tall tree to their right, the scene repeated on the opposite side of the teapot, the cover with a matching scene of floral foliage and a tall tree, the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height (including cover):  12 cm; 4 ¾ in

A Chinese famille rose ‘European-subject’ teapot and cover (ref BC58) Of oval form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body painted in famille rose enamels with a landscape, a ruin in the background and in the foreground two European figures reclining against a rock, one, a lady, dressed in a long dress and wearing a hat decorated with flowers, the other, a gentleman, wearing a short coat, short trouser and a hat, their arms entwined as they each hold a small glass in their hand, at their feet two spotty dogs await, two trees nearby, their trunks mirroring the intertwining of the couple’s arms, the scene repeated on the opposite side of the teapot, the cover with a matching scene of intertwining trees and ruins, the bud finial gilded and  the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height (including cover):  13.5 cm; 5 ¼ in

A Chinese famille rose teapot and cover depicting the Judgement of Paris. (ref BC54). Of globular form, with a straight spout, c-shaped handle and domed cover with a bud finial, painted on either side with Paris seated wearing a puce robe, with a small dog beside him, and offering a green object to Aphrodite who is flanked by Hera and Athena, and with Cupid looking on, Hera and Aphrodite only covered by either a shawl or a fan, Athena dressed in long iron-red and yellow robes, at their feet a bird, pine trees enclosing the scene, the cover with birds in flight, a similar large bird and pine and finished with a bud finial, the base glazed. Period: Qianlong 1736-1795

Height: 14 cm; 5 ½ in

Footnote: This is the most popular European design on Chinese porcelain of the 1740s and there are at least six different variations. The scene depicts King Priam’s son Paris judging who of the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite was the most beautiful – he chooses Aphrodite by handing her an apple.

A very similar example of a teapot is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, illustrated in William R. Sargent, Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics – From the Peabody Essex Museum, 2012, other forms but with the same mythological motif include a barber’s bowl from Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, MA (illustrated by Lange 2005, 165, no. 52); a dish from Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm, (illustrated in Wirgin 1998, 187, no. 201), a plate in the Victoria and Albert Museum (C.342-1931), London (illustrated in Kerr and Mengoni 2011, 71, no. 93). For further examples decorated with this scene see Scheurleer, Chinese Export Porcelain, illus. 225, 226; Beurdeley, Porcelain of the East India Company, Cat. 31, 130; Howard & Ayers, China for the West, p.329. For a plate with the same scene see Lloyd Hyde, Oriental Lowestoft (New York, 1936), pl. XIV, p.43 and Beurdeley, Cats 31, 130, 131. See also Anita Gray, Catalogue of Oriental Ceramics and Works of Art, pl.97b, p.67.

These teapots from Anita Gray will be unveiled and will be on sale from Monday February 16 and can be viewed, using the quoted reference numbers, on www.chinese-porcelain.com.

Chinese Art in Scotland have just put up for sale a very large wine pot (auctioned off, hardly surprisingly, as a teapot) on their ceramics page. It is 33cm in height with cover, well decorated and embellished in gold. Said Sun Yumei, a partner in the business, ‘It had been in a house where there had been a fire and the lovely decoration was almost obscured by a layer of oil left by exposure to smoke. Apart from the smoke damage, it was in perfect condition and it has cleaned up wonderfully and is now brilliant and gleaming.’ Chinese Art in Scotland have left the footed base un-cleaned, just for the historical record.

There is no grate before the spout so this vessel is based upon the wine ewer, or wine pot, as it is often known. However, it is unlikely to be pre-1694 and is probably a late 18th or 19th century object, in the view of the vendors.

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Large wine pot   Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

Highlights of 2014 on ChineseArt.co.uk

As 2014 drew to a close, we selected some highlights of the year in the world of Chinese art here in the UK as reported on ChineseArt.co.uk.

January

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In January, we launched our now popular series of Unusual Chines Art Images. This magnificent oil painting (1910) by Matilda Auchinschloss Brownall of a viewer at The Morgan Collection in New York was featured as one of our early images.

January brought in The Year of the Horse.

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Details of this painting (artist unknown) from Chinese Art in Scotland

February

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Xiao Wei and Yi Fei Li symbolise the new wave of adventurous fashion photography in modern China. Picture by Barrett Sweeger for Cream Magazine.

March

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March saw the tragic and mysterious loss of Malaysian airlines flight MH270 on a March 8 flight out of Singapore. There was a party of 19 Chinese artists, relatives and supporters on board, pictured above at their exhibition in the city state.

April

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Shanghai businessman Liu Yiqian opens his third private museum in the city and shells out US$33.6 million for a tiny chicken cup

chicken cup press

May

Lucy Liu Olympic Fashion shoot 2008

We featured this stunning image of actress and model Lucy Liu, shot in 2008, Olympic Games year, for Harper’s Bazaar

June

£427,250 moment of sale

record breaking charger

A record £427,250 for Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull when they sold this blue and white charger, estimated at £2-3,000.

July

fio sangdeboeuf bowl

The Fiorentini collection of 30 pieces of porcelain was exposed for sale at Bonham’s, Edinburgh and took £105,000. This sang-de-boeuf bowl was knocked down for £11,250.

August

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Shanghai-based Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng appoints Paul Harris Asia Arts as his agents in the UK in advance of a series of exhibitions.

September

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Major UK exhibition for Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

October

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The 17th Asian Art in London event opens. Our picture from an exhibition mounted by Michael Goedhuis of outstanding ink and watercolour paintings by Yang Yanping.

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November

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Woolley & Wallis Chinese expert Freya Yuan cradles the top selle, one of a pair of bowls which exceeded £420,000 from their £3.2m. November sale.

December

Royals Will and Kate visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was one Chinese picture they didn’t see . . .  Art critic Jerry Saltz posted it on Instagram and got booted off the site. We wonder why!

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Brought Christmas, as ever, but this Santa Claus print from Andy Warhol, offered by Artron in online auction, failed to find an owner.

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. . . and on to 2015. Happy New Year everyone!

‘Chinese Art in Scotland’ to abandon US dollar

The online UK retailer of Chinese porcelain, paintings and decorative items Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk), which has long time priced its stock in US dollars, is to revert to UK sterling pricing.

A spokesman said yesterday, ‘The US dollar has strengthened against the pound sterling dramatically in recent months. In our view, the dollar is now overvalued and evidence has emerged, speaking recently to Chinese dealers, that they are actively discouraged now by dollar pricing, associating it with poor exchange rates. Both income from actual sales and potential sales have accordingly been affected.

‘We have several hundred items for sale online and by December 1 all will be re-priced using the £sterling.’

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The ‘Chinese Art in Scotland’ Home Page

There was a time a few years ago when Chinese buyers were more familiar with the US$ than any other foreign currency. As China has internationalised in its approach to foreign trade, the benefit of using the $ has been diminished.

Antique Dealers’ Fair in north England reveals ‘important’ Chinese treasure

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A three day fair March 7-9, organised by Antique Dealers’ Fairs Ltd. at the Linden Hall Hotel in Northumberland, revealed a treasure said from China last night to be ‘important and highly unusual’.

Southport, England, dealer Alan Dawson of Odyssey Ancient & Mediaeval Antiquities, offered for sale a Chinese Western Zhou dynasty (771-445BC) bronze ceremonial spear head in remarkable condition. What is particularly notable about it is that it still retains much of its original chromium oxide surface coating.

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Alan Dawson shows off the ancient Western Zhou spearhead

The Chinese developed the use of chromium oxide, as a way of tackling bronze corrosion, as early as the 8th century BC, a technology which was lost to the West until as late as the 18th century.

On this, probably unique, piece the chromium surface, allied with extremely desiccant burial conditions, have left the decorative spear head in a remarkable state of preservation. It is almost certainly a spear which would not have been used in fighting but rather as a ritual piece in grand ceremonies. Pieces of this age and state of preservation are extremely rare.

Within a few hours of the opening of the Northumberland fair, the spear head was purchased by Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk). Speaking from Beijing last night, China Director of Chinese Art in Scotland, Ms Sun Yumei, said, “We are very excited by this purchase. It is a very important piece. Our representative sent us pictures from the Fair after it opened and we immediately issued a buy order. The seller, Mr Dawson, had already done significant research on it, which easily confirmed our decision. Examples of this quality are extremely rare. Apart from its utilitarian interest, it is also an object of exquisite beauty. Today, there are many new museums in China who are keen to acquire ancient objects and we very much hope it will end up in a museum.”

Very similar spear heads were exhibited in 2009 at Hunan Museum’s special exhibition Phoenix Dance. Following this exhibition, a film was made entitled Ancient Chinese Bronze Weapons (Producer Beijing Global Net TV Productions). Western Zhou Ceremonial spearheads are featured in the film.   The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art Collection also has examples and, for an almost identical one, see The History of Steel in East Asia Exhibition (Macao Museum of Asian Art, 2006).

Allan Dawson has dealt full time in antiquities for 15 years and part-time for 35 years. Before that he was a schoolteacher and says he became interested in antiquities after researching them for school information sheets. He lives and works in Southport, England.

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Part of The Odyssey stand at the Linden Hall Hotel Antiques Fair (March 7-9)