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

Asian Art in London celebrates in style in the wake of Her Majesty!

20171109_195543 Roger Keverne, AAL Chairman (right), looks pleased as he makes a point at the Asian Art in London 20th Anniversary Gala Party held in the British Museum’s Joseph Hutong Gallery on Thursday evening.  Photo Paul Harris.

 

The AAL Gala Party is normally a glittering affair and the 20th Birthday Party held on Thursday probably excelled itself. Around 450 celebrants crowded into the newly renovated and redesigned Joseph Hutong Gallery of Chinese and South Asian Art at London’s British Museum. This was very much a preview. The Gallery does not fully open to the public until December and just one rather important visitor sprang in ahead of AAL the day previously, HM Queen Elizabeth II (and rightly so!).

So the surroundings were impeccable, the exhibits on show stunning and, as usual, the champagne flowed in unlimited quantities, fully justifying the £70 ticket price! All was in sharp contrast to last year’s event which took place in a cafeteria atmosphere in Chinatown.

AAL Chairman Roger Keverne, who will resign in December, at which time the Board of AAL will vote on his successor, compered and, in association with Director Virginia Sykes-Wright, introduced this year’s winners of the AAL Awards. The auctioneer section was shared by Bonhams, one of The Big Three, and Chiswick Auctions, which is emerging as a cheeky challenger to the giants – it has just opened up in South Ken and, in the wake of Christie’s abandoning its operations there, has adopted the acronym CSK. Eat your heart out, Christies!

In the dealer category, there was a very popular award to Priestley & Ferraro. David Priestley took the award which came directly as a result of their stunning display of Early Chinese Carved Cinnabar Lacquer entitled The Deeper Picture and which ran through AAL in the lower floor of their premises in St James’s.

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David Priestley clutches his well deserved Dealer Award at Thursday evening’s Asian Art in London 20th Birthday party. Pictured with Roger Keverne and the Editor of Apollo Magazine, Thomas Marks.    Photo Paul Harris

Chiswick eagerly anticipate Huang Binhong sale

Paintings by the Chinese Modernist master Huang Binhong are rarely offered at auction in London and fierce bidding is expected for a work to be offered at Chiswick Auctions on November 13 during Asian Art in London..

Included in the top 10 ranking artists sold at auction internationally, alongside Picasso, Warhol and Monet, for the first half of 2017; his painting Yellow Mountain sold for a record 345 million yuan (US$50.5 million) at China Guardian Auctions’ sale in Beijing (Artprice.com, Aug 2017).

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Ink and wash painting by Huang Binhong to be offered at Chiswick Auctions

Of course, if Chiswick were to knock down their offering, entitled simply Landscape, for a price in ths range then the sale would fit very nicely into their current expansion programme, which includes the estabishment of a central London showroom in the wake of the sudden closure of Chrsties South Kensington.

An internationally recognised master of 20th Century Chinese ink painting, prices for works by Huang Binhong have sky-rocketed in recent years and his reputation as a world-class modernist artist has been truly cemented.

His work innovatively combines Eastern traditions with influences from Impressionist and Modernist art, visible in his use of light and free brushwork.

The painting offered at Chiswick Auctions depicts the landscape of Xuancheng (宣城), a city in North East Anhui Province in China. The work was acquired by the present owner from the successful Chinese businessman Mr. David Lau (Lau Chi Man).

Chiswick Auctions is the only London saleroom to offer dedicated sales of Chinese Paintings.

Head of Asian Art, Lazarus Halstead, commented: “Since opening our Fine Chinese Paintings department there has been an overwhelming response from collectors wishing to consign and buy fine and rare works by Chinese artists.”

The November sale also includes works by 20th Century masters Qi Baishi, Pu Ru and the female artist Fang Zhaoling, as well as classical works attributed to Wang Jian and Ba Da Shan Ren.

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.

Chiswick Auctions to sell Buckman Collection

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Bernard Buckman (1910 – 1991). Image © Sophie Baker

The first one hundred and twenty-one lots (1-120) from Chiswick Auctions’ Monday ASIAN ART sale (14 November 2016) are from the collection of distinguished sinophile Bernard Buckman (1910 – 1991).

Buckman was a central figure in shaping economic relations with China and the West in the second half of the 20th Century. Following the Moscow Economic Summit of 1953, Buckman traveled to Beijing on an icebreaker mission in June and July of that year. As one of three mission leaders representing sixteen companies, he helped to negotiate £15 million of trade deals with China, representing a significant breakthrough in Anglo-Sino trade that had previously been non-existent since the founding of the PRC in 1949.

Buckman was Chairman of a British Group of Companies trading in metal, minerals, chemicals, machinery and light industrial products which formed part of the ground-breaking ‘48 Group’ of British companies allowed to trade with China. In 1972 he set up his own company, Wogen Resources. A silver salver inscribed to him from the company in 1986 is presented as lot 106 in the sale. Travelling to China more than fifty times in his lifetime, once a year since 1953 and twice a year since 1967, Buckman gained a privileged view of China and access to its leaders at the highest levels. In 1979 he travelled to China as the personal guest of Vice Premier Wang Zhen (1903 – 1993).

chiswickLot 45 Carved jade horse and monkey group

His love of China’s culture, past and present, led him to build his collection of Chinese art and indeed the collection ranges from pottery sculptures dating from the Han Dynasty (lot 109) and jades of the Ming Dynasty (lots 44-45), to works created within his own lifetime including a masterpiece by the doyenne of 20th Century Chinese ink painting, Qi Baishi (1864 – 1957) (lot 84) as well as fine porcelain from Jingdezhen dated 1955 (lot 101). The highly personal collection, built up at a time when few Westerners had access to China, is testament to a lifetime commitment to China and its people and ranges in its content from scholar’s objects to snuff bottles, ivories, jades and hardstones.

Clearly for Buckman the relationship between his business and artistic interests were symbiotic. Notes for a lecture given by Buckman in 1983 (included within lot 102) demonstrate his strong belief in the cultural achievements of China past and present, and a prescient belief in the potential of the country’s bright economic future, beliefs strongly at odds with the anti-Chinese rhetoric of the Western media prevalent at the time. Aside from his business interests, Buckman was a Governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a scholarship in his name was created posthumously in his honour.

During his lifetime he was acquainted with many important Chinese cultural figures. A piece of calligraphy offered in the sale (lot 88), was inscribed and presented to Buckman to mark the passing of his eightieth year by the members of the Chinese Imperial family, Pu Zuo (1918 – 2001). Whilst the collection is diverse in terms of dates and materials it clearly follows a coherent vision of its creator. One key theme which draws together this diverse collection is Buckman’s interest in the miniature.

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Lot 110 Carved ivory figure of Liu Ji

The collection comprises thirty-two lots of snuff bottles, two miniature turquoise boy carvings (lot 38), two miniature jade landscape carved plaques (lots 69-70), a miniature landscape between clamshells carved in ivory (lot 112), two miniature nut carvings of boats (lot 78), a miniature bamboo parfumier (lot 81), a miniature turquoise scholar’s rock (lot 82), a miniature altar table (lot 92) and a collection of miniature vases (lot 97). The reasons for this interest are uncertain but the collection clearly exemplifies both Buckman’s personal taste and the network of connections to which he belonged. Perhaps most importantly, however, the collection also represents a poignant testament to one man’s hugely important life work to bring the world together economically, but also culturally through a dedication to Sino-British exchange of goods, and also ideas.

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Lot 82 A turquoise miniature scholar’s rock

 

 

 

 

Twenty times estimate for unusual wooden vase sold at Chiswick Auctions

143 wooden vase

A surprise twenty times the lower estimate was paid yesterday at Chiswick Auctions for an unusual wooden vase offered together with a wooden tray. The hammer price of £2,000 (estimate £100-200) was realised despite the loss of a section of the wood at the neck and rim of the meiping-style vase, and severe warping to the tray

The vase was, in fact, a Shen Shao’an lacquered vase, according to the auctioneers’ cataloging. Although it was suggested it was late Qing Dynasty, it may have been rather earlier and, indeed, it would have to have been if actually produced under the direction of the original master. In our view, the vase was rather earlier than the tray.

The vase was delicately painted with a watery landscape scene populated with figures, the vase 37cm H, the tray 38.5 x 61cm. (2) The style of decoration was very much of the body-less technique pioneered by Shen Shao’An.

This lacquer technique traces its origins back to the work of Shen Shao’an, lacquer master craftsman active during the Qianlong era. The technique substitutes the use of a coarse linen base with much thinner silk in a technique sometimes referred to as ‘bodiless’ lacquerware. It also introduced gold and silver foil into the paints to create a wider range of colours and silky glow to the image. The technique is a specialism of Fuzhou and was sent to Beijing as a form of Imperial tribute.

Chiswick Asian Sale Sept 6 2016

The scene at yesterday’s Chiswick Auctions Asian Sale

The founding father of Fuzhou bodiless lacquer ware was Shen Shao’an (1767 – 1835), a lacquer ware craftsman from Houguan County (today’s Fuzhou City) of Fuzhou Prefecture during Emperor Qianlong’s reign in the Qing Dynasty.   Shen Shao’an opened a shop named after himself around Shuangpao Bridge in Yangqiao Road in Fuzhou, processing lacquer at the same time as making and selling small commodities like lacquer chopsticks, lacquer bowls, lacquer plates, and so on.

Once when he was doing odd jobs in an ancient temple, he found the wood of the inscribed board at the temple gate had rotten, while the base mounted by lacquer ash and grass linen remained in perfect condition. Enlightened by the phenomenon, Shen Shao’an followed the making method of the inscribed board. He designed a model with clay first, then mounted grass linen outside the model, and painted with lacquer. When the lacquer was dried, he removed the clay model, and painted with lacquer again. After testing and improving over and over again, Shen Shao’an finally created the earliest bodiless lacquer ware.

The bodiless lacquer ware making technique created by Shen Shao’an caused quite a stir when it was discovered. The bodiless chrysanthemum-shaped red lacquer bowl with cover Shen Shao’an offered to the imperial court measuring 10 cm high and 10.8 cm in caliber was thin as a piece of paper, less than 1 mm thick. Emperor Qianlong was overjoyed to see the tribute and wrote in official script a poem inside the lid and in the centre of the bowl respectively. This piece of lacquer ware is now preserved in the Palace Museum.

The prrovenance of the vase sold at Chiswick was rather good: something that always helps a lot along these days. The two pieces both came from the Collection of Herbert Dixon Summers (1871-1953), Secretary Directorate General of Posts Peking, and family, thence by descent to the present owner. 清晚期 沈绍安黑漆描金山水漆瓶及托盘

For comparable examples see Debenham and Freebody, The Famous ‘Shen Shao An’ Gold Lacquer of Foochow China. An Account of its Origins and Curious Characteristics, London: Debenham and Freebody, 1914, p 5.

 

Busy, indeed, but no sensations . . . we look at an auction-packed week

Last week was one of the busiest weeks of the year in the UK Chinese art market calendar with major Asian auctions held at Chiswick Auctions, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (Donnington Priory), Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and Duke’s in Dorchester. We attended all these auctions and, indeed, were buyers at all four and, further, visited Halls in Shrewsbury to collect purchases from the previous week’s Asian sale.

Prices held steady throughout all the auctions. There was no evidence of any collapse in the Chinese market. There were Chinese buyers evident at all the sales. There were not so many of them as in recent years but those who were evident on the ground were all serious buyers. Good things, generally speaking, sold well and although there were no sensations in terms of prices achieved, there were good solid results at all the houses.

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Calm before the storm. Chiswick auction room before the sale. Picture by Paul Harris

In financial terms, the Chiswick sale was particularly good for the auction house and its vendors. A large number of lots estimated in the low hundreds climbing into the many thousands surprised those of us in the room. A pile of sundry books sold for £2,000 (one particular book being a sought after item). The sale started well with the first 69 lots coming from the collection of John Marriott and Count R L Sangorski. Purchased from major dealers like Spink and auction houses like Christies, these lots, many accompanied by the original invoices, sold spectacularly well, generally exceeding their estimates. Progress during the sale was painfully slow thanks to half a dozen telephone lines in almost constant use and the usual internet bidders. Around 50 lots per hour was achieved.

For Chiswick, this was their best sale ever seen in its 25 year history. It achieved an 85% sold rate with 82 lots from the Marriott collection bringing in £84,000 including premium. There were also strong results from Transitional period blue and white and photographic albums up for sale.May auctions (32)

Dreweatts sale at Donnington Priory  Photo by Paul Harris

At Dreweatts & Bloomsbury’s delightfully sited auction  room at Donnington Priory, near to Newbury, things were a little less frenetic despite there being several internet connections for bidders. The auctioneer welcomed the fact that there were around 40 active buyers in the room (approximately half Chinese) and commented on how unusual it was. Despite the many ways available to buy (half a dozen telephone lines, four Internet servers and room bidding), it was still possible to buy well, especially for those in the room. Chinese buyers ascribed their good luck to the presence in the room of a large ceramic statue of the Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung!

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Mao Tse Tung presided over the Asian Sale at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Donnington Priory.  Photo by Paul Harris courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

There were certainly a few ‘sleepers’. We think we found one in the form of a mid-to-late 19th century Chinese stick stand very well decorated with dragons and bearing the original label of the vendor, Charles Sleight of London’s Royal Arcade, which pinned down the date of sale to the 1880s.

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Dragon decoration on a 19th century stick stand sold by Charles Sleight, London, around 1880. Photo by Paul Harris

At the same time as the Dreweatts sale there was day one of the Woolley & Wallis two day sale in Salisbury. The first day always tends to be the most expensive at Woolleys and this was no exception. There were many lots in five figures but no sensations. The sale was dominated by telephone internet with only a dozen or so people in the room. This number was considerably larger the following day, a reflection of the more modest, attainable prices. However, if you had wanted the catalogue raisonne of the ceramic works in the Imperial Palace Museum, Beijing, you would not have got it for a few hundred pounds . . .  it was knocked down after competitive bidding at £11,000! Stands also fared particularly well: one lot with half a dozen rather attractive stands got £3,800. There were few bargains to be had, all in all.

For those who needed a rest from the seemingly relentless circuit, Thursday was a day of rest, so to speak. We took the opportunity to view the Friday sale at Duke’s in Dorchester. Amongst the fine things seen was a large, black jade Buddha which would actually fail to sell! We spotted a number of things, however, which we were able to secure bidding on the Internet the following day.

113 dukes Sold at Duke’s

Famille rose box with relief moulded figures and Qianlong mark to base but probably later, £1170 inclusive of premium

 

It’s a busy auction week in the UK!

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Viewing at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Asian Sale on Tuesday of this week is overseen by a large porcelain figure of Mao Tse Tung Photo by Paul Harris

It is a frenetic week for Asian auction enthusiasts – one of the busiest of the year. Staff from this website have aready attended Asian events at Chiswick Auctions (London) and Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (Newbury, Berkshire). Today, we are at Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and tomorrow we move on to Dukes in Dorchester!

We shall post a full report in a couple of days but, thus far, there is no evidence of a collapse in prices in  the Asian market. Quite the contrary. Good things continue to sell well thanks to telephone and internet.

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Viewing at Chiswick Auctions on Monday Photo Paul Harris

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Viewing at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Tuesday Photo Paul Harris

 

Chinese reverse glass paintings feature at Chiswick Asian sale

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Lot 121 An 18th century Chinese reverse glass painting of a beauty for sale at Chiswick Auctions May 16 2016

There are a couple of Chinese reverse glass paintings coming up for sale at Chiswick Auctions on May 16: one of these is particulalry interesting and is classifed as being that of a Chinese ‘beauty’ and referenced to the work of court painter to the Qianlong Emperor, Guiseppe Castiglione, and Bertholet’s book Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chinese Erotic Art.

The auctioneer supplements the printed catalogue entry for the work (no. 121) with an interesting explanation. ‘Reverse glass paintings occupy a special position within Chinese art, crossing over the genres of Chinese export art, glass working, the painting genre of meirenhua (paintings of beauties) and erotic art. Generally associated with English country house collections throughought the 18th century and later, when their vibrant colours and exotic flavour made them the hight of fashionable sophistication and, indeed, both lots 120 and 121 were almost certainly produced for the export market. Lot 120 follows a European original [it depicts the Maddonna and child together with John the Baptist and is painted after a European engraving] which would have been reversed and meticulously painted in oils onto the glass by use of a Chinese brush by artists working in and around Guangzhou to serve the Southern Chinese ports and the [associated] export market.

‘However, since the point of its inception within China, reverse painting was very much an Imperial concern, with Chinese rulers themselves appreciating their exotic foreign characteristics. Huc (1858) mentions that Castiglione learned to paint in oils on glass in Le Christianisme en Chine, en Tartarie and Au Tibet. Amiot (1786) notes that the Qianlong Emperor commissioned Castiglione to paint large mirrors in Memoires concernant l’histoire, les sciences, les arts, les moeurs, les usages, etc. des Chinois, Vol.2.

‘Beurdely’s 1971 catalog raisonne of Guiseppe Castiglione does not include any examples of reverse glass painting. However, one painting in oils, plate 85, a portrait of a young woman dressed as a European Shepherdess, bears close compositional similarities to works on glass . . .  listed as being in the Imperial Palace Collection. . . the oil, said to depict the Qianlong Emperor’s favorite concubine, Rong Fei, presents a Chinese lady seated in a relaxed pose in loose flowing robes and staring directly at the viewer, all features shared with the beauty depicted in Lot 121. The erotic undertones of both paintings, explain why the latter painting was selected by Bertholet for inclusion with his book on the subject [Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chineses Erotic Art]. The piece also fits into a wider category of beauty paintings which has experienced an expansion of academic attention led by James Cahill (2010) and the recent exhibition, Beauty Revealed (2013). Neither, however, addressed reversed glass paintings despite its contribution to the genre. Whilst primarily an export art, its Imperial patronage, technical sophistication and Chinese aesthetics demand that it receive closer academic attention within the canon of Chinese painting art.’

Chinese photo albums feature in next Chiswick Asian sale

Three photographic albums, to be offered in Chiswick Auctions’ ASIAN ART sale on May 16 2016, each give a different perspective on the European experiences within China in the first three decades of the 20th Century.

Given the civil war, World Wars and Communist struggles across China throughout the 20th Century, photographic documentation of this kind tended not to survive. Largely because of this, albums of this kind are important historical documents and their value in auction has increased dramatically in recent years. Occasionally, they turn up at auction as family attics are emptied.

Clearly, such depictions are heavily influenced by the cultural values and backgrounds of the people involved. The album of Herbert Dixon Summers, Secretary Directorate-General of Posts Peking shows photography between the years of 1916 and 1920.

Summers album (1)

The album shows images of an idyllic lifestyle filled with picnics and outings as well as visits to attractions including the Great Wall in 1917, the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City, all in and around Beijing. There are also views of the Tianjin floods of 1917.

The album of Cpl. RS Knott, in contrast, is more directly engaged with the Chinese themselves. It includes images of the Bund, in Shanghai and the Ming tombs, but also images of Knott and his friends dressed up in traditional Chinese robes and pictures of a number of Chinese people with whom they were associated. One tantalising series of images depicts a boating trip in which we see Knott and friends clad in bow ties and summer hats on the one hand, and then the camera is turned to the shore to depict inquisitive Chinese peasants and traditional dwellings along the river bank.

Knott album (5)

It is clear from the playful nature of the images that Knott had a strong joie de vivre but sadly his life was cut tragically short by war. A short diary also loosely inserted and dated 1916, and documenting his passage back from China, states “all male passengers as well as the ship’s Doctor are going home to enlist”, and loosely inserted note from the Records Office states that he was killed in fighting at the Somme during WW1.

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Image from the Knott album

Indeed the Great War put a stop to much European involvement with China for more than fifty years. This included grand infrastructure projects including the railway building projects. The third album, more official in its scope, tracks the building of the Tianjin-Pukou railway, constructed between 1908 and 1912 with photographs of trains, carriages, track and staff and comes from the collection of engineer George Ridgway,who is pictured at the start of the album in a group shot.

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Strictly for the railway enthusiast!

The three albums, each to be offered with an estimate of £200 – 300, will be offered in ASIAN ART, 16 May 2016, are at Chiswick Auctions along with Chinese silver and other objects from the same collections.

 

 

Chinese soapstone cleans up at Chiswick

chiswick auctions soapstone

Chinese soapstone figures are rarely the flavour of the month. They tend to sell relatively cheaply, living very much in the shadow of of more popular hardstone and jade relics. There was, however, a bit of a surprise this week at Chiswick auctions when a rather pretty figural group (illustrated above) made £32,400, inclusive of premium.

The catalogue entry did promise rather more than its modest estimate.

Lot 166

A CHINESE SOAPSTONE ‘LUOHAN AND LION’ GROUP.

Qing Dynasty, 19th / 20th Century.

The group naturalistically carved to depict a Luohan standing in front of a bulging sack, wearing a long flowing robe and holding a ball, a recumbent lion looking up at him, borne on scrolling clouds, decorated with finely incised carving and inlaid decoration, signed Shangjun to the reverse, raised on a carved and pierced cloud-form wooden stand, 6.5cm.

Estimate: £1,500-2,000

19/20世纪 罗汉石雕

Shangjun is a pseudonym adopted by the mid-17th Century master carver Zhou Bin, a native of Zhangzhou, Fujian. For a similarly signed soapstone see Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, 1986, no 44.

The Zhou Bin attribution clearly carried some weight but it was, nevertheless, a considerable achievement to get the price.

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Well worked detail on the Zhou Bin soapstone group sold at Chiswick Auctions

Are UK owners of ivory in panic mode?

There are no statistics available so this might just be a guess on our part . . . but it does seem to us, at chineseart.co.uk, that there is an awful lot of Chinese worked ivory coming onto the market in the last few months. Indeed, there seems to be a plethora of beautifully worked pieces around at the moment. Are owners disposing of their collections in fear of the present Conservative government fulfilling its rash and ill thought out election pledge to ban the sale of ivory?

The many recent Asian and Chinese auctions have featured a considerable amount of ivory – certainly, rather more than usual. Some auctioneers, however, are abjuring ivory and not accepting it for sale at all. Chiswick Auctions went down that road after their prosecution and £3,200 fine in 2014 for selling a piece of worked ivory which turned out to date from the 1960s. In a recent Antiques Trade Gazette article on Asian Art in London, Lyon & Turnbull’s Lee Young went on record as stating his company would only accept some of the very best pieces and was drawing away from the area.

Effectively, if auctioneers stop selling historic ivory pieces they will simply pave the way for government legislation allowing the politicians to say, “Well, the market has decided not to sell the stuff so all we are doing is formalising it.”

Although there is a welcome academic initiative from the School of Law at Portsmouth University, which has just embarked on a year-long study of the possible outcome of a ban, it may well not have a direct impact on law making apart from spurring more unwelcome attention..

Our position here has always been that we think the existing CITES regulations are perfectly adequate as a basis for dealing in historic, worked ivory; and that any ban on trading such items would be unfair in the extreme on reputable dealers, collectors and those who have unwittingly inherited items of beauty and history which happen to be made of a material now ruthlessly condemned by the politically correct. As much as we deplore the killing of endangered elephants for modern use of ivory, it is not possible to turn back the clock. Historic pieces of worked ivory, many of them exquisitely accomplished centuries ago are a part of our heritage and should remain so. Any ban will, of course, drive the market underground, closing down availability and pushing up prices. So maybe now is actually the time to invest . . .

Illustrated below is one very fine piece which will be exposed for sale in Hannam’s next auction on December 11.

hannams lot 612

hannams lot 612 detailhannams lot 612 detail end

Lot 612 A Canton carved ivory tusk. Most probably 19th century, if not earlier, and particularly well carved.