Asian art auctions crowd the calendar in November

gavel 1 Auction fever in November

For the Asian art buyer next month promises to be a taxing, wallet emptying experience . . . It is the busiest month ever for Asian art auctions. Starting November 3 with London’s Chiswick Auctions, the next 28 days of the month of November will see no fewer  than 20 major auctions of Asian art.

The sales range in size from Sotheby’s November 11 sale of Classical Chinese Furniture from a European Private Collection with just 28 lots of fine-looking huanghuali furniture, to Woolley & Wallis’s usual two day extravaganza on November 17 and 18. They range in location from Bonhams Edinburgh rooms to Dukes in Dorchester and Peter Francis in Carmarthen.

The plethora of sales raises problems of logistics for the avid follower of Chinese auction offerings. Even if you only peruse catalogues on line, you have to set aside at least a couple of days. As for attending all the sales, that is a practical impossibility given the distances involved and the fact that many sales compete with each other on the same day!

Things calm down, thankfully, at the end of the month, although you may care to take in, if you have the energy and the bank balance left, the Lyon & Turnbull auction at Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire. L&T are again abandoning their elegant Edinburgh saleroom for a small barn in order to be within relatively easy reach of the London market and Heathrow airport.

The auction mania is effectively driven by other surrounding events. The prestigious Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair has a strong Chinese and Asian showing this year and starts with its private view on November 2. Asian Art in London starts on November 5 and runs on until the 14th. Both events bring thousands of Asian buyers to London.


      Lyon & Turnbull . . . at Crosshall Manor again     Photo Paul Harris

Listings for all the auctions can be found on our Auctions Nationwide page which is accessible from the slider bar on the Home Page of

Mixed fortunes for L&T at Crosshall Manor

866 Top seller at £80,000

The second day of Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull’s 2-day Asian Sale today saw mixed fortunes at what is developing as their southern outpost at Crosshall Manor, St. Neots, Cambridgeshire. Although the sale saw many unsold lots in the mid and lower levels, most of the ‘quality’ items up for sale found new homes at respectable prices.

Unlike last December’s sale, when a modest little Kangxi vase soared unexpectedly to around the £300,000 mark, there were no such breath taking occurrences. Lee Young, Head of the Asian Department, professed himself pleased with the overall result of the sale which, it would appear, was well in excess of £1m. However, he admitted it was often ‘difficult’ when it came to returning unsold lots.

It seems that the market itself has changed dramatically from last year when comparatively modest pieces of blue and white flew away. Buyers are now more cautious and whilst there is always a home for an outstanding piece, less immediately desirable lots are struggling. There may be a number of factors at play: there is a pronounced downturn in the market in China itself and the multiplicity of Asian sales is emptying the pockets of Chinese buyers. Over the last month, there have been Asian Art events in London, New York and Hong Kong. Indeed, L& T themselves are just returned from Hong Kong where they exhibited at the Hong Kong Art & Antiques Fair at the end of May. “We met several new buyers as a result and a good proportion of the high value lots sold today went to new clients we met there.”

Today, telephone and internet bidders, in that order, dominated the room. When the sale started, there were just nine members of the buying public in the room. Buyers were heavily outnumbered by L&T staff manning the phones and the computers. Last December, virtually every chair was taken.

There were solid prices for the best. A Yongzheng ruby-ground famille rose peony bowl achieved the top price of £80,000 hammer (estimate £80-120,000), and a rhinoceros horn libation cup got £74,000. As we wrote before, there were three exceptional oils by Chen Yanning (born 1945). Two failed to sell but a fine painting of two girls entitled ‘Serenity’ sold for £60,000, against an estimate of £80,000-120,000.


Chen Yanning’s ‘Serenity’: sold for £60,000

Although a large number of lots sold around the bottom estimate, there were some that roared away against expectations. Lot 730, an iron red dragon bottle vase with Daoguang mark and of the period, estimated at £6,000-8,000, was finally knocked down at £70,000 after a long, extended bidding process. Eventually a bidder from China on the telephone appeared to tire of the slow bidding in increments of £2,000. At £42,000 he placed a kill-all closing bid of £70,000!


Daoguang mark  and period dragon vase: £70,000

L & T fine modern Chinese paintings on offer at Crosshall Manor

Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have a group of interesting Chinese paintings by an accomplished contemporary artist coming up for sale on Tuesday at Crosshall Manor, St. Neots, some 50 miles north of London. They are to offer for sale a collection of three paintings by artist Chen Yanning (born 1945) in the upcoming Fine Asian Works of Art auction on 16 June 2015.  The works are in a strong realist tradition which will appeal to buyers who are not attracted to so-called ‘cutting edge’ modern works but who rather cherish traditional, painterly skills.

The paintings have come from Susan and Michael Gassaway, owners of the Syllavethy Gallery, Aberdeenshire, who have something of a fascinating background with Chen Yanning. They first met Chen Yanning on a trip to China in 1984, when he was Head of the Guangdong Institute of Fine Art. To reciprocate his hospitality, Susan and Michael invited Yanning to visit the UK to view some of the Old Masters of Western Art that he had only seen in books back in China.

Two years later, Yanning arrived in Aberdeen and together with Susan and Michael, he visited the museums in Scotland and London. (Yanning, it is recorded, made the museum attendants nervous as he wanted to get up close to study the thickness of paint on his favourite masterpieces!) He, Susan and Michael communicated by using sign language and drawing sketches and quickly established a great friendship.

CHEN YANNING (B. 1945)  STILT-HOUSE  oil on canvas


Yanning was invited to visit the US in the Eighties. When he decided to remain there, Susan and Michael offered to support him by finding portrait commissions for him in the UK. With hard work they amassed a fine collection of portrait commissions from a very wide variety of people, from those who scraped together the money because they so admired Yanning’s talent, to dignitaries including the Lord Mayor of London, Richard Branson, all the Body Shop family and the Royal Family including the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne. Yanning’s portrait of the Queen was subsequently used by Royal Mail for the Jubilee Year stamp.

Susan made all the arrangements for portrait sittings, from booking flights, to hotels and sittings, often several in different parts of the UK during one trip. She accompanied Yanning as the driver and Jill-of-all fixer. During the sessions, Susan would chat to the sitters placing herself in their direct line of their vision so that they moved as little as possible and Yanning could concentrate on his work. This is a very exceptional friendship going far beyond a mere business association.

During his career, Yanning’s paintings have been acquired by major museums including the Chinese National Gallery, the Museum of Chinese History and the West Australian National Gallery and elsewhere around the world. His paintings have also been selected for the Chinese National Art Exhibition, the Paris Salon, and others around the world including Australia, Japan, Canada and Brazil.

Yanning’s exposure to Eastern and Western influence has come to define his unique style and accomplishment, which continues to achieve a broad appeal; this collection of paintings (as pictured) is anticipated to spark interest amongst Chinese contemporary art collectors and galleries around the globe.

CHEN YANNING (B. 1945)  SERENITY  oil on canvas


Who am I? Lyon & Turnbull Asian Sale teaser

SONY DSC L&T at Crosshall Manor last December

Following upon last December’s sensationally successful event, Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull ( return to Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire for another sale June 15-16. This time around, it is a mammoth two day sale: almost 700 lots of Chinese and Japanese ceramics, pictures and other collectables on Day 2; and 249 lots from a private, single owner collection on Day One.

Items in the single owner collection are quite modestly estimated and it could provide an opportunity to acquire some attractive and previously carefully selected objects. The first day’s sale is lyrically entitled ‘The Considered Eye’, in tribute to the anonymous collector of the objects on sale: the family have requested anonymity, so L&T have written a rather teasing introduction to the catalogue with much information about the erstwhile owner but no actual name.

It’s a little bit like a Victorian parlour game: Who am I? Well, there are quite a number of interesting  clues. Presumably, the owner in question is deceased. He probably died during his ’70s or ’80s having been collecting for forty years ca. 1970-2010. We learn he travelled, presumably to China, during the 1970s. He collected Oriental art but also had been or was interested in European porcelain and early bronzes, English silver and coins and modern and contemporary art.

He patronised Douglas J K Wright Ltd Oriental Art from 1974 onwards, bought jade and visited the painted enamel exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in 1978. Later, in 1986, he visited Chinese Works of Art from the Scholar’s Study at Spink & Son in New York; also Spink’s exhibitions in London 1983-89.

He was born in the month of the crab and travelled extensively acquiring Oriental objects. In the UK, there were frequent visits to the BM, the V&A and the Ashmolean. Later, there would be a trip to Japan which had the effect of broadening the scope of the collection. He collected the works of the Japan-based French printmaker Paul Jacoulet.

Well, not too difficult is it? Answers by email, with your address, before June 13 to The first email with the likely correct answer will win a bottle of Moet Chandon!

Wucai dragon & phoenix baluster vases

Lot 55 A pair of wucai ‘Dragon and Phoenix’ baluster vases, Wanli mark but 18th or 19th century.  Est £5,000-8,000.

Drama and surprise mark auctioneer L&T’s southern foray


Crosshall Manor Lyon &Turnbull Asian Sale today   Photo Paul Harris

It was always going to be a brave venture. Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull decided to forsake their magnificent metropolitan Edinburgh auction rooms for the back room of a modest home counties manor house in the backwaters of Cambridgeshire. Are they mad, or what?

Well, of course, they want to crack the remunerative Asian market big time and, somehow, Edinburgh is a bridge too far for Chinese buyers who want to fly into Heathrow, nobble the goods and get out with them without the pain of connecting flights. And so, they came to Cambridgeshire, just an hour or so from London and its own repository of big money. As the sale opened this morning, one wondered whether or not the strategy was going to work. The Chinese had certainly arrived in some force: in a small room with just forty or fifty seats, Chinese buyers occupied almost thirty.

The London trade was almost completely absent although L&T said they had viewed and would be on telephone and internet from their gilded cages in Mayfair and St. James’s . Anyway, probably just as well they did not appear: it was a tight enough squeeze for the Chinese and a dozen or so UK buyers in between the glass cases surrounding the buyers and the large enclosure for L&T staff (some 15 at one count) manning computers, telephones and cellphones (goodness knows which provider they were using – I certainly could get virtually no signal on my Three mobile . . . ).

The enclosed geography of the auction room had something of the atmosphere of a gambling den – which was, on second thoughts, probably approaching the reality of the proceedings. The sale started slowly and unexcitingly. There were many passed lots and quite a number of bargains to be had: on reflection that was probably the time to buy well because things were to change dramatically . . .

It seemed that as soon as Paul Roberts took to the rostrum things really rather picked up. Now that should not be ascribed to the considerable charisma of this senior executive of Lyon and Turnbull. Rather, he chose his entrance well . . . to sell the Asian contents of the estate of romantic novelist (Lady) Mary Stewart. She had some rather good stuff, courtesy of her top rank dealers Hugh and Sidney Moss. A carved rhinoceros horn libation cup kicked off her collection with £44,000 on the hammer . . .


Happy or what? Auctioneer Paul Roberts knocks down a little blue & white vase for £240,000    Photo Paul Harris

However, the surprise of the sale was an unpretentious little Meiping blue and white vase catalogued as ‘Kangxi mark but later’ and estimated at £800-1200. Nothing special really – as the dealer sitting beside me observed, ‘It’s a £2,000 vase.’ Well, it took rather a long time to sell. But it’s a long way up into the stratosphere for a £2,000 vase to reach £240,000. As the competing bids came in, the reaction of the Chinese in the room, who had the vase in clear view, turned from utter bemusement to open derision. With premium and the rest it cost the telephone bidder around £300,000.

As far as we could see the factor which commended it to putative future owners was The Provenance: ‘Gift from Hugh Moss, 1970s, early 1980s.’ As you know, dealers of the quality of Hugh Moss don’t give rubbish to one of their best clients. However, I hazard a guess he may be a trifle amused when he reads about it . . .


Telephone and internet dominated proceedings with a dozen or more L&T staff manning the lines    Photo Paul Harris

From that point in the sale, things never really let up. On some lots, there would be twelve to fourteen L&T staff rising to their feet with telephone and internet bids. A couple of lots later, an unassuming  Wucai dragon and phoenix dish estimated at £800-1200 was knocked down for £25,000. Three lots later a pleasant carved wood brush pot estimated at £1,200-500 was sold for £48,000. The snuff bottles, with their impeccable provenance, went crazy.

Other collections similarly did well and the only disappointment was The Max Lowenson Tang Horses. As handsome as they were, the Chinese market demonstrated its distinct lack of enthusiasm for funerary ornaments. However, a Yongzheng celadon and blue charger from the same collection as their June blue and white charger success (£345,000 hammer) was knocked down for £200,000. A pair of doucai ‘butterflies and flowers’ medallion bowls got £75,000, against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.

All in all, it was a rather good day for Lyon & Turnbull.We asked a representative of the company if they would be coming back to Crosshall Manor for their next Asian Sale. “I imagine so,” she cheerfully confirmed. However, with the level of telephone and internet bidding which characterised this sale, the same result might have been achieved from the basement at 25 Acacia Gardens . . . oh, and a note to L&T admin. For goodness sake, if you are returning, get wifi access installed for your bidders. The Chinese buyers were very frustrated not to be able to get onto their life support system, WeChat.