Highlights of 2015 on Chineseart.co.uk

We look back on the year 2015 as reflected by the pages of Chineseart.co.uk

January 2015

London dealer Anita Gray offered this exquisite Kangxi figure for sale. Hardly surprisingly, it was snapped up in a matter of hours!

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February 2015

Brought the sale of contents at Eden Hall, in the Scottish borders, by the Rt Hon Lady Loch. There were several items brough back tothe UK from Yuanminguan by the 1st Baron Loch (background and below a pair of sancai roof tiles).

Rt Hon Lady Loch

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The month also saw a spectacular, hihgly organised theft from Fontainebleau. Fifteen items were stolen from the Chinese collection, many of which had been looted from Yuanminguan by French soldiers. There has been no sign of them being recovered and the artefacts are reckoned by experts to have been ‘repatriated’ to China.

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March 2015

the Shanghai-based sculptor Chen Dapeng announces his participation in the Olympia Art & Antiques Fair, November 2015 (below).

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April 2015

We visit the porcelain city, Jingdezhen, for a series of articles. Below, The Jingdezhen Porcelain Orchestra.

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May 2015

We ask if Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian (below) has got his money back from producing copies of his US$36m. chicken cup. He drinks from the original below, and also the boxed reproduction which sells at around $60 !

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June 2015

We reported from Taipei on the chronic overcrowding at The National Palace Museum.

National Palace Museum (6)

July 2015

We turned our attention to the Chinese fashion industry in our article The Traditional Etihc in Chinese Fashion goes International. Below is Guo Pei’s stunning twist on Chinese blue and white porcelain. Also fashion label Doudu’s ‘Bodybelt’, a modern piece of lingerie based on traditional underwear.

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August 2015

We published this photogrpah of a painting offered for sale at the June Olympia Art & Antiques Fair: the mystery gil with the penetrating gaze, artist unknown. Nobody volunteeered any information who she might be!

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September 2015

London dealers Marchant, Kensington Church Street, celebrated their 90th anniversary with a collection of magnificient jades they had handled over the years.

Marchant jade 2

October 2015

A top Chinese official warns on the widespread destruction of the country’s cultural heritiage at the hands of tomb robbers and property developers. Below a photograph of the unique colonial style Arxan Shan Railway Station in northern China, destroyed by property developers.

 arxan shan railway station

November 2015

Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng celebrates the opening of his first exhibition in London The Winter Olympia Art & Antiques Fair. His 200 sq m stand was organised by his UK agents Paul Harris Asia Arts. His bust of HM Queen Elizabeth II (below) proved controversial and received massive TV, radio and press coverage. It was, however, only one sculpture out of almost fifty works on display.

Paul-Olympia 29

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December 2015

The Berlin-based online auctioneer Auctionata put up a small Kangxi dragon vase for sale estimated at euro 5-10,000. It started at 5,000 and rose giddily to the heights of euro 875,000 – almost a million dollars.

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Fontainebleau theft: net spreads internationally in search for Chinese art treasures

exclusive sloping to top from Paul Harris The net is spreading ever wider in the search for the criminals responsible for the March 1 raid on The Chinese Museum at Fontainebleau Castle. Initially, the theft of 15 ‘priceless’ items (estimated by chineseart.co.uk at a minimum of £50m. or euro $65m.) was being handled exclusively by L’Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels (OCBC).  The OCBC started operations in 2009 charged with countering art theft in France under the jurisdiction of The Ministry of the Interior. It also works closely with INTERPOL. However, with the trail now going cold and the very real possibility existing that the works of art have already been transferred overseas by air, the dramatic heist is now also being investigated by the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security, France’s military foreign intelligence agency). Given the professionalism of the assault on the Castle, all thoughts of the crime being opportunistic or the work of non-professional criminals are now discounted. The general feeling in intelligence circles is that this was ‘an ordered job’ carried out by local French professional criminals acting as agents for a third party. That third party is almost certainly abroad, well away from French jurisdiction and, according to one intelligence expert, “The smart money is on the artefacts being on the way to The People’s Republic of China (PRC)”. chinese museum

The Chinese Museum at Fontainebleau Castle

It is, of course, highly unlikely that any state actor is involved directly. As explained in yesterday’s story on chineseart.co.uk, several of the stolen items originated from thefts by French troops from the old Summer Palace in Beijing.  This represents an open, running sore in China and the hot theory at the moment is that this job was ‘ordered’ by a wealthy Chinese businessman or art collector (local or ‘overseas Chinese’) concerned with the repatriation of art which was originally stolen from China. It seems highly likely that the objects concerned are already in the PRC and, if that is the case, they will not be seen or heard of again for many decades, until it is politically convenient or suitable for the matter to become public knowledge. As ever, the Chinese take the long view of things and even if these unique artefacts cannot be shown publicly at this time they will be regarded as having been effectively ‘banked’.

Footnote:The International Role of the Poly Group of Companies

The organisation which has been closely involved in the acquisition of stolen Chinese art (legally, of course) is the cultural division of the Poly Group of companies, which has been an arm of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Poly Museum holds bronze heads – also from Yuanminguan and recovered 2000. The Poly Auction house is a well known institution in Beijing.According to the Poly Group’s own public statement, (our italics) ‘Poly Art Museum was founded in December 1998 with the approval of State Administration of Cultural Heritage of China and Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau and opened to public in December 1999. It is the first museum operated by a state-owned enterprise in the Chinese mainland. The aim of the museum is to develop and display traditional national culture and art, and to rescue and protect Chinese cultural relics lost abroad. It has two parts of exhibition: bronze and stone carvings. Most of the exhibits have been retrieved from abroad, and a considerable part has especially high historical and artistic value as they are quintessence or the only existing versions. The “China Ancient Bronze Art Exhibition” displays more than 100 pieces (groups) of excellent bronzes that present the development and charm of China ‘s ancient bronze civilization. The “China Ancient Stone Carvings Exhibition” displays more than 40 exquisite stone carvings from the fifth to eighth century, a peak period of China ‘s Buddhist art. Now the Poly Art Museum is regarded in China and abroad as one of the best known museums in the Chinese mainland.‘In May 2000, the Poly Group retrieved three national treasures – the Cattle Head, Monkey Head and Tiger Head, all made of bronze. They were robbed out of China by western powers from Yuan Ming Yuan Park more than 100 years ago. The retrieve action won approval and support from a large social circle both at home and abroad, and inspired patriotism among the Chinese people, especially overseas Chinese. Poly Group exhibited the treasures in Hong Kong and several other cities including Beijing , Shanghai and Guangzhou and Taiwan . More than four million visitors have seen them during the tour exhibition, which has boosted the prestige for Poly Group and Poly Art Museum .’ The items taken from Fontainebleau would, of course, represent logical additions to the Poly collection. Whether or not that might actually occur at some indeterminate point in the future is, of course, pure speculation.

Less than 10% of all items stolen from French museums and galleries are ever recovered.

Fontainebleau theft: stolen Chinese art previously stolen! Is it on its way back to Beijing?

 

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exclusive sloping to top from Paul Harris

In an ironic twist on the story we reported earlier this week, it is now believed that several of the Chinese art works stolen from the Chinese Museum at Fontainebleau Palace, near Paris, were themselves stolen in 1861 by French troops who looted the old Summer Palace (Yuanminguan).

A full list of the 15 items that were stolen is not available, though there are authenticated reports that among the lifted items were an 18th century Chinese cloisonné-enameled chimera and a rare Tibetan mandala, thought to be originally part of the old Summer Palace collection.

For most Chinese the ruins of the old Summer Palace are redolent of an era of colonial exploitation and ruthless pillage, and there will be little sympathy in China for the loss suffered at Fontainebleau this week.

Indeed, there is some speculation now in Beijing that the items now in turn stolen in Paris might just turn up back in the Chinese capital . . .

Château de Fontainebleau was decorated by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, with artifacts collected by her and by the sack of the Summer Palace by French and British soldiers in 1860.

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If you are not Chinese, it’s hard to express how raw the150-year-old wound still is. This BBC documentary aired last month puts it in perspective, when it said: “There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK’s relations with China – a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country’s most beautiful palace.”

Château de Fontainebleau’s website was offline for most of yesterday. Possibly the site was overwhelmed by traffic, maybe purposely shut down, or even hacked. It is, however, back on today but remains tight-lipped on any further developments.

One of the last times that artifacts originating in the Old Summer Palace were in the news was when one of France’s wealthiest businessmen agreed to return two bronze animal heads in 2013 that were looted by French and British troops in the 19th century.. Several of the original bronze heads can now be seen in person at the Poly Art Museum at Dongsishitiao.

The Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was built in 1707 under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor and is located in Haidian. It was looted and destroyed almost completely during the closing days of the Second Opium War by British and French troops under the order of the British commander, Lord Elgin, at the time.

Noted French novelist Victor Hugo noted at the time: “All the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient … One of the two victors filled his pockets; when the other saw this he filled his coffers. And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. Such is the story of the two bandits. We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians. This is what civilization has done to barbarism.”

It would, indeed, represent the supreme irony if some of the items so lately stolen were to turn up again in Beijing. We are making no predictions as such but it is a distinct possibility, according to Beijing chatter.

‘£50 million worth’ of Chinese art stolen from chateau in France

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In the early hours of yesterday morning, fifteen highly important works of Asian art were stolen from Fontainebleau Castle 60km. south of Paris, France. In a daring raid which lasted only seven minutes, the thieves broke into a ground floor room at the centre of the castle, part of the so-called Chinese Museum. Glass cases were smashed with chairs and fire extinguishers were used to obscure security cameras. Although the alarm system was activated, by the time security staff stumbled on the scene the thieves had made off.

It was clearly an extremely well planned operation and, in the view of at least one expert, there was probably involvement from within the castle staff. In the view of chineseart.co.uk, the value of the heist could be as much as £50 million (70 million euros).

An 18th century Chinese chimera was amongst objects stolen which also included a rare Tibetan mandala ornament fashioned from coral, gold and turquoise, several Chinese vases and a replica crown of the King of Siam, given to  Napoleon III in 1861. The Chinese chimera dates from the Qianlong period and is decorated with cloisonné enamel.

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Jean Francois Hebert, President of the Chateau, said in a distinctly pessimistic statement, “These are probably very professional people who know the place and the protection systems very well. They calculated their strike and knew very well what they were after. This is deeply traumatic and we can only hope these artworks return to the market one day.” Note he used the word ‘market’ rather than ‘chateau’ or ‘collection’.

The works in the Chinese Museum were collected by Empress Eugenie and have been kept in the Museum since 1863 (see picture below)..

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