It was scheduled to be sold in public yesterday by Christie’s in a single lot sale. It was, indeed, sold March 19, a day early, and the sale was by secret, private treaty. All we know is that this extraordinary piece, an archaic Western Zhou (possibly Shang) bronze known as the ‘Min’ Fanglei, or square piece, was sold for a figure in excess of US$20m. (yes, twenty million US dollars).
It was previously sold at Christie’s in New York in March 2001 for US$9m, then a record for a Chinese archaic bronze. The purchaser was rumoured to have been an Italian collector who has just died. His wife offered it for sale. That means a tremendous profit on the piece over a period of thirteen years: a profit which reflects the soaring prices for many categories of Chinese art, especially for fine Western Zhou pieces.
This particular piece is a massive bronze ritual wine vessel, reckoned to be one of the finest to ever come on the market. It was estimated pre-sale at US$15m. and an offer was made in the last few days of $20m. This was rejected by the owner and, accordingly, we understand, the successful bid was well in excess of $20m.
It has been bought, it is understood, by a group of wealthy collectors, many of whom come from, or have interests in, China’s Hunan Province. They have agreed, it is said, to donate the piece to the Hunan Museum which already possesses a lid, thought to be from this particular vessel, and which is rich in fine Western Zhou works.
The provenance is excellent. It has been owned or handled by many illustrious collectors: A W Bahr, C F Yau and C T Loo among them.