Jorge Welsh to offer ‘soldier vases’ at TEFAF

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Top end Chinese art dealer Jorge Welsh, who is based in London’s Kensington Church Street and in Lisbon, will be showing two very large and magnificent so-called ‘soldier vases’ at the upcoming edition of TEFAF in Maastricht. These large vases (140cm. in height) are what auctioneers usually term ‘massive’. However, they are not just massive. They are also wonderfully decorated and are thought to be from the period 1750-55 during the Qianlong dynasty. They are meticulously decorated in overglaze polychrome enamels and gold.

Not only were such vases difficult to successfully decorate and fire, but they also took up a lot of room on board the ships whch exported them to Europe. Accordingly, they were always very expensive. This particular pair bears the coat of arms of the Spanish nobleman Francisco Jose de Ovando y Solis and would have been made to order.

The descriptive term ‘soldier vases’ came into use in the early 18th century. In 1717, Frederick Augustus Strong (1670-1733), the Elector of Saxony and a passionate collector of Chinese export porcelain, traded an entire regiment of 600 soldiers for 18 such vases from Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.

They are still made today in Jingdezhen, China. These days, however, you can pick one up for US$300 or so. Not quite the same thing, of course.

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Modern ‘soldier vases’ lined up for shipping from Jingdezhen. 2015 photograph by              Paul Harris.

‘Unique’ white porcelain statue of Mao Tse Tung to be offered for £500,000 at AFE

An almost life-size white porcelain statue of legendary Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung is to be offered for sale at half a million pounds (sterling) at next month’s Antiques for Everyone Fair: Art, Antiques, Interiors Fair at London’s Excel Exhibition Centre. It is said to be quite possibly ‘unique’ and the only survivor of an edition of just two made in 1967.

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The statue was produced in October 1967 to the order of the Chinese government. It is now owned by Scottish investment company Coldingham Investments Ltd, which has extensive interests in the Chinese art market. Explains managing director Paul Harris, ‘We know that two of these statues were made but there is no trace now of the other one which went to Chinese government offices after completion. This statue of China’s controversial leader may well be unique.

‘It is dated October 1967 which was a landmark time for China as the Cultural Revolution was launched. It is a ‘heroic’ interpretation of Mao at the height of his adulation. As such, it is a vitally important historical relic.’

The 1.42m-tall white-glazed statue is accurate down to every last detail, including the birthmark on Mao’s face. The subject wears the legendary ‘Mao jacket’ with every button faithfully replicated. For many years this statue graced the halls of the Chinese Embassy in Rome but was removed from show when the great leader fell from favour. It is in perfect condition.

According to researches carried out by the vendors, it was made in 1967 in China’s porcelain capital, Jingdezhen. Says Paul Harris, ‘It is notoriously difficult to make a white porcelain statue of this very large size. Accordingly, large numbers could not be manufactured. This perfect example would probably have been preceded by dozens of failures during the firing process. We know of no other surviving examples.’

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The 50 year-old statue is inscribed with the brave legend ‘May Mao Tse Tung live for 10,000 years’. It bears the number ‘2’ and and also bears the date October 1967.

It will be on show at AFE, the first London edition of AFE which has enjoyed a successful run in Birmingham for many years, with an unveiling on Stand E5 (Paul Harris Asia Arts) on the morning of January 13. AFE takes place at the Excel Exhibition Centre in the east of London January 13-15.

Further details may be had by emailing paul@chineseart.co.uk.

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Big can be beautiful, even if it’s recent . . .

In recent times, good quality twentieth century Chinese pieces have started to attract respectable, if not outstanding, prices in western salerooms. Most often such pieces are well made and, above all, attractive. If one was feeling rude about it, you might refer to them as designer or furnishing pieces.

Indeed, even in Jingdezhen, China’s procelain capital, where some very fine porcelain is churned out daily and the choice is enormous, good quality pieces are sold at very respectable prices going into he many thousands of dollars or pounds.

The Dreweatts & Blomsbury Interiors sale at Donnington Priory on April 19 features some 90 Asian lots. The majority of the lots are recent in vintage, mainly 19th century. ‘Interiors’ tends to be an acronym for good quality, attractive furnishing items. There are quite a number of these in the sale. If you happen to like big pieces which make a statement (and you have the space to house them), Lot 216 caught our eye ‘A large pair of Chinese blue and white ‘Fish’ vases and covers’. They look good despite their nouveau provenance. Standing an impressive 105 cm. high, and estimated at £500-1500, they would make a great piece of decoration for an entrance hall or stairwell . . .

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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.

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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.

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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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Has Liu Yiqian got his $36m. back?

It seemed like the sale of the century when Shanghai taxi driver turned billionaire, 52 year-old Liu Yiqian, spent over US$36million on a tiny 500 year-old chicken cup at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in July 2014. Those who thought he was mad, felt their fears confirmed when he paid for it ( with 24 separate swipes of his Amex card) and promptly sat down and drank tea from it.wpid-liu-drinks-from-chicken-cup-lr.jpg.jpeg

It seemed like an awful lot of money: he beat London art dealer Eskenazi to the post. But in Shanghai three weeks ago, we picked up word on the street that he has made all the $36m. back already. Apparently, he licensed reproduction of the chicken bowl and more than 100,000 have been produced in Jingdezhen, the porcelain city. They sell at around $50-60 a piece, complete with elegant box and are, indeed, selling like hotcakes! There is also a rather more expensive replica at around $1,000. He presented one of the replicas to the UK’s Prince William on his visit to Shanghai recently.

The production quality is really quite good and it has caught on with Chinese who can’t quite afford the real thing but would like to grace their coffee table with something associated with great wealth. There is also a rather more expensive reproduction for the better heeled.

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Two views of the reproduction chicken bowl, above

 

Tong Bin the Immortal Father of porcelain manufacture

In the Chinese porcelain capital of Jingdezhen is to be found The Wind and Fire Immortal Temple in the grounds of the city’s Ancient Kiln Museum. The temple is dedicated to Tong Bin, the Immortal of Wind and Fire.

 wpid-jingdezhen-ancient-kiln-museum-tong-bin-lr.jpg.jpegShrine to Tong Bin, Ancient Kiln Museum, Jingdezhen

By reputation, Tong Bin was the master of kiln firing in the city during the Wanli period who sacrificed his life firing the giant Imperial jar. As a result he was honoured as the kiln god. The temple itself was built during the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) and is 485 sq m in size with areas for the Ancestral Hall and Bedchambers and a deep pool located in the centre of the structure.

 

Tang Ying master of porcelain commemorated

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The memorial to Tang Ying at Jingdezhen Ancient Kiln Museum. Photo Paul Harris

Tang Ying (1682-1756) remains to this day one of the great masters of Chinese porcelain and is commemorated at the Ancient Kiln Park in the porcelain capital of Jingdezhen.

He was born in Mukden in north China (now known as Shenyang) during the Qing era. He is also known as Jun Gong or ‘Wo Ji Old Man’. In 1728, the sixth year of the Yongzheng period, he was appointed as an Associate at the Royal porcelain plant. He supervised the kilns until the 21st year of the Qianlong period. During the period of his supervision of the kilns, he developed an intensive knowledge of the techniques of manufacture of porcelain. The best of his examples are still identified as ‘Tang Kiln porcelain’. He wrote several authoritative books about porcelain, including Tao Cheng Chronicle, Porcelain Making Illustrations, and Stories of Porcelain Makers. He also left behind a store of documents which today serve as primary source material.

Porcelain Orchestra symbolises achievements of Jingdezhen

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The Jingdezhen Porcelain Orchestra  Photo Paul Harris

Unique in the world, the Porcelain Orchestra of Jingdezhen symbolises the achievements of China’s so-called ‘porcelain city’, Jingdezhen where porcelain is on every street and every corner. Daily, in the grounds of the Ancient Kiln Museum, nine young ladies serenade visitors from a platform built out on a lake. All their instruments are made from high-fired porcelain: only the very best clay is used in the manufacture of their flutes, bells and stringed instruments. The sound produced is particularly resonant, clear and precise.

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Photo Paul Harris

When you go to Jingdezhen don’t miss out on this experience. The girls perform an especially striking version of Jingle Bells in their everyday performances!

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Photo Paul Harris

We meet a talented decorator of porcelain in Jingdezhen

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As we reported yesterday, this week we are in the porcelain capital of China, the city of Jingdezhen. Jingdezhen is synonymous with the word porcelain here in China. Porcelain is everywhere: in the form of everyday street furniture, porcelain shops and showrooms (the number well into five figures) and craftspeople skilled in the art of porcelain manufacture who work for large enterprises and, indeed, work away on their own.

Today, we had the privilege to meet a young man whose painterly decorating skills far exceed those of many of his older fellow artists. Liu Zhen works in a backstreet of Jingdezhen in a small rented workshop.

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Generally, Liu Zheng works on a small scale: he decorates small objects like teacups in the most exquisite detail. His subjects are usually traditional Chinese ones drawn from the ancient history and culture of China. Some are rather more tongue in cheek, like his erotic teacups depicting couples in glorious union! However, he also tackles larger works upon commission. The porcelain panel above was commissioned from him and depicts no less than 87 Chinese gods. Each one is depicted in quite extraordinary detail finely picked out by his amazing brush power. He showed us it in its almost-finished stage: shortly it will be delivered to his customer.

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However, he seems rather more comfortable working on a smaller scale. His teacups are breathtaking. On the left above is a teacup which has been decorated prior to firing. The cup on the right has been fired and is ready for sale. Also, in our top picture, he shows a smaller porcelain plaque which he is still working on. You will note how the application of glaze and the firing changes the colour dramatically from a browny-grey to achieve full blue and white effect.

He takes all the credit for his own work. Although it might pass for a Ming or Qing piece, he always adds his own mark (unlike many producers here in Jingdezhen). This can be seen to the base of the cup, right. He is confident enough in his own work to represent it as his own.

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That having been said, like all modern artists in China, they draw upon their own ancient culture and we see an old dragon-decorated cover on his desk. Real craftsmen in today’s China continually seek to emulate and surpass past masters.

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Welcome to Jingdezhen porcelain capital of China

 

 

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Wall vase, Jingdezhen  Photo by Paul Harris

We have now arrived in Jingdezhen, not without reason dubbed the porcelain capital of China. Porcelain and pottery has been made here for more than 1700 years although the name of this place was changed to Jingdezhen only 700 or so years ago. Porcelain is everywhere . . .  .

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Public convenience, Jingdezhen   Photo by Paul Harris

In this, our first posting from the porcelain capital of China, we are putting up some of the more unusual places we have sighted use of porcelain. . . we’ll get serious rather later.

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Drainage channel, Kiln & Folk Museum, Jingdezhen  Photo Paul Harris

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Porcelain litter bins in blue & white, Jingdezhen  Photo Paul Harris

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And even the lamp posts are made of blue & white porcelain in Jingdezhen!

Photo by Paul Harris

‘But is it the real thing?’

opinion hl by Paul Harris

But is it the real thing? This must be one of the most oft heard queries at auction viewings of Chinese ceramics and works of art these days. Even if it’s not heard, it’s what is constantly going through the minds of collectors and dealers as they survey the offerings. The widespread prevalence of fakes, forgeries, copies, replicas or what ever you may care to term them, has led to much doubt, cynicism and downright disbelief in the marketplace. As a collector and dealer said to me last week, “You know, of course, that 90% of the stuff coming to the market these days is fake.”

Let’s look at that sort of assertion in a bit more detail. As we wrote in our recent articles on Yongzheng and Quianlong chargers, many of these are based on much earlier Ming examples. In that sense, they are later copies but still command very substantial prices. The skills devoted to making such copies are still regarded, rightly, extremely highly which is why such copies command six figure sums very often. The same chargers (or bowls, stem cups, whatever) were copied in the 19th century, sometimes together with the original marks, or with Guangxu, Daoguang or Jiaqing marks. They are, of course, copies but these often not created with the intention of straightforward fraud: like their Yoingzheng or Quianlong predecessors they represented an effort to produce works of equal quality in tribute to long gone craftsmen. Some of that work was rather good and tends to still command worthwhile prices.

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Dragon chargers: one Yongzheng, one Quianlong and one late 20th century.            Take your choice!

Copies made later, in the 20th century, require some distinction as to intent. Things knocked off a few months ago on the outskirts of Jingdezhen in back rooms do not generally enjoy very much in terms of quality and, rightly, are looked down upon in the marketplace and are virtually worthless. That is not to say, of course, that some people don’t unwittingly pay good money for them.

However, some modern copies are extremely good and can test even the most expert of experts. Much time, skill and money is expended on producing authentic looking copies. Testing, with its 200-year leeway, is of little use when you are talking about 18th or 19th century pieces. It’s only any good with much earlier pieces. It is said that craftsmen in Jingdezhen in recent years have spent up to EIGHT years working on a single piece to the order of major museums in Beijing who desire to lock away the original and display the faithful copy. The replicas are, apparently, indistinguishable from the real thing. We wonder  if there are any rejects about which, let us say, just failed in some respect to meet the exacting criteria and which have managed to reach the market?

And then there are some really excellent copies produced under licence for sale by major museums, like the Shanghai Museum. Their copies are very pleasing, look good on display and, actually, aren’t that cheap. You can easily spend a couple of thousand in the museum shop acquiring a nice replica. Generally, however, they should be identified as such by any reasonably competent auction house . . .

I know a lot of people who only buy at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. They say the research is excellent and they have a copper-bottomed guarantee, so to speak, if anything they buy turns out to be in the slightest bit dubious. They feel they can buy with absolute confidence. Of course, that guarantee doesn’t come cheap. It usually comes with a price two, three or,even, four hundred per cent times the cost of acquisition in a provincial auction room without the magic cachet.

There again, the provincial room sometimes scores. Like very recently, when Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh exposed a blue and white charger for sale. Catalogued as late 19th/early 20th century with apocryphal Quianlong mark, and estimated at £3,000-5,000, by the time it came to be sold the market had decided rather differently after a great buzz on the grapevine. It got £427,250, inclusive of premium. So several bidders were convinced that the catalogue description was inaccurate. Personally, after viewing and handling it, I rather agreed with the auctioneers, as did some others. Sometimes it does just boil down to being a matter of opinion . . .  And even experts can disagree.

record breaking charger recordbreaking charger mark The £427,250 charger

When the hammer came down on a 1946 ink painting Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree by the master Qi Baishi, in May 2011, it was to cost the equivalent of US$65.4m. But the winning bidder declined to pay for it: he defaulted after a well known art critic, Mou Jianping, declared that it might be a fake, in direct contradiction to the auction house’s advisers, and the firm belief of the Shanghai billionaire collector who owned the picture, Liu Yiqian.

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In the end of the day, it is very often simply a matter of opinion. I have quite a number of pieces I fondly imagine to be early Ming but I am sure so-called experts would disagree with me. But I still get enormous pleasure from looking at them, handling them and appreciating their beauty. Dreams may not exactly come free. But you can get them for relatively little in cash and enjoy them just as a billionaire might enjoy his own somewhat pricier purchase.