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