Chiswick Auctions have announced a sale on May 15 dedicated to Chinese paintings. Following recent successes in the field of Chinese paintings, including the Buckman Collection (total sales £55,000), the Aldrick Collection (total sales £31,000) and Pearson Collection (total sales £24,156) all with 100% sell through rates, they have just announced their inaugural specialist paintings sale with one by Qi Baishi heading up the event.
Qi Baishi (1864-1957) is a controversial artist and assessment, and valuation, of his work isalmost always tricky, to put it mildly. Works ascribed to him can vary in price from just a few hundred pounds to a record US$65.4m. This extremely high figure was the hammer price in Beijing in May 2011 for ‘Eagle on a Pine Tree’. The vendor was the renowned taxi driver and handbag seller turned collector and gallerist from Shanghai, Mr Liu Yixian. Celebrations for the high price achieved were aborted after the purchaser read a critique by a well known authority of his new acquisition in the Beijing press alleging it to be a forgery. It was never paid for and, so far as we know, it still lurks in Yixian’s extensive collection.
Attribution of works to Qi Baishi is rendered difficult both by the very large numbers of copies – actually forgeries – which abound and also the techniques employed in his own studio. As a result of the high demand which existed for his work towards the end of his life, virtually his entire (and very large) family worked in his studio adding features to his work. Exactly how much of a later picture is the work of the master is much confused by these well known studio practices.
It is difficult to pass an opinion on ‘Bees and Chrysanthemums’ which will be sold May 15 from the collection of David Chipp (1927-2008). It is an attractive enough picture and Chiswick have put a very modest estimate of just £20,000-30,000 on it. Effectively, they are allowing the market to decide and potential purchasers will doubtless be seeking out Qi Baishi experts. The painting was certainly done at the very end of the artist’s life: Chipp was recommended to buy it by his translator when he was working in China for Reuters news agency during the period 1956-60.
Clearly, the old adage applies, caveat emptor.