Outsider Bonhams overtakes the field to come first in Asian Art in London auctions

Bonhams six Asian Art sales in London this week produced a number of stunning results for Japanese and Chinese art, confirming the strength of this market sector for a company that was once very much of an outsider eclipsed by ‘the big two’. The company’s sales total of £11.2m was well ahead of other auction houses offering Asian sales this week.

Bonhams UK and Asia Chairman, Colin Sheaf, said: “The strong sales for Asian art in London reflect well on the company policy of treating  sales of Asian art on a global basis. Japanese art is clearly most saleable at auction in London and New York where we hold our premier sales. Chinese art sales are split between Hong Kong, London, New York and San Francisco with every object being consigned to the city where it will sell best. This policy is succeeding as our exceptional sales in London and Hong Kong this month demonstrate. It has never happened before that a work of Japanese art takes top spot in this annual Asian Art in London week.”

The top Japanese work in Bonhams sales was by Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), an artist admired by Western collectors for over a century. A very rare lacquer panel based on a Noh play, made in 1883 in imitation of Western paintings on canvas and executed in lavish silver on black lacquer, it had been estimated at £80,000–120,000, but after furious bidding made £842,500 in the Misumi Collection of Important Works of Lacquer Art and Paintings.

The three Japanese sales at Bonhams this week – The Wrangham Collection, the Misumi Collection and Fine Japanese Art – made a total of £3.4m over two days.  The 16-item Misumi Collection was a white-glove sale and fetched £1,424, 500.

The top item in Bonhams three Chinese Art sales was a rare imperial gilt bronze ‘double phoenix’ vessel , from the Imperial Qianlong period (1736-1795) lavishly decorated with hardstone and glass. It sold for £482,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £50,000-80,000. The ‘double-phoenix’ vessel is an exceptional example of Qing magnificence at its peak. It exemplifies the sumptuous Imperial taste during the Qianlong period with no expense spared in its lavish production.

The three Chinese art sales at Bonhams – Asian Arts at Knightsbridge, The Roy Davids Collection and Fine Chinese Art made a total of £7.8m

The second highest price in the Chinese art sales was £440,500 for a porcelain  ‘lotus pond’ jar from a European private collection that had not been seen at auction for over half a century. The jar bears the mark of the Chinese Emperor Chenghua who ruled between 1464 – 1487. For centuries most Chinese connoisseurs have considered Chenghua period ceramics as the finest ever created in China.

Lotus pond jar

Colin Sheaf, Bonhams Asia Chairman, says: “Three decades in the Chinese Art trade does not entirely prepare you for an object like this. When I saw it for the first time, after years of storage, it had that certain something, that charisma of the truly spectacular object which creates a frisson of excitement in anyone who knows about Chinese porcelain.”

Sale of 15th century ‘Lotus Pond Jar’ stirs excitement at Bonhams London

Lotus pond jar 

Bonhams in London have today announced the sale of a Ming object which is causing particular excitement. ‘Once in a while something truly rare, special and unique appears in the art market and the buzz being created at Bonhams by the sale of a small, fairly modest looking jar painted with a lotus motif from the Ming period, is tangible.

‘The ‘lotus pond jar’ is one of the top items in Bonhams next sale of fine Chinese Art on November 6th in New Bond Street, London. Estimated to sell for £400,000 to £600,000 it is evident that these figures may only be an indication of this prized jar’s value.’

The jar has come from a European private collection and has not been seen at auction for over half a century. [Its sale coincides this year with the British Museum’s major exhibition on the art of the Ming dynasty and also that of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh].

The jar bears the mark of the Chinese Emperor Chenghua who ruled between 1464 – 1487. Earlier in the same century Chinese potters at the Imperial kilns began for the first time to write on top-quality vessels. And this mark is said to be the ultimate sign of Imperial ‘quality control’.

Pond jar 2

For centuries most Chinese connoisseurs have considered Chenghua period ceramics as amongst the finest ever created in China. The exceptionally clear glaze did not require heavy ornamentation but could be sparingly and elegantly decorated. The most sensational development in Ming Dynasty porcelain was the arrival of a lustrous white glaze on which to paint over a design for fixing in a secondary firing of the vase.

Adding to the romance, beauty and significance of this jar is the use of the lotus flower as a decorative device, something closely associated with the Lord Buddha.

The creamy white body is finely painted in a soft underglaze blue with delicate outlines further enamelled in rich iron-red, soft yellow, and vibrant green with an elegantly arranged profusion of variously opening lotus flowers and spreading and crinkling leaves. The design is further highlighted by two small butterflies in flight.

Pond jar 3

Colin Sheaf, Head of Asian Art at Bonhams and the company’s Deputy Chairman and Asia Chairman, says: “Three decades in the Chinese Art trade does not entirely prepare you for an object like this. When I saw it for the first time, after years of storage, it had that certain something, that charisma of the truly spectacular object which creates a frisson of excitement in anyone who knows about Chinese porcelain. Its very simplicity is of course part of its charm, as this reflects the ambition of all great Chinese art.”

The November 6 sale does, of course, coincide with Asian Art in London.