Asian Art in London II The Oriental Ceramic Society Exhibition is a stunner!


Far and away, our favourite absolute highlight of AAL has been The Oriental Ceramic Society display in New Bond Street, courtesy of Sotheby’s, CHINA WITHOUT DRAGONS: RARE PIECES FROM ORIENTAL CERAMIC SOCIETY MEMBERS. There have been some absolutely startling pieces of ceramic art on show from earliest times to the late 20th century. The only problem with this stunning exhibition as we see  it is that it is on for such a short time – just a few days, closing November 9. Surely it would have been possible to allow as many people as possible to view these unique pieces during the whole course of AAL?

Here, anyway, are our firm favourites:

ed-ocs-at-sothebys-sancai-horse-figureExtraordinary! The only word for this remarkable object which is catalogued as a pottery zodiac figure of a horse in sancai glaze ‘Tang dynasty 7th or 8th century’. Well, we have certainly never seen anything like this before! There is evidence of a sense of humour here which is not exactly typical of Tang . . .

ed-ocs-at-sothebys-kangxi-blackamoor                    A glazed biscuit porcelain figure of a black attendant standing on a lotus leaf. Late Kangxi and formerly in the Rockefeller collections.

ocs-at-sothebys-20th-c-grisaille-pot An outstanding 20th century piece from the Jingdezhen kilns: brushpot painted in grisaille and coloured enamels.

ocs-kiln Well, cute is hardly the word for this one. Apparently, this is a 19th century glazed biscuit pouring vessel in the form of a kiln decorated with butterflies. It is a beautiful piece but it appears to us remarkably modern in its conception and form. It must have been created by a great talent . . .

If you miss the exhibition, you can at least put your name down for the catalogue. It will be published next Spring, 2017, at a pre-publication price of £50. Enquiries by email to It will, however, be sent free of charge to members of The Oriental Ceramic Society. Membership for a UK member costs just £55 so it seems a no-brainer to sign up today and get your catalogue f.o.c.!

Extraordinary scene as Mallams set house record of £750,000 with mystery man’s £12 vase

lr mallams Yonzheng vase offered   The Charles George Yongzheng vase is offered st Mallam’s yesterday.                 Photo Paul Harris

EXCLUSIVE by Paul Harris at Mallams, Cheltenham

It was an extraordinary scene at Mallam’s in Cheltenham yesterday morning as mystery collector Charles George’s Yongzheng vase ( , valued by him at a mere £10-12 in the 1950s, was knocked down after just a few minutes’ bidding for £750,000. The auctioneers had valued it at £20-30,000. The £750,000 price represented a house record for Mallams in Cheltenham. With buyer’s premium and VAT, the ultimate price is nearly £1m.

charles george collection

The £750,000 vase sold by Mallams April 27 2016 Photo Mallams

The sale was brief but dramatic. Phone and internet bidders were lined up to bid on the vase but, for once, never got a look in on the proceedings. Announcing the lot to bidders (who had been required to register in advance and deposit the meagre sum of £5,000!), auctioneer Robin Fisher asked the room, “Well, what shall we start at?” It was expected that it might start at £10,000 . . .

The room was electrified by a voice from the back row shouting out “£500,000, let’s start at 500,000”. Fisher looked incredulous. “Did you say £500,000?” It appeared that he felt he was being ‘wound up’ and he asked again. The ultimate buyer, who had set the starting price, affirmed his offer.

lr 750,000 vase knocked down at Mallams

Knocked down at £750,000 ! Photo Paul Harris

There were in the room between 30 and 40 Chinese buyers. It appeared most of them had arrived in search of the Yongzheng vase and many had flown from China in a bid to secure it. All the putative buyers seemed to be knocked off their stride by the surprise starting price. Two Chinese bidders took the vase up to £750,000 in a series of £50,000 bids . . . and it was gone within minutes and is said to be on its way back to China before too long. There were no bids from the internet or telephone (just like the good old days!).

lr 750,000 vase disappointed Chinese

Disappointment. This group of Chinese buyers made two bids in the region of £600,000 but lost out. Photo Paul Harris

Applause greeted the result but soon the room was virtually empty as dozens of Chinese exited the premises shaking their heads, disappointment etched on their normally inscrutable features.

The vase was put up for sale by the grand-daughter of Charles George, who died in 1966. The celadon glazed vase had been exhibited in the 1947 Oriental Ceramic Society’s exhibition of celadon wares and enjoyed an undoubted provenance. George kept detailed notes of all the pieces he bought, together with associated exhbition catalogues. This result strongly emphasises the appeal of new to the market porcelain with iundoubted providence. All the Charles George Collection lots sold at Mallams achieved prices well in excess of their estimates –  generally just a mere ten times or so over estimate.

Who was the mysterious Charles George?

charles george collection vase base

In the annals of the great collectors of Chinese objets we all probably recognise names like Arthur Sackler, Joseph Hutong and Lord Cunliffe, but ‘Charles George’. Who he?

The question arises out of Mallams Chinese Art sale on April 27. Many lots bear the legend ‘From the Collection of Charles George 1879-1966′. Of course, he lived in an age long before Google was gathering info on every aspect of our daily lives. These days, once your name appears in the local paper you become, thanks to Google, an international personality (alongside tens of millions of others). These days, it is very difficult to slip under the net, so to speak.

Mallams have issued a press release which reveals a little about him, mainly anecdotal. Apparently, he collected a wide range of antiques but with an especial eye for for Chinese porcelain and furniture, examples of which, from his collection, appear in Mallams’ sale. He is described as being ‘knowledgeable’ and, it is understood, lived in London. And that’s about it . . . except for the fact that he meticulously documented all his purchases in a handwritten directory.

In 1952, he recorded that a vase he had acquired, which had been included in the 1947 Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition of celadon wares curated by founder member and expert Arthur L Hetherington, was, in George’s estimation, was worth £12-15. That same vase is now up for sale in Mallams’ sale next week in Cheltenham. It is today estimated at £20,000-30,000 and is expected by many observers to exceed that price range..

It is a celadon glazed Yongzheng (1722-35) mark and period vase (23.5cm. in height), which is illustrated below. The auctioneers describe it as ‘moulded to the base with bands of chrysanthemum petals and to the neck with ribs in imitation of bamboo, inspired by a Longquan prototype from the Southern Song period. The foot bears a six-character Yongzheng mark painted in blue in zhuanshu script under the watery celadon glaze, with a textured bluish tone that is characteristic of the period. It retains the Oriental Ceramic Society label and the exhibit No 130 to its base (illustrated above).

charles george collection

Clearly a collector of some taste. Can anyone amongst our readers come up with any more information about the mysterious Mr George?