Leading Chinese porcelain producer to locate its European base and museum in Scottish Borders

 Greenlaw imposing facadeThe facade of A Listed Greenlaw Town Hall     Picture courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust 

One of the most important porcelain manufacturers in China, the Shanghai-based Hanguan Company, is to locate the base for its European operations in the Scottish Border region in the town of Greenlaw, in an iconic Grade A Listed Building.

Amongst its many activities the company, which is run my Master Ceramicist and Professor of Ceramics at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Li Youyu, produces some of the finest ceramics in the whole of China, which is borne out by the fact that it is used by the government of China to create the official gifts given out to foreign dignitaries. Many world leaders, including those of the UK and USA, have received wares crafted by Hanguan.

Greenlaw pub1 lr In the entrance hall of the building the bust of Sir Archibald Campbell, the original patron, looks down this week on the new investors. Left to right: Ms Huang Ping, Professor Master Li Youyu and Sulee Harris, Photo Paul Harris

At 11 am on Wednesday May 31, Scottish Borders company Coldingham Investments Ltd (controlled by Coldingham man Paul Harris and his Chinese wife, Sulee) bought the massive Grade A listed building Greenlaw Town Hall from The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust. SHBT finished a £1.95m. restoration of the building in 2011, at which time it was re-opened by HRH Prince Charles.

The Coldingham-based company will continue to own the building and, although equity is being bought by the Chinese, the present ownership will retain a ‘significant’ shareholding in the new operation. The Coldingham duo Paul and Sulee recently launched Coldingham Borders Auctions, operate half a dozen websites selling Far Eastern art internationally, and have The Coldingham Gallery in the High Street and which was founded more than six years ago.

Greenlaw pub 3 lr Professor Master Li Youyu in the the Great Hall of the building this week. Photo Paul Harris

Paul Harris told the news website chineseart.co.uk , part of the Coldingham group of businesses, last night that he and his wife used to live and work in Shanghai. ‘We have a large network of contacts in China and we are delighted to be able to bring an important Chinese company to the Scottish Borders. We shared images of Greenlaw Town Hall when it came available for sale with Mr Li Youyu, principal figure in the Hanguang Company. He is primarily an artist with vision – not just a businessman – and, even from faraway in China, he was immediately struck by the amazing beauty of the building that is Greenlaw Town Hall.

‘The building won’t just be a collection of offices but the vast public hall will house an exhibition and museum area telling the story of Chinese porcelain – a product which was entirely the invention of the Chinese. The building will be open to the public and Mr Youyu aims to promote direct personal relations between Chinese and Scottish ceramicists through practical sessions, conferences and social events. There will be practical displays showing the creation of porcelain.’

Greenlaw Town Hall, built in 1831 as The County Hall of Berwickshire by local architect John Cunningham, is one of Scotland’s outstanding Greek Revival neo-classical buildings and its vast dome and pillared portico dominate the junction of two main roads through the Scottish Borders at Greenlaw. The building consists of a vast hall and two pavilions (wings) containing offices. In recent years The Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust has spent just under £2m. renovating what was then the derelict building in a high profile restoration.  Until now, though, a sympathetic new owner has not been found.

Greenlaw main hall The Great Hall in Greenlaw. Photo courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust

‘We are hopeful that the proposed use of Greenlaw Town Hall will help to build the local economy and bring tourists to the area, including many Chinese. The development may also encourage other Chinese businesses we are in touch with to come to the Scottish Borders,’ said Sulee Harris last night. Sulee, using her Chinese name Sun Yumei, is today listed at Companies House as a director of Coldingham Investments Ltd along with Ms Huang Ping who, it is understood, represents the interests of the Hanguang Company.

It is understood that Coldingham Investments Ltd is in active discussions with architectural advisers. A spokesman for the company said there will be an impact on local employment ‘but it is a little early to be specific’.

Greenlaw portico by night The iconic portico of Gfreenlaw Town Hall. Photo courtesy Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust

 

Paul Harris Asia Arts launches new auction house in Scottish Borders

The Paul Harris Asia Arts group has just launched a new auction house in the Scottish Borders near to Berwick upon Tweed. The new business is called Coldingham Borders Auctions (CBA) and is added to a portfolio of interests which includes the online retail businesses chineseartinscotland.co.uk and vietnamart.co.uk; the consultancy business Coldingham Investments Ltd; this website chineseart.co.uk; and the gallery and warehouse complex The Coldingham Gallery.

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Paul & Sulee Harris with some of the items from their upcoming auction on May 13

Coldingham Borders Auctions will host its first auction on Saturday May 13 at 11am in Coldingham Hall, a public venue just 50 yards from the auction house 300 sq m store and offices. It is a venue which was outfitted seven years ago at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds and contains state of the art facilities including electrically operated seating. CBA events will be live on the internet courtesy of EasyLiveauction.com and the catalogue for the first sale of 230 lots is already live on the EasyLive platform at https://www.easyliveauction.com/catalogue/142754615ff77000b97cc951635a5761/0af8d24542e81eb9357e7ef448a6646f/sale-of-art-antiques-collectables-including-asian/

Although there are around 50 Chinese and Asian lots in the sale, there is also an intriguing array of collectables: a first UK edition of Vladimir Nabakov’s novel Lolita (1959); the brass shell casing from a German battleship dated 1917 and converted into an ice bucket; an 1840s French ‘Gavre & Champet’ iron cannon; a bronze of two female lovers signed J M Lambeaux; and a selection of 19th century artists’ easels.

The front runner in the Chinese art category has to be an 18th century horseshoe backed huanghuali folding chair estimated at £2,500-5,000. The auctioneers think it will get rather more. . .

jpg.118 Huanghuali horseshoe backed folding chair

Auctions will be held every three months and the next is scheduled for September 30. The auctioneer will be Paul Harris assisted by his Chinese born wife, Sulee. The appearance of Coldingham Borders Auctions follows upon the closure of other auction houses in the Scottish and English Borders regions: The Berwick Auction House has been trned into a night club and long-established Jedburgh auctioneers Swan Turner has closed with the reitrement of Mr Turner after more than thirty years in the business.

jpg.127 jpg.107                A couple of other Chinese items in the sale: a bronze Buddha 18th century; and a very large scroll

Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng plans major London exhibit at Olympia, book and top secret unveiling

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Chen Dapeng at work in his Shanghai studio, June 2015     Photo Paul Harris

The Shanghai-based Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng is next month to mount a major exhibit at the prestigious Winter Olympic Art & Antiques Fair; launch a coffee table book on his work; and promises the unveiling of a dramatic, top secret bust of ‘a most prominent UK public figure’.

Said Paul Harris of Paul Harris Asia Arts today, ‘We are proud to be organising the first exhibition in the UK for the Shanghai-based Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng. This follows his successful showings at the Shanghai EXPO (2010) and the Carousel du Louvre (2013), where he was greeted by the French press as ‘the new Rodin’.

‘The 197 sq m Chen Dapeng exhibit (Stand A25) will be the largest at this year’s prestigious Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair, which takes place at The National Hall from November 2-8, and represents for us an investment of more than a quarter of a million pounds sterling. There will be a champagne preview on November 2, as well as a press photo-call. ‘

This year the Fair itself celebrates its 25th anniversary as the most important winter art and antiques show in London.

‘At 1830 hours there will be the unveiling of Chen Dapeng’s new bust of a most prominent UK public figure and which he has executed to celebrate the 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange. More details of this event will be released on Wednesday October 28 and you will be informed accordingly. A new full colour coffee table book on Chen Dapeng containing a catalogue raisonné of his sculptures will also be launched at the Preview.

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Paul Harris with Chen Dapeng in  Shanghai studio, 2003. Photo Paul Harris Asia Arts

On Friday November 6, Paul Harris will be giving the lecture CHINESE SCULPTURE: FROM THE TERRACOTTA ARMY TO CHEN DAPENG at Olympia National Hall.’

This lecture is free to all Olympia ticket holders. Paul Harris is an accredited NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies) lecturer in the UK and Australia, as well as the author of half a dozen art books (www.worldoflectures.com). His also owns this website www.chineseart.co.uk, as well as www.vietnamart.co.uk.

The Chen Dapeng exhibit is also a participant in Asian Art in London.

Ana Perez Grassano paints Chen Dapeng sculptures

6 Grassano and Chen Dapeng with the first painting in Songjiang, Shanghai last week

French-Argentinian artist Ana Perez Grassano has just returned from Shanghai, China, where she has painted several of the sculptures of Chen Dapeng, the important Songjiang-based sculptor. We have previously written about Grassano and her cooperation with Chen Dapeng. She is based in Paris and first met Chen Dapeng during his exhibition at Le Carousel du Louvre in November 2013. Chen Dapeng has recently announced that he is to exhibit at this years Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair in London (November 2-8). His exhibit is being organised by Paul Harris Asia Arts. Our picture below shows Grassano, Harris and Chen Dapeng after making the announcement in Shanghai on March 29. SONY DSC

Growth continues at ChineseArt.co.uk

Remarkable growth continues at ChineseArt.co.uk. This site, which was started only in October 2013, has grown dramatically in just over a year. According to figures released by the site’s host, during the month of October 2014 it received 445,461 hits and 50,904 visitors.

The site’s founder, Paul Harris, said yesterday, “The growth of this site has been steady month on month with occasional spikes. People interested in Chinese art from all over the world are now focusing on ChineseArt.co.uk and we anticipate this growth will continue. I would like to thank all our readers in the UK, China and elsewhere.”

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Paul Harris in The Coldingham Gallery in the Scottish Borders Photo Lucy Harris

ChineseArt.co.uk is operated by Paul Harris Asia Arts Group which also includes www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk, www.coldinghamgallery.co.uk, www.vietnamart.co.uk, and manages www.chendapengsculptor.com as part of its contract to represent the Shanghai sculptor Chen Dapeng in the UK. Paul Harris is an accredited lecturer on art subjects with The National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies (NADFAS)(www.worldoflectures.com).

 

 

ChineseArt.co.uk is one year old!

Paul with famille verte pot

The end of the first week in October 2014 marks the first anniversary of this website ChineseArt.co.uk. It also represents the culmination of 12 months effort building up the site from a standing start. At the beginning of October last year, nobody knew of this site and today there are many hundreds of thousands of hits every month and more than 20,000 a month of you visit the site regularly for news of developments on the Chinese art scene from auctions to exhibitions, from prices to promotions, from galleries to stunning photo images : it is all here.

This site is part of the Paul Harris Asia Arts Group (www.paulharrisasiaarts.co.uk)  which also encompasses sister site www.vietnamart.co.uk, the selling site www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk, and www.coldinghamgallery.co.uk. We also represent the Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng (www.chendapengsculptor.com).

Apart from visiting this site, you can follow all our postings on Twitter @chineseartpaul. And this Twitter feed can be found at the foot of our Home page.

Thank you for looking at this site! We shall continue to keep it as interesting as possible.

Paul Harris

Paul Harris Asia Arts

 

 

 

The challenge of filling China’s new museums

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Paul Harris (extreme left), author of this post, pictured in 1956 at the Cartwright Memorial Hall Museum, Bradford, before a working model of a Victorian invention. Cutting/picture courtesy The Telegraph & Argus

It is hardly a challenge faced by museum curators in the West, where basement storerooms and dusty attics are crammed with a myriad of currently unfashionable exhibits: stuffed birds and preserved fish, oil paintings of morose Highland cattle, World War II gas masks, working models of minor 19th century inventions, and the like. Decades, if not hundreds of years, of collecting, and of dedicated collectors turned benefactors, have stuffed museums to bursting point. In continental Europe, the tides of war have tended to clear out the stockrooms on occasion, but in the UK, particularly, the stuff has built up and, occasionally, selections are made for some new thematic presentation. In the face of pressures of space and cash, acquisitions run at a relatively modest level.

In sharp contrast is the situation of new museums in China. And there are an awful lot of them sprouting up. In 1949, when China came under control of the Communist Party, there were just 25 museums and many were burned down or otherwise destroyed during the period of the Cultural Revolution between1966 and 1976. But during the period of growth that accompanied Deng Xiaoping and his policies in the 1980s, there came a new emphasis on cultural development which has gathered pace in recent years. In 2009, a State Council meeting upgraded culture to the status of a strategic industry. ‘Culture is the spirit and the soul of the nation,’ it was pronounced. Culture was described as a ‘pillar industry’ which, in Chinese terminology, means an industry which will contribute at least 5% of GDP.

According to the most recent five year plan for 2011-15, China was to have 3,500 museums by 2015: that target was achieved two years early. By the end of 2012, there were 3,886 museums, with new ones being added at the rate of one a day. Overwhelmingly, they chronicle the proud history and achievements of Chinese civilisation (although not exclusively, The Economist [December 14 2013] reports that there are two new museums of plastination, or polymer preserved bodies, in Dalian and Chongqing). We all know, and may have visited, some of the more outstanding new establishments like The Shanghai Museum (fabulous) and the display of the terracotta warriors, near to Xian. But the ultimate objective is for every city with more than a quarter of a million people (that’s small for China) to have its own world class museum.

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The magnificent Shanghai Museum, 2012   Photo Paul Harris

Such has been the speed with which these new museums have been created, that there are currently substantial difficulties in actually filling them: either with exhibits or people. Of course, there’s not much point in going to a museum which has little, or nothing, on offer. The insane depredations of the Red Guard meant that private collections of porcelain and other art were looted, smashed and lost for ever; many museums were simply burnt down. They provided a spectacular opportunity to get rid of an awful lot of decadent material in one go.

There were other dramatic losses. Previous to all this, in 1948-49, as they lost the civil war, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces shipped an estimated 230,000 of the best pieces of Chinese art off to Taiwan. They remain there to this day and are rotated through the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The National Palace hosts indubitably the best collection of Chinese art in the world and the National Museum in Beijing still has a lot of catching up to do.

We (Chinese Art in Scotland) recently bid on a rather attractive piece of purple-splashed jun ware, estimated in a provincial English auction room at just a few hundred pounds. What set it apart from other pieces of jun ware, which is oft copied today, was the box it came in and which bore the Kuomintang label and stamps and a label inscribed by the Nanjing Museum Protection Committee, which had received the residual Imperial collection after the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. We took the bidding to £8,000 and then allowed it to go back to mainland China where, hopefully, it might end up in a museum.

The requirement for objects to exhibit in all these new museums is one of the factors which have fuelled the boom in the Chinese art market. New museums are not just looking for the best and most expensive. They must also have examples to illustrate more modest, or currently less sought after, genres. Auctioneers in the UK provinces who mount Asian sales will regale you with stories of the minibuses full of Chinese buyers who descend on any decent auction. At the sale, far from forming a ring, they will often energetically bid against each other. These men are agents who may be buying for museums, private buyers or, simply, for themselves as enthusiasts or dealers. If they are agents, they are on commission and the higher the prices go, the more cheerful the day becomes.

However, the rush to fill China’s museums can sometimes develop into indecent and ill-considered haste. In June 2013, the Jibaozhai Museum, located in Jizou, a city in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, was rather suddenly closed down. The museum had been finished in 2010 at a construction cost of 60 million yuan (£6.4m. sterling, around US$10m.) and its 12 large exhibition halls were packed with some 40,000 objects. But a Chinese writer, Ma Boyong, paid a visit in 2013 and posted online doubts about some of the exhibits. He noted a piece, allegedly 4,000 years old dating to the time of the Yellow Emperor, which bore writing in simplified Chinese characters, which only came into use in the 20th century.

There was also a ‘Tang Dynasty’ five colour porcelain vase. This was rather extraordinary as the technique was only developed many hundreds of years later, during the Ming Dynasty. But, perhaps most remarkable of all, was a ‘Qing vase’ embellished with distinctly modern cartoon characters . . .

The museum’s chief consultant, Wei Yingjun, made the startling, if self deprecating, assertion that he was ‘quite positive’ that at least 80 of the Museum’s 40,000 objects had been confirmed as authentic. Mr Shao Baoming, the deputy curator, sought to correct this statement, maintaining that ‘at least half of the exhibits’ were authentic. The owner, Mr Wang Zonquan, apparently also local Communist Party leader, seemed rather more philosophical. ‘Even the gods cannot tell whether the exhibits are fake or not.’

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Pictured at the Jibaozhai Museum in 2013, a most unusual Qing vase

Outside observers reckon that the Museum had been filled with cheap copies available on the internet at between 200 and 2,000 yuan (around £20-200). Not even sourced as far away as those auctions in the West . . .

 

Calculated choice or fevered speculation? The outlook for 2014

viewing auction itemsThe end of the year is traditionally a time both to review the past year and look forward to the next. The two go hand in hand. Without an understanding of the past you have no basis upon which to predict the future.

The last year has provided many pointers. There have been prices in the low millions for the best objects. New areas have crept up over the horizon and provide an opportunity for the rather less well heeled: embroidery, clothing, Imperial badges, and so on. It seems to us that the market for Chinese art is approaching an identifiable state where it will divide: there will be a much clearer division between the serious connoisseurs, who buy as a result of a process of considered and calculated choice, and the ‘amateurs’ and speculators, who operate rather lower down the market as a rule, but not altogether exclusively. At this end of the market, they will continually seek out new areas for acquisition and investment and will maintain price levels.

The serious connoisseurs, mainly Chinese resident in the PRC, will continue to snap up the very best items, ideally backed up by impeccable provenance, at a level where price is regarded as a relatively insignificant factor. They will operate at a level well into six figures (around £500,000+) into the millions. There will be no real limit on their financial reach so figures in excess of £10m.+ can be confidently expected. However, the individuals, and the corporate networks behind them, are less than a few dozen. They will compete vigorously at the top of the market in pursuit of undoubted quality and provenance. This will continue to drive up the prices for the very best examples of Chinese historic art.

Lower down the market, are the more modest collectors and . . .  the speculators. Mr Chen Kalun, deputy curator at the wonderful Shanghai Museum, (in my view, the best museum in the world) recently opined that, ‘Less than 1% of the collectors across the country [China] can be counted as real collectors.’ Allowing for the fact that he is maybe being a trifle snobbish in the manner of museum curators, let’s say that this 1% constitute the calculated connoisseurs, who buy from deep-seated knowledge and appreciation accumulated over the years. The rest are those we might term enthusiasts seeking to move into the market and the speculators. They may boast relatively small budgets but, equally they are very, very numerous in a population well in excess of 1.5 billion people.

We hear a lot in the Chinese market about the wealthy and the fact that they will only buy the best, the perfect, the item with provenance. They are, in fact, few in number. Most Chinese people – especially the increasingly wealthy middle class (‘nouveau riche’ if you prefer the sobriquet) – are still learning about their heritage and their art, after decades of it being derided by political forces. When this market matures, over the next few years, the demand for anything Chinese boasting some age and beauty, will explode in a way unimaginable to us today.

These are the people already behind ‘blind’ internet purchases, eagerly scouring the net for their heritage. For the moment, they are relatively few in number. When this thing really gets going – and it will build over the next few years – dealers will wish they had more stock, sellers will regret what they have parted with,and auction houses will be desperate to seek it out from the most distant and dusty of attics. The message is clear. ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet . . .’.

Paul Harris is owner and chief editor at ChineseArt.co.uk as well as owner of Chinese Art in Scotland and The Coldingham Gallery. He collects himself, lived and worked in China, and consults for private collectors and corporate buyers abroad.