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

 

Yongzheng chicken bowl comes to light in Scotland

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Sun Yumei’s daughter, Lucy, holds the Yongzheng chicken bowl for sale in Scotland

A rare Yongzheng chicken bowl has come to light in Scotland. Chinese Art in Scotland have been asked to sell the bowl by an anonymous collector, who is simply described as ‘a well known international film director’. No further information is to be given out as the owner who, it is understood, is very ill wishes to protect his identity at this sensitive time.

Genuine old chicken cups or bowls, correctly ascribed to their period, are in considerable demand these days. Most prized are 15h century Chenghua reign bowls and last year Shanghai collector Liu Yixian paid a record US$36.3m hammer for such an example.

Chicken cups have, of course, been much copied over the years and, even, Liu Yiqian has authorised copies of his own purchase at around $60 US.

“This is the crowning glory for collectors,” says Nicholas Chow, Sotheby’s Chinese ceramics expert.

The painting on the cup bought by Yixian is a naive, almost childish, coloured depiction of a rooster and a hen taking care of a young chick—a parable for Confucian virtues that extend to an emperor’s looking after his subjects. The simplicity is what makes this cup so desirable, said Mr. Chow, and the artist’s “impressionistic” style is atypical for that time.

But, as usual with Chinese porcelain, it is a case of caveat emptor. Mr. Chow says the chicken cups are the most-copied bowls in China, and even the Chenghua examples in museums have aroused suspicion. In a Sotheby’s catalogue essay about the chicken-cup sale, ceramics expert Regina Krahl has written that former Sotheby’s Chairman Julian Thompson had maintained that the two examples at the Palace Museum in Beijing were fakes.

The new discovery is not in perfect condition. There are signs of use and wear to the inside and hairline cracks visible to the base.

Chinese Art in Scotland director, Sun Yumei, says they are ‘completely satisfied’ with the authenticity of their chicken cup. ‘Everything about it is right: the translucence, the whiteness of the porcelain and its fragility. It is well painted in the doucai tradition and we are sure it is right.’ And what will be the price?

‘Understandably, it will not appear on our website (chineseartinscotland.co.uk). There are a few parties possibly interested but, most likely, if it is not sold privately, it will eventually go to auction. Meantime, we shall enjoy having it around.’

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Yongzheng mark to the base of the cup

 

Antique Dealers’ Fair in north England reveals ‘important’ Chinese treasure

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A three day fair March 7-9, organised by Antique Dealers’ Fairs Ltd. at the Linden Hall Hotel in Northumberland, revealed a treasure said from China last night to be ‘important and highly unusual’.

Southport, England, dealer Alan Dawson of Odyssey Ancient & Mediaeval Antiquities, offered for sale a Chinese Western Zhou dynasty (771-445BC) bronze ceremonial spear head in remarkable condition. What is particularly notable about it is that it still retains much of its original chromium oxide surface coating.

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Alan Dawson shows off the ancient Western Zhou spearhead

The Chinese developed the use of chromium oxide, as a way of tackling bronze corrosion, as early as the 8th century BC, a technology which was lost to the West until as late as the 18th century.

On this, probably unique, piece the chromium surface, allied with extremely desiccant burial conditions, have left the decorative spear head in a remarkable state of preservation. It is almost certainly a spear which would not have been used in fighting but rather as a ritual piece in grand ceremonies. Pieces of this age and state of preservation are extremely rare.

Within a few hours of the opening of the Northumberland fair, the spear head was purchased by Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk). Speaking from Beijing last night, China Director of Chinese Art in Scotland, Ms Sun Yumei, said, “We are very excited by this purchase. It is a very important piece. Our representative sent us pictures from the Fair after it opened and we immediately issued a buy order. The seller, Mr Dawson, had already done significant research on it, which easily confirmed our decision. Examples of this quality are extremely rare. Apart from its utilitarian interest, it is also an object of exquisite beauty. Today, there are many new museums in China who are keen to acquire ancient objects and we very much hope it will end up in a museum.”

Very similar spear heads were exhibited in 2009 at Hunan Museum’s special exhibition Phoenix Dance. Following this exhibition, a film was made entitled Ancient Chinese Bronze Weapons (Producer Beijing Global Net TV Productions). Western Zhou Ceremonial spearheads are featured in the film.   The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art Collection also has examples and, for an almost identical one, see The History of Steel in East Asia Exhibition (Macao Museum of Asian Art, 2006).

Allan Dawson has dealt full time in antiquities for 15 years and part-time for 35 years. Before that he was a schoolteacher and says he became interested in antiquities after researching them for school information sheets. He lives and works in Southport, England.

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Part of The Odyssey stand at the Linden Hall Hotel Antiques Fair (March 7-9)