Long-established auctioneers in the Scottish Borders Swan and Turner, in Jedburgh, held their last sale on Saturday February 11. The saleroom was packed with buyers sometimes paying extraordinary prices before the gavel fell for the last time on Lot 793, an Edwardian Lady’s Writing Desk.
There are still many grand houses in the Scottish borderland with unplundered collections. One house had given up a fair number of Chinese lots for which there was stiff competition between public, dealers and telephone bidders. A fairly ordinary Kangxi ginger jat soared to £650 but the high prices were reserved for ivory pieces.
A quite exceptionally well carved set of two small ivory panels, which fitted together to form an Imperial purse, well exceeded their estimate in the low hundreds to get £2,600 on the hammer.
Even the imminent threat of a comprehensive ban on ivory does not, apparently, deter buyers when it comes to high quality, exquisitely carved pieces like this.
The closure of a successful and profitable firm like Swan & Turner operating on the High Street of busy Jedburgh seems regrettable. The firm clearly had access to good, saleable lots and an extensive clientele amidst the well-heeled Borders inhabitants. End of lease was being quoted as the reason for closure but it seems likely other factors were involved.
The Horse has long been represented in Chinese art. There are many thousands of attempts to characterise this noble animal, not least amongst the thousands of terracotta warriors in Xian.
‘Throughout China’s long and storied past, no animal has impacted its history as greatly as the horse. From its domestication in northeastern China around 5,000 years ago, the horse has been an integral figure in the creation and survival of the Middle Kingdom. Its significance was such that as early as the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1100 BC), horses and vehicles they powered were entombed with their owners so as to be with them in the next life . . . As the empire grew, horses became essential for maintaining contact and control and for transporting goods and supplies throughout the vast and diverse country.’ (Bill Cooke in Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History, Kentucky 2000).
Some rather smaller examples cropped up at auction a few days ago. At Auction House Bath, an attractive abd quite large Tang dynasty walking horse with some original pigment (size 61 cm height and 58cm length) was knocked down for £1800.
£1800 in Bath
Further north, at Swan & Turner in Jedburgh, a rather smaller but very finely worked and cast bronze of a Tang horse (16cm in height) appeared in a mixed lot of Orientalia. It did not get that sort of money ( it was sold in a lot of a dozen pieces of Chinese porcelain, gold-plated boxes and other sundries) but it is now available at £795 from Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk/bronze-tang-style-figure-of-a-horse/ ). The small, heavy sculpture, which is thought to be 19th century, came up at a sale of the residual contents of Hallrule House, Bonchester Bridge, once the home of the Usher family of whisky repute, lately occupied by the St James family.
Available at £795 from Chinese Art in Scotland
The bronze horse illustrated above accurately displays many of the distinctive characteristics of the Tang horse (see diagram below from Imperial China).