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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

£1 'Charity Store' Vase Sells for over £480,000, and other Chinese Art Highlights in London!

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Amazing! I've been on the road for most of October, November and December and finally made it back in Toronto!

During the past couple of months I traveled to Vancouver, West Palm Beach, London, New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai! It's been a bit exhausting but I've been able to work on some very interesting projects as well as visit incredible auction previews and museums from all over the world.

I'll be in Toronto from now (hopefully) until the middle of January, so at least I'll be taking a bit of a breather. Hopefully I will be posting some more photos from the China part of my trip in the coming weeks.

Snippets can already be viewed on my Instagram account - this includes attending major auction previews at Poly, a trip to the Forbidden City, museums visits to the Beijing Palace Museum and the Shanghai Museum, and also eating a lot of incredible food.

Anyways, let's go back in time to early November when Asia Week in London took place. Here, I was attending the previews at the international auction houses Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams, in addition to some of the regional auction houses.

During this visit to London, I made an effort to view the top offerings of the regional auction houses and I was so impressed! One of the most hyped objects during Asia Week in London was a Yellow Ground Yangcai 'Calligraphy' Wall Vase with Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795) at Sworder's.

This wall vase was an object of much discussion leading up to the sale. It was found in a local charity shop by a dealer who subsequently purchased it for £1. When it was brought to the auction house, the specialist realised its potential and estimated the vase at £50,000-80,000.

Despite being worth so much more than £1, the auction estimate of 50 thousand times more was still quite reasonable for an object of this calibre. If the vase was correct, it would have been a yangcai (洋彩), 'foreign colour', vase designed by the Imperial kiln supervisor Tang Ying (1652-1756).

These porcelain wares were commissioned specifically for the Qianlong Emperor's private quarters in the short span of 1740-1744. They are extremely rare! (Note: For more information about these rare yangcai vases, I can send you a pdf of my article about an example from the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, published in Orientations Magazine, vol. 48 no. 1, Jan/Feb 2017, pp 103-106).

After busy days of previews and the eventual auction, the £1 wall vase ended up selling for an incredible £484,000!!! Not a bad return on the investment!

Here's a close-up of the wall vase's exterior. You can see the elegant shape is decorated with lotus blooms and scrolling vines throughout the body - these are typical of the yangcai style. The central section contains a poem marked with Imperial seals, and the neck is flanked by ruyi (longevity fungus) form handles.

Detail of the wall vase's reverse side and its fine yellow glaze.

The wall vase's base and reign mark daqing Qianlong nianzhi (大清乾隆年製), 'made during the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty'.

Not to be outdone, another incredible porcelain object that appeared at the regional level was a Celadon Glazed Famlle Rose Teapot at Duke's from Dorchester. Like the wall vase, it was also manufactured during the Qianlong era (1736-1735).

The Asian Art auction at Duke's already featured the spectacular collection of Anthony Du Boulay, the former Chinese ceramics specialist at Christie's London, consultant to the Oriental Ceramic Society and British Museum, and esteemed Chinese Art author.

Estimated conservatively at £800-1000 and dated to 'probably' of the Qianlong period, the teapot had a final hammer price of £800,000. With buyer's premium, it was purchased for just over £1 million!

Here's a shot of the graceful profile of the teapot. You can see the faint design of lotus lappets dripping from the mouth rim and also relief impressions of fungus around the handle. The glaze is an even celadon tone throughout. The vessel's shape suggests it was made during the early part of the Qianlong reign.

Detail of the celadon cover with famille rose decorations of fruits and seeds.

The teapot's base and reign mark daqing Qianlong nianzhi (大清乾隆年製), 'made during the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty'.

There were numerous Chinese Art highlights at the other auction houses as well! You may have seen some of the them already on my Instagram page, but here are a couple more of my favourites.

Over at Sotheby's is this exquisite Gilt Bronze Standing Figure of Padmapani. Padmapani is also known as Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist deity for compassion. This sculpture was one of the favourite pieces I've seen from the category of early Buddhist bronzes from the past couple of years.

The rarity of this figure is not only in the incredible casting and large size (29 cm high), but also the inscription on the back dating it to 511 AD of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534).

The sculpture was also published in the 1980 catalogue of renowned dealer Eskenazi, 'Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Gilt Bronzes from the Wessen and Other Collectors'. In the end, it wasn't surprising that this figure sold for £325,000 against an estimate of £150,000-£250,000.

The front side of the figure of the Padmapani (and also to showcase its large size). The style of the Padmapani is based on Indian examples that artists saw during along the Silk Road trade route. The figure has nice facial features including a gentle smile. One hand holds a floral branch while the other holds a ritual vase.

The reverse of the sculpture with dedicatory inscription and date to 511 AD.

Just down the street at Christie's, I was able to examine a group of stunning ceramics, many of which were from the Song Dynasty. One of the most impressive objects was this Longquan Celadon Brush Washer from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).

The auction catalogue stated that this piece came from a Private Japanese Collection and was acquired during the 1970's. The form, potting and colour is quite superior, and its bluish tone is most desirable in today's market.

Estimated at £80,000-120,000, the brush washer sold for much more than its estimate at £323,250.

A top view of the brush washer showing its even crackles, bluish shade of celadon and even form.

The very well proportioned profile of the washer.

And a detail of the base with its unglazed foot rim.

Also in the Mayfair area, Bonhams offered numerous jade carvings during their Asian Art in London auction. One of the items I really liked and found so unusual was this Rare Jade Figure of Mahāsthāmaprāpta. Depicting a rare image of the bodhisattva of wisdom and gracefully carved in the seated position of royal ease, this unusually large carving dates to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

The carving was conservatively estimated at £80,000-120,000 and ended up selling fo £190,000.

Detail of the carving's front side with its compassionate facial features, 'royal ease' seated position and wonderful free-flowing drapery throughout.

Detail of the figure's reverse. With the details including the ribbon in the hair and the brocade patterns in the clothing, you can see that the sculpture was meant to be viewed in the round. You can also see from the base that it was meant to be situated on a stand.

That's it for this edition of my blog. Hope you enjoyed reading it and if you have questions or comments, please send me an email.

I'll be in Toronto for the next couple of weeks and I'll keep you posted about my upcoming travel schedule, new publications, and interesting news about the Asian Art world.



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