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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Asian Art in London – Museum Treasures, Yongzheng Porcelain and Sumo Cats

It’s been a crazy 2.5 weeks, but I finally made it back to Toronto! I was on the road for the last while - consisting of an 8-day stop in London followed by 6 days in New York City.

In London, I attended the Asian Art in London festivities. Just like Asia Week NYC, the London events featured previews at multiple auction houses on the international and regional level. In addition were new Asian-themed museum exhibitions, gallery and dealer shows, and various Asian Art lectures.

I rarely visit London during these Asian Art events so it was a wonderful opportunity to see the different auction house previews (all within the Mayfair area) and to get a feel for how the European Asian Art market is different from that of New York and Hong Kong.

There are just too many highlights to include in this blog so my apologies in advance, but some additional photos and places I visited can be found on my Instagram feed @anthonywuart.

Anyways, let's get started...

One of my highlights was when an old Toronto auction colleague invited me to join him on a research session in the vaults of the off-site storage facility at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He had booked a visit to view a selection of rare porcelain pieces that were not on display in the main galleries. Of the many items we saw, I was extremely enamoured by this Chinese Flambé Glazed Ewer with Yongzheng Mark and of the Period (1723-35).

These types of vases are scarce to begin with, and what makes this one even more unique is its lovely flambé glaze - the majority of these are decorated in a blue and white palette.

Detail of the base with a four-character 雍正年製 (made in the Yongzheng reign). There are old 'Frankenstein' repairs to this vase, but it is still a valuable study piece when examining the form, glaze and weight of the vessel. From the museum number, it was acquired in 1975 by the V and A.

Another museum I visited was the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I've never made this trip before, but it was a simple 45 minute train ride from London's Kings Cross Station. In addition to its renowned collection of Old Masters paintings and European decorative arts, the museum had an incredible Asian Art collection from China, Japan, Korea and the Middle East.

The room with Chinese objects was incredible and featured one of best collections of porcelain I have never seen yet. One of the rarest items was this Blue and White 'Mythical Beast' Jar and Cover from the Ming Dynasty. The museum dated this piece to the late 15th Century and it still has an original cover along with the unusual design of a dragon-like monster across its body. Similar designs of these jars were more prevalent during the Ming Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) reigns.

Here is an overall image of the jar's display case with porcelain wares from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) to mid Ming Dynasty (Late 15th Century).

I was also able to visit the British Museum where there was a great show titled 'Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia'. With many items on loan from the State Hermitage Museum from St Petersburg, Russia, the exhibition showcased how these nomadic warriors from 900 to 200 BC were also sophisticated in their organization, rituals and culture. Included in the show were mummies with awesome tattoos, old textiles and various weapons. The Scythians were master goldsmiths as well, evidenced by these large placques that were used to adorn clothing.

Belt Plaque with Horsemen Hunting a Wild Boar, 3rd to 2nd Century BC

Belt Plaque with a Tiger and Monster, 4th to 3rd Century BC

On the Chinese Art gallery side of things, Eskenazi had an incredible collection of early Chinese Buddhist arts. Their exhibition 'Six Dynasties Art from the Norman A. Kurland Collection' contained 38 objects from the famed movie and television agent. My favourite item by far was this Painted and Gilt Marble Stele, Northern Qi Period (550-577 AD).

It depicts a central figure of a seated pensive Bodhisattva (in Buddhism, someone who has reached enlightenment, but has decided to stay in the mortal world to help suffering beings). Surrounding this figure are numerous praying figures under the canopy of ginkgo trees - all above a pair of guardians and Buddhist lions. The grace and quality of the carving is incredible, and the red sticker on its label means it was already sold!

Finally the auction houses! There were so many impressive items in London at Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams, but here are some of the pieces I really enjoyed viewing.

At Christie's I really liked this Rare Famille Rose 'Peony' Dish with Yongzheng Mark and of the Period (1723-1735). It depicts a sinuous branch of blooming florals circling over a large and well-painted peony blossom. The rarity of this dish is that the scene actually starts from the underside and continues OVER to the main face! This dish sold for 200,000 GBP against an estimate of 80/120,000 GBP.

A photo of the dish's reverse with the reign mark 大清雍正年製 (made in the Yongzheng reign of the Qing Dynasty) within a double circle. Notice where the design begins and continues onto the dish's front face.

At Sotheby's I had the privilege of examining a Fine and Exquisite Pair of 'Famille-Rose' 'Sanduo' Cups with Yongzheng Marks and of the Period (1723-1735). (Note: it's just a coincidence that 3 of the 4 porcelain pieces featured in this blog are from the Yongzheng Period)

Finely potted and delicately painted, the auspicious sanduo 三多 (three abundances) motif of loquats, peaches and pomegranates symbolize longevity and fecundity for its owner. The pair originated from the famed collector and dealer of Chinese Art, Edward T Chow (1910-1980) and they were sold through Sotheby's on three separate occasions in 1974, 2001 and 2004. With an estimate of 1.2 to 1.8 million GBP, the 2017 sale realized an incredible price of 1.929 million GBP.

It was a real pleasure to examine such incredible pieces of porcelain, and it was fine that no pictures were allowed during the handling. At least I managed to take a nice photo of the cups in their display case.

Just up the street, Bonhams featured their sale of Fine Chinese Art and Fine Japanese Art. In the Chinese section of the sale were An Important and Exceedingly Rare Pair of Large Huanghuali Cabinets from the 16th/17th Century.

These cabinets are impressive for their large single planks of huanghuali 黃花梨 (yellow flowering pear) wood fitted on the cabinet doors. They were passed down from an important Italian family and published in Gustav Ecke's 'Chinese Domestic Furniture' (Beijing 1944), one of the first volumes written exclusively on Chinese furniture. Conservatively estimated at 200/300,000 GBP, they sold for many times more at a price realized of 1,688,750 GBP.

And probably one of my favourite items up for sale in Asian Art in London was this adorable pair of Japanese scrolls by Yosai Nomukazu (1872-1944) titled Cats' Sumo. Dated circa 1920-1940, the scene depicts a mouse referee overseeing a bunch cats before and during a whimsical sumo wresting match. Estimated at 4/6,000 GBP, these facetious felines sold for 4,875 GBP.

Cats waiting for final instructions.

We have a winner!!!

Anyways, I'll be in Toronto for the next little while. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comments, please send me an email.

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