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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

A Pair of (almost) $200k Chinese Porcelain Panels @Heffel Spring Asian Auctions

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

And a big THANK YOU for everyone who participated in my April Asian art auction at Heffel, Canada's National auction house! This was the fifth Asian art sale I collaborated with Heffel, and the total sale realized an incredible CAD 820,000!

Nearly 150 Asian art objects were offered over three sessions, with the majority of the items originating from China, Japan and the Himalayan region. This sale ran from April 6th to 27th across three of Heffel's galleries in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Despite the current economic climate, the sale fared much better than expected. The Asian art items that exceeded expectations tended to have very good provenance, were fresh to the market, and had conservative opening bids.

This season, jades and porcelain were extremely sought after. The first session featured Chinese art objects, including jade carvings, formerly from the Gurie Collection in Montreal.

Initially based in Harbin in northeastern China during the first half of the 20th Century, the Gurevich family moved to Canada during the 1950s and opened the Gurie Gallery on Montreal's Sherbrooke street. The Gurie Gallery was one of the first to focus on Chinese ceramics, decorative arts and paintings, and was extremely popular to collectors in Montreal, Toronto and New York.

The son, Alex Gurevich (1929-1990), took over the store during the 1960s and continued to source objects through frequent visits to Hong Kong.

Old photo of Alex Gurevich (1929-1990) in front of Gurie Gallery Montreal

Image 1. Here's a photo of Alex Gurevich in front of the Montreal store in the 1950's.

Heffel sale of an 18th Century white jade elephant pendant

Image 2. The top lot from the Gurie Collection was this stunning Chinese 18th Century white jade pendant. In addition to the almost-perfect white tone of the jade (which is highly desirable in the current market!), the quality of the carving of the elephant is quite breathtaking. The final realised price for this lot was $28,125.

Pair of Wang Qi famille rose panels sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 3a. The second session of Heffel's Asian Art auction featured Chinese ceramics and porcelain from the Neolithic Period to the 20th Century. The definite highlight was this pair of the porcelain panels painted with famille rose enamels. I stumbled on these panels during a work-trip in Montreal and I immediately knew that they were something incredibly special.

Both feature a group of finely-dressed women in a traditional garden. They are both well-detailed and have reserved expressions.

After some research, I came to the conclusion that these were painted by legendary Chinese porcelain artist Wang Qi. And the interesting thing was that they were purchased in Montreal at the Gurie Gallery circa 1955! They were never seen by the public since then, and the consignor (who I still chat with) paid only $250 for them!

Here are my catalogue notes I wrote about the pair of famille rose panels for the Heffel sale:

The present pair of Chinese famille rose panels are extremely rare early works by Wang Qi (1884-1937), a master of porcelain painting and leading member of the Zhushan Bayou (Eight Friends of Zhushan) group of ceramic painters during the Republican Period (1912-1949).

Very little is known about the artist. We do know that at a young age, Wang Qi went to work in Jingdezhen in Jiangsu Province, the site of the Imperial kilns since the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). After the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), kiln potters and porcelain painters no longer had to follow the stringent schematics designed by the Imperial kiln supervisors, and were able to become much more expressive in their works. Wang Qi emerged as one of the leaders of this new “literati” style of porcelain painting. His figural works presented characters from Chinese history, literature and religion. They were expressive and highly detailed, harking back to the Shanghai School painting masters of the late 19th Century.

The current porcelain panels would have been painted circa 1920 and are exemplary of Wang Qi’s early style. The figures and background are more reserved, and there isn’t the presence of his cursive calligraphy found in his later works of the 1930’s. The faces of the figures contain highly-detailed solemn faces, there is gentle shading throughout the gowns, and the bottom right of the panels feature Wang Qi’s trademark red artist seals.These female figures pay homage to the traditional Chinese paintings of ‘beauties’ enjoying a garden, elevated by Wang Qi’s technical skill and masterful expression.

There was A LOT of international competition for these panels during the sale, and ultimately they were purchased by a Canadian collector for an incredible $193,250!

Detail of a Wang Qi famille rose panels sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 3b. Detail of the first Wang Qi porcelain panel.

Detail of a Wang Qi famille rose panels sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 3c. Detail of the second Wang Qi panel.

A Chinese 18th Century white jade sceptre sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 4a. Also at the Heffel Asian art auction was this stunning Chinese pale celadon jade sceptre from the 18th Century. Highlighting the third session, it has a good size with a length of 37.5 cm. The stone is also well-carved, shaped and polished.

These sceptres were 'wish granting' and would have been given to someone important when they reached a significant birthday (usually 60) or achieved a promotion. The design of an elephant (also found in the aforementioned jade plaque) signifies the desire for a peaceful existence and is an extremely popular Chinese art motif found on paintings, porcelain and lacquer ware.

This sceptre was a late addition to the Heffel sale and just made the consignment deadline! It came from a family in Winnipeg who purchased it in February 1982 at P. C. Lu & Sons in the prestigious Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. During the 1970's and 1980's, P. C. Lu was one of the main destinations for Chinese art, especially for Westerners who were stopping over in Hong Kong.

This jade sceptre was another hotly competed lot and after much bidding, realized $181,250 at the auction.

Anthony Wu cataloguing a Chinese 18th Century white jade sceptre sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 4b. A photo of me diligently cataloguing the Chinese pale celadon jade ruyi sceptre back in early March of 2023.

A fine Chinese Kangxi Period soapstone inlay lacquer cabinet sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 5a. And finally, one of the best pieces of Chinese furniture I ever sold at auction during my (almost) 20 year career! This is an amazing lacquer cabinet from the Kangxi Period (1664-1772). The main panels contain detailed scenes of scholars and attendants enjoying the outdoors while the borders have bands of archaistic dragons.

All the panels of the main (front) scenes are incredibly inlaid with multi-coloured soapstone. The borders are inlaid with mother-of-pearl to create sinuous dragons.

This cabinet was acquired by a Vancouver family during the 1970's and was passed down to the current descendants. The final hammer price for this piece was $35,000.

Detail of a rare Chinese Kangxi Period soapstone inlay lacquer cabinet sold at Heffel in 2023

Image 5b. And here's a detail of some of the figures featured on the cabinet. All the details are either inlaid or carved, which makes this piece of furniture so exceptionally rare and sought-after.

Thank you for reading my latest post and hope everyone is looking forward to the summer. I'll be mostly traveling with trips to Minneapolis, Chicago, Vancouver and New York already planned.

After this current Heffel Asian art auction, I will start seeking objects for the next edition in October of 2023. In the meanwhile I'll get back to working on Asian art appraisals and museum visits. I'll keep you all posted on my Asian art adventures through my Instagram feed!


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