Taking a Photo with a $2 Million+ Imperial Chinese Vase in London!!!
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
Back in May I was able to visit London England for the first time in almost 3 years! This was an extremely exciting trip for me because I was finally able to see family and friends I missed during the entirety of the pandemic.
During my two weeks in London, I also managed to visit many of the world-famous museums and galleries with large Asian art collections, including the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Some of my favourite Asian artworks I saw were showcased in last month's blog which can be found here.
This trip to London also coincided with the major Asian art auctions at Sotheby's and Bonhams. In addition, I was able stop by the smaller regional auction houses too. Here are some of the highlights I saw during my trip.
Image 1. At Sotheby's London, the star of the show was this incredible Chinese doucai enamelled 'nine dragon' vase with Qianlong mark and of the period (1736-1795). This vase was one of the most incredible porcelain pieces I handled since the pandemic began.
In addition to its immense size, the depiction of the dragons are quite well done with their ferocious faces and dynamic poses. The doucai method of enamelling involved making outlines of the design in underglaze blue first, and then applying layers of additional colours throughout.
The auction house experts suggested this vase was one of a pair of vases, with its partner still in the Porzellansammlung of the Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany.
Despite the neck being reduced, there was still a lot of significant interest in the vase due to its status as an object from the Chinese imperial court. The vase was estimated at a conservative GBP 100/150,000 because of its condition issues, but after a fierce 20 minute bidding battle between a persistent phone and floor bidder, the final price with buyer's premium was a stunning GBP 1.85 million (approximately CAD 2.8 million).
Image 2. Despite the monumental size of the vase, I was still able to flip it on its side to view the base. Here we can see the six-character underglaze blue reign mark 大清乾隆年製 'made in the year of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty'.
Image 3. Just up the street from Sotheby's at Bonhams auction house was a wonderful gilt bronze depiction of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. This figure was large for its type with a height of 38.3 cm (about 15 1/8 inches).
The auction house dated the Buddha to a general 'Ming Dynasty' (1386-1644), but I personally think it was made during the 2nd half of the 15th Century.
I really like the casting of this Buddha. He has a beautiful face and is in a compassionate pose with legs in lotus position, the right hand in the earth touching mudra (gesture) of calling to witness his enlightenment, and the left hand in the mudra of meditation. This Buddha was estimated at GBP 50/80,000 and realized a final price of GBP 201,900 (approximately CAD 305,000).
Image 4. Visiting the regional auctions houses is always a pleasure during my trips to London. Many of these auction houses are based in smaller towns throughout the English countryside - areas that are prime locations for finding Asian art treasures.
During the Asian art exhibitions in London, many of the UK regional auction houses will bring their top pieces to the big city for viewings.
One of these regional auction houses (and with a particularly large Asian art presence) is Woolley & Wallis. Their location is in Salisbury, a town in southwest of London known for its famous cathedral, and they managed to secure a small space in London in the Mayfair district.
Amongst the highlights they brought to London was this doucai green enamelled dragon jars and cover from the Qianlong period (1736-1795). It features two large dragons chasing flaming pearls of wisdom on a heavenly sky.
When I first started in the Asian art business almost 20 years ago, you were able to purchase these types of jars for a ' relatively reasonable' USD 20,000 to 30,000 (about CAD 25,000 to 50,000).
Nowadays, these jars have increased significantly in price. One of the reasons is that most types of Chinese porcelain have gone up in value in over the past twenty years, especially mark and period examples from the Ming and Qing Dynasty.
This present jar also has the benefit of having a strong provenance to support its authenticity - there are so many modern reproductions of this type of jar in the current market!
According to the auction house, this green dragon jar can be traced back to Admiral Robert Coote (1820-1898) who was with the British Royal Navy during the mid to late 19th Century. In old letters and photographs, the vase is already described as having arrived from China to England on December 12, 1879. It was thence passed through the family to its current owners.
This jar also has its original cover. Most examples of this type of jar that are correct do not have their original covers.
As a result of the rarity, provenance and completeness, there was a lot of confidence in this dragon jar and cover from the Qianlong period. With an estimate of GBP 40/60,000, it ended up realizing GBP 155,000 (approximately CAD 234,000).
Image 5. Another major piece I saw with a remarkable result was at Dreweatts in Donnington UK (I actually had to look up their main gallery and it is just west of London).
Here they had a much hyped tianqiu ping (literally a celestial bulbous vase) with Qianlong mark and of the period.
The specialist for the sale was tracking this vase for over 25 years. It one belonged to a surgeon who bought it for a couple of hundred GBP back in the 1980's. After he passed, he gave the vase to his son who kept it nonchalantly in the kitchen. Just recently, the family decided to sell the object, and in all honesty, it was well worth the wait!
The vase in itself is rare because of its large size and deep blue colour. But for this particular example, there was the presence of gold bats and clouds, and silver cranes painted on the surface. There is no other recored example of this vase with this particular type of decoration.
The vase still had a hairline crack to the rim, which is one of the reasons it was estimated at a paltry GBP 100/150,000. Obviously, this low estimated value was also used to attract more international interest. The strategy clearly worked with the vase having a final realized price of GBP 1.449 million (approximately CAD 2.2 million).
Image 6. Another view of the large tianqiu ping vase and its base mark in underglaze blue - 大清乾隆年製 'made in the year of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty'.
Image 7. And finally! One of the coolest pieces I saw during this London trip was a really small Buddhist bronze figure at Sworders. Located just northeast of London, they are known as a regional auction house who will periodically find a treasure in their Asian art sales.
During my visit to the Sworder's gallery in 2019, I was able to view their Chinese yellow ground porcelain wall vase that was purchased at a local charity store for GBP 1.00 (!) and sold for nearly GBP 500,000 (approximately CAD 800,000)!!!
The Buddhist figure I saw this time at their small London showroom depicts Amoghapasha, a tantric deity of compassion. This figure is extremely graceful and detailed for the small size and was made during the 12th Century of the Pala Period in India.
The Pala Period was renowned for their immaculate Hindu and Buddhist sculptures in stone and bronze, and this piece is no exception. The legs also feature inlaid pieces of silver and gold which is a trademark of Pala bronze figures.
This figure of Amoghapasha had an impossibly low estimate of GBP 400/600, and definitely caught the interest of collectors and dealers from around the world. Despite the small size, it had a final hammer price of GBP 210,000 (approximately CAD 320,000)!!!
Thank you for reading and that's it for this post. Hopefully my next trip to London won't be in another 3 years!
As for my summer outlook, the schedule already looks really busy with appraisal trips to New York, Vancouver and Chicago! I will keep everyone posted. Simultaneously, I'm also sourcing Asian art items for my next online sale at Heffel! Please keep in touch, especially if you have Asian objects you want me to take a look at.