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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

The MacLean Collection of Ancient Chinese Bronzes at Sotheby's New York

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

And I'm back in New York City for Asia Week! Traveling to the Asian art shows in NYC was one of the major things I missed during the pandemic... this is of course in addition to what we took for granted like getting a haircut, eating at restaurants, seeing friends, etc. But Asia Week does rank up there and one event I do sorely miss.

For those of you not familiar with Asia Week, it is one of the marquee events on the Asian art international calendar. Held twice a year (once in March and once in September), Asia Week features a plethora of Asian art related events including art auctions, gallery openings, lectures and new museum exhibitions.

Typically Asia Week marks the beginning of the Asia art auction calendar, and it would be the first trip for those in the industry after the summer and winter break. Before the pandemic, I've admittedly been to every Asia Week since 2008.

One of the most exciting things about Asia Week are the auction previews at the major international houses Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's. In the past, I assembled some auction house highlights from these sales for Orientations Magazine or my own blog. (A new blog will be coming out in the next few weeks hopefully).

But for now I just want to focus on a really amazing exhibition I saw at Sotheby's. Here, they offered the sale of The MacLean Collection of archaic Chinese bronzes.

Barry L. MacLean is a successful Chicago businessman and during his travels to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1970's, he started collecting artwork from these respective regions. Over the past 50 years, he has amassed over 4000 objects, many of which were houses in his own museum where he showcases his Asian art collection and prestigious map library.

The highlights from The MacLean Collection are most certainly the impressive Chinese archaic bronzes from the Shang Dynasty (16th to circa 1050 BC) to the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC).

This internationally renowned collection is one of the most impressive in private hands in this category, and many of the items are historically signifiant. They show the ingenuity and skilled craftsmanship for these Chinese Bronze Age ritual vessels. The unique forms, casting and details make them all quite extraordinary.

These bronzes each have exceptional provenance through notable dealers and international auction houses, and some of these objects were also published in the seminal exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago 'Mirroring China's Past: Emperor's Scholars, and their Bronzes' (2018). (You can see some of my photos from this exhibition from one of my old blogs).

At Sotheby's, there were a total of 26 objects offered for sale and I have selected some of the few highlight objects.

Image 1a. Main view of the exhibition with 'The Oeder Hu' as a focal point.

Image 1b. Another view of the exhibition with a video showing a history and various highlights of The MacLean Collection. (Looks like I ruined the photo by leaving my flashlight and catalogue on the central pedestal!)

Image 1c. Another view of the exhibition with of the large maps of Chinese in the background.

Image 2. The Oeder Hu: An Archaic Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Late Shang Dynasty (12th to 11th Century BC). Auction estimate USD 400/600,000.


Collection of Hans Georg Oeder (1880-1938).

Sotheby's London, 19 June 1984, lot 8.

Eskenazi Ltd., London.

The Bella and P. P. Chau Collection.

Sotheby's London, 7 June 2000, lot 5.

The MacLean Collection, Chicago.

Image 3. A Pair of Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessels, Late Shang Dynasty (12th to 11th Century BC). Auction estimate USD 200/300,000.


Private Collection.

Christie's New York, 22 March 1999, lot 188.

The MacLean Collection, Chicago.

Image 4. A Massive Archaic Bronze Water Basin, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Late Spring and Autumn Period, Circa 500 BC. Auction estimate USD 80/120,000.


Sotheby's New York, 22 March 2000, lot 65.

Image 5. An Archaic Bronze Food Vessel, Early Western Zhou Dynasty (10th to 9th Century BC). Auction estimate USD 200/300,000.


Wyu Po Kok Antique Co, Ltd., Hong Kong, 1999.

The MacLean Collection, Chicago.

Image 6. An Archaic Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel and Cover, Western Zhou Dynasty. Auction estimate USD 40/60,000.


Private Collection.

Christie's London, 19 April 1983, lot 57.

Massachusetts Private Collection.

Sotheby's New York, 23 September 1995, lo 316.

The MacLean Collection, Chicago.

Image 6a. Detail of the vessel's tapir head handles.

Image 7. An Archaic Bronze Ritual Pouring Vessel, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Spring and Autumn Period (8th to 5th Century BC). Auction estimate USD 250/350,000.


Offered at Sotheby's London, 9 December 1986, Loy 7.

Sotheby's London, 18 November 1998, lot 804.

The MacLean Collection, Chicago.

Image 8. Complete map of the Unified Qing Empire, dated 1883.

Image 9. Complete map of the everlasting unified Qing empire, dated to 1811 of the Jiaqing Period (1796-1820).

Image 10. A group of visitors at Sotheby's New York examining the many pieces offered by The MacLean Collection.

Image 11. Various Chinese archaic bronze weapons and fittings were also on display.

And that's it for this blog! It's such a great feeling to be able to attend the international previews again!

Please come visit my website again in a couple of weeks to read my wrap up about September Asia Week in New York! I'll be showcasing some of the Chinese art highlights I examined as well as the crazy prices they sold for!

In the meantime, I'll be flying out to Vancouver on Tuesday to finish up some Asian art appraisal work and to finalize my second Asian art auction that I am helping Heffel Gallery assemble.


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