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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

December Visit to Shanghai - the Stunning Shanghai Museum, a Beautiful Skyline and Delicious Crabs!

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

And here it is! In last month's blog I promised to showcase some of the highlights from my trip to China in early December 2019. In addition to attending the Hong Kong auction previews at Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's, I also had the opportunity to visit Beijing and Shanghai for 10 days. It was quite an adventure!

If you have been following my blogs and Instagram page, you will know that I visit Hong Kong approximately 2 to 3 times a year for the big sales. Going to China is much more rare for me - this ended up being my first trip to Beijing in 10 years, and my first ever visit to Shanghai!

Shanghai was incredible. In addition to the rich history, incredible architecture and amazing food, I was able to visit one of the most important Chinese Art museums on the planet.

The Shanghai Museum was originally founded in 1952 and moved to its current location in the People's Square in 1996. The giant five story building was made to resemble a Chinese Bronze Age three-legged ritual food vessel called a ding. It's quite creative and the space inside is exceptionally well organized.

1. Here's an image of the Shanghai Museum's main entrance with its ding-influenced look.

The Shanghai Museum houses one of the most amazing collections of Chinese Art. They are most renowned for their for their selection of ancient Chinese bronze vessels, classical scroll paintings and calligraphy, Buddhist sculptures, imperial and domestic furniture, and ceramics and porcelain from the Han to Qing Dynasty.

There's just too many objects to showcase in a single blog so here are some of my personal favourites. Some (but not all!) are featured on my Instagram page, so a couple of these photos may seem familiar.

2. A rare bronze tripod ritual food vessel, ding, from the 12th-11th Century of the Shang Dynasty. This is an extremely famous example due to its unusual 'elephant head' handles and band of stylized snakes along the border. You can see the outline of more bronze vessels in the background.

3. A world-famous bronze ox-shaped wine vessel, zun, from the 6th Century to 476 BC of the Spring and Autumn Period. This large bronze ox is renowned for its large size, unique look, and incredible details. It also features 3 large compartments for storing ritual wine.

4. One of the most famous Song Dynasty calligraphies in Chinese art history, a long horizontal scroll by master Zhang Jizhi 張即之 (1186-1263). He is known for his forceful Buddhist text in 'standard' script, and was recognized as the last major calligrapher of the Song.

5. A beautiful white jade carving of an apsara from the Tang Dynasty (617-908). These female winged fairies were very popular in Hindu and Buddhist culture. This example has incredible attention to detail from the graceful face and arms, to the flowing robes and ribbons. You really get the sense she is a celestial being.

6. A rare limestone carving of two seated bodhisattvas from the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577). Bodhisattvas are enlightened Buddhist beings who chose to remain on the physical earth to teach Buddhist doctrine. Both are are in a seldom seen meditative pose where they are 'mirroring' each other. They are flanked by attendants, while the base level contains Buddhist guardians, lions, and possibly donors.

7. An extremely large lacquered gilt wood seated figure of a bodhisattva from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). Another enlightened being, this figure is simply incredible - appearing to be austere, there is still so much grace and wisdom in the facial features. The right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of teaching while the left hand is in a meditative pose. The flowing drapery is reminiscent of older Buddhist sculptures found along the Silk Road, all influenced from earlier examples from India.

8. The Shanghai museum is extremely famous for their Chinese furniture collection, many of which were donated by Wang Shixiang (1914-2009), one of the greatest scholars of Ming and Qing furniture. Most of the displays resembles room settings.

In this example, we see an 18th Century imperial setting with a painting table, throne chair, and five-panel screen, all made of zitan (purple sandalwood). The scene is flanked by a pair of large 18th Century cloisonné enamel cranes that were used as candle prickets.

9. A pair of Ru yao shallow dishes from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279). Some of the most sought-after ceramic pieces in Chinese history, Ru wares were produced at one of the 'five great kilns' of the Song. By most accounts, only 92 recorded Ru vessels are said to exist today. Ru wares are known for their immaculate celadon to sky-blue glazing, fine potting. They have been appreciated by emperors and collectors alike for centuries.

Recent sales have been phenomenal for these types of objects. Christie's Hong Kong recently sold a Ru tea bowl for HKD 56.35 million (approximately USD 7.25 million) on 26 November 2018, while Sotheby's Hong Kong sold the record price for a Ru ware, a brushwasher formerly from the Le Cong Tang Collection for HKD 294,287.5 million (approximately USD 37.8 million) on 3 October 2017.

10. A large blue and white jar, guan, from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). This large vessel contains bold decorations of peonies and lotus amongst graceful scrolling vines showcasing the advancements of porcelain and cobalt firing during this experimental period. In the background, you can see the figure of a rare and large Qingbai glazed seated Buddha, also from the Yuan Dynasty.

11. A large early Ming copper red barbed rim 'peony' charger from the Hongwu period (1368-1398). This is one of the rarest examples out there due to its large size, unique shape and wonderful decoration of florals. It also showcases the successful experimentation with the copper red design which was highly difficult to fire during the 14th Century, especially for larger vessels.

12. One of the most famous porcelain pieces EVER is this one-of-a-kind famille rose 'peach' vase from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735). The shape is rare in itself, and most of these types of vases would be decorated with monochrome glazes. This is the only example that features famille rose enamels. The design of peaches and branches are extremely delicate.

This vase is now one of the first case studies used to teach aspiring auction house specialists in Chinese art and ceramics. In 2002, an amateur photo of this vase mounted as a lamp was sent to Sotheby's. The auction house specialists were quick to pounce on the object and realize its historical significance and potential value.

It came from former U.S. ambassador to Israel and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, Ogden Reid, who acquired it from his late mother. Estimated at a conservative HKD 15 million (approximately USD 2 million), it sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong on 7 May 2002 to Shanghai-born Chinese art collector, businesswoman and philanthropist Alice Cheng for a then record-price of HKD 41.5 million (approximately USD 5.3 million).

13. Another extremely rare piece, a famille rose bitong (brushpot) from the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735) containing an unusual scene of a fisherman family in the round. I just really like the whimsical depiction of the figures.

14. One of my favourite display cases showing the technical innovations in porcelain design during the Qianlong Period (1736-1795). Despite being porcelain, these vessels were made to resemble bronze, lacquer, wood, turquoise, etc.

15. Detail of one of the pieces in the display case. This turquoise-glazed bowl and cover is from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) and is attached to a porcelain stand that resembles a typical wood example from the 18th Century.

16. Another of my favourites is this large blue and white Ming-style 'floral' bottle vase from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795). The form is called a tianqiuping 天球瓶 which loosely translate to a 'heavily sphere vase'. Today, these examples are highly appreciated by collectors and museums, and this vase is unique in that the design emulates early 15th Century blue and white examples.

17. It wasn't all about the Shanghai Museum this visit! I did get to enjoy the amazing view of the iconic Shanghai skyline during my stay 2-night at the famous Peace Hotel 和平饭店.

Located on the Bund, the Peace Hotel is one of Asia's most famous hotels. Originally the Sassoon House when it was completed in 1929 by legendary businessman/banker Sir Victor Sassoon (1881-1961) it was one of the tallest building in East Asia at the time.

The hotel is extremely famous for its grand Art Deco interior, which was used in numerous movies depicting 'Old Shanghai'. The lower level houses its famous (but expensive) jazz bar with musicians who have been around for decades.

18. The 'old' jazz musicians at the Peace Hotel in action.

19. And what's the point of going to Shanghai without trying one of their most famous dishes?! Shanghai is well-known for their mitten 'hairy' crabs, and there's no better place to go than the Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace 成隆行蟹王府, just a 10 minute walk from the hotel. Here I had a set menu that featured both a male and female crab.

20. The female crab plated by the server. In addition to the meat, the delicacy is really in the eggs and fat that are within the main body of the crustacean.

That's it for this post, and if you have questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email.

I just finished my latest Chinese Art auction market report for Orientations Magazine and it should be out in museum bookstores by the end of February. I'll be sure to keep you posted when it is released!



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