Once again, Asian Art in London week had the desired effect of creating a real buzz around the Asian art market and drawing in collectors, dealers and curators from around the world. There were certainly fewer Americans and with American museums now on much tighter budgets, this is no longer a guaranteed shopping trip for American curators.
Painting specialist Sandra Milne Henderson who had mounted a show of Japanese painting, and sells mainly to museums, was disappointed that more curators had not come. While the main East Coast museums made the trip to London, those from the Mid West and the West coast were missed. Dealers also lamented the lack of European museum curators who had not made the trip across the Channel and there were even fewer British curators than usual.
Fabio Rossi described the Europeans curators’ attitude as a “dereliction of their duty.” However, while institutional buying was down, the good news was that the Asian–in particular the Hong Kong and Chinese–markets are extremely strong, and this was particularly evident in the saleroom.
At the dealers...
Roger Keverne had an excellent week, especially with Chinese porcelain and jades and felt that the Chinese and the Hong Kong were now underpinning this market. ‘The mainland Chinese are now coming over on their own and we are starting to build up direct relationships with them,” he said.
Another positive effect of Asian Art in London is the resurgence of interest among British collectors. With so much going on, so many parties and so much on display it would be difficult not to fuel the interest of the home market. This week really provides the opportunity but for new buyers to explore the galleries, especially those which lurk uninvitingly in upstairs premises After a difficult trading year, expectations were low and most dealers were reassured with the numbers through their galleries, bringing much needed sales.
Speelman made several important sales, including a set of eight 1786 cloisonné enamel panels of the seasons, complete with an imperial inscription, and some fine early Ming bronzes with the mark of the Imperial workshop. Islamic dealer Simon Ray had made good sales across the board, including a blue glass plate to the Metropolitan Museum. “When times are tougher, it is very important to have a good spread of prices,” he said.
On the fifth day of the week, Francesca Galloway had sold several of her major Indian miniatures in the £30/50,000 price range to both new and established clients and Chinese dealer Anthony Carter was also delighted with the business he had done. John Tucker sold several pieces of sculpture, mainly to British and European collectors and had a great deal of interest in his top piece, a Wei period Chinese Buddha. Rossi and Rossi’s intriguing collection of Tibetan Buddhas, all of them portraits of historical spiritual leaders, proved quite a talking point, surprising visitors with the individuality of the faces. Six pieces sold during Asia week with four more reserved. Eskenazi’s exhibition of Song ceramics had sold over two thirds, with prices from £10,000 to the low six figures.
In Kensington Church Street, most of the dealers had an excellent week. Robert Mcpherson had his best opening ever with a queue at the door, and sold about half his collection of Song and early ceramics to mainly British buyers. John Berwald sold at least half of his show of Kangxi biscuit porcelain, mainly to regular clients. Chinese export specialists Cohen and Cohen reported smaller crowds than last year, but sold some pieces including a pair of Qianlong seated spaniels marked at £30,000, while a museum has reserved a Kangxi Chinese export charger painted in Imari with the arms of Louis XV, priced at over £50,000. Jorge Welsh’s exhibition of Japanese "Nanban" lacquer work was a real revelation. These very rare pieces were made for the Portuguese market in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, many with Christian images and generally in Western shapes. One piece, a coffer, features the only known depiction of Japanese figures on that form. A Japanese edict in 1641 forbade the export of lacquer showing Japanese towns or human figures–especially “if they were carrying arms.” Most of Mr Welsh’s major pieces were sold at prices from £6,000 to the six figures.
...and in the salerooms
Two single owner collections of porcelain dominated the salerooms. Anthony du Boulay, former head of the Chinese department at Christie’s, had cocked a snoop at his old firm by consigning the collection to Colin Sheaf who left Christie’s to head up the Asian department at Bonhams. Mr Sheaf learnt his trade at Mr du Boulay’s knee, so it was fitting that he should sell the collection, actually using Mr du Boulay’s own gavel. Estimates were low and the collection more than doubled its estimate to make £1.2 million. The room was packed with Europeans and Asians and really demonstrated the strength of the Asian market. Eight of the top 10 lots went to Asian buyers, both trade and private. This was a connoisseur’s collection, acquired on a limited budget and covering a wide range of periods and styles, There was a wide cross section of Ming pieces both blue and white and polychrome as well as Qing monochromes, some Song pieces and Korean wares. Many of the pieces were damaged which made them affordable when they were originally purchased. What really interested Mr du Boulay was provenance, and here were pieces from the great
British collections of the 40s, 50s and 60s, including a damaged Ming baluster vase from the collector, George Eumorfopoulos, whose collection was dispersed in the 1940s. (This fetched £3,824). A Yongzheng blue and white dragon vase topped the sale at £144,150; despite having a neck crack, it sold to a Hong Kong dealer. Another Yongzheng piece, a stunning yellow bowl and cover, made £88,050, going to an Asian buyer. A Mainland Chinese private collector paid £77,675 for a Hongwu (early Ming) under-glazed copper-red pear shaped vase.
Some of the pieces, such as the dark Fahua wares were not to today’s taste and failed to sell, as did a very rare Ming polychrome altar vase which had belonged to the scholar/collector Warren Cox. There was also little demand for the Sung and Korean pieces.
Sotheby’s offered the Muwen Tang collection of Song ceramics. This was part of the well known and published collection of a Hong Kong architect, Simon Kwan. It is a much more specialist field and far fewer people turned up to bid but again there was strong Asian buying. It met with a mixed response showing a selective market. There was fierce competition for the best pieces but the sale was only 62% sold by lot and totalled £1.55 million ($2.592 million) An incredibly rare 11 5/8 in (29.5 cm) ‘Jun’ foliate vase shot beyond its £80/100,000 estimate to fetch £453,600 ($758,020) making it the most expensive item sold at auction all week. It was underbid by Eskenazi and finally secured by a private American collector. Philip Constantinidi of Eskenazi commented, “Ju pieces of this size and quality are incredibly rare, it was a marvellous shape with its delicate foliate rim.
However a flower-shaped brushwasher formerly in the collection of Edward T Chow with a £300/500,000 estimate went unsold, the general perception in this selective market was that its glaze was a little thin and it lacked that magical ‘X’ factor.