Asian Buyers Battle for $25 Million Qing Vase as Chinese Art Prices Surge
An 18th-century vase priced at $25 million is among the works offered by dealers and auction houses at this week’s Asian Art in London event as Chinese collectors pay more for trophy objects from their heritage.
The Qing dynasty porcelain, painted with a dragon in purple enamels, dates from the reign of the Emperor Yongzheng. It is the sole known survivor of a group made in the imperial palace, Beijing, from 1723 to 1735, the Mayfair-based dealer Eskenazi Ltd. said in its 50th anniversary catalog.
This palace rarity is offered less than a month after another 18th-century imperial vase was bought by Chinese collector Alice Cheng for a record HK$252.7 million ($32.6 million) at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong. Asian art raised 245.5 million pounds ($399 million) of auction sales at Christie’s International in the first half, a 121 percent increase on the same period last year.
“Western collectors are getting priced out of the market,” Giuseppe Eskenazi, 71, the gallery’s director, said in an interview. “I’ve got five people interested in the vase and in negotiations. They’re all Asian.”
Eskenazi is showing a dozen museum-quality Chinese pieces spanning three millennia at Asian Art in London, whose 13th annual edition opened yesterday.
“Fifty years ago it was passion that drove collectors,” Eskenazi said. “Now there is more financial reasoning. The explanation that the Chinese are buying so much because they want to repatriate their art is questionable. They are conscious of the investment side.”
Market-savvy buyers have also spotted the potential of an elaborately decorated Qianlong-dynasty porcelain vase found during a house clearance in west London and being offered by Bainbridges, a local auction house in Ruislip. The 16-inch-high piece is described as being made in the imperial kilns in the 1740s and with a pierced double-wall body with roundels of goldfish.
The vase, owned by an English family since the 1930s, is estimated at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds, director Peter Bainbridge said in an e-mail. It will be offered on the afternoon of Nov. 11.
“If everyone believes in it, this might fetch more than the $30-million vase in Hong Kong,” James Hennessy, director of the London- and New York-based dealership Littleton & Hennessy, said in an interview. “This discovery could be the piece of the season.”
‘Art of Scent’
Hennessy is one of 37 dealers mounting exhibitions during the nine days of Asian Art in London. His “Art of Scent” show presents 30 incense-burning objects from the Han to Qinq dynasties. A 7th-century hand-held gilded-bronze censer is priced at $600,000.
“The market is moving so quickly,” Hennessy said. “Most of our initial enquiries and sales have come from China. We expect to see the biggest turnout yet from the mainland Chinese this year.”
There will be plenty of Far Eastern collectors and dealers at the sales held by London’s three main auction houses.
Bonhams estimates that a Qianlong-period white jade imperial seal will fetch as much as 3 million pounds at its Nov. 11 auction. The seal, carved with a dragon among cloud scrolls, was used to make impressions in the corners of the Emperor’s artworks and has been in a European private collection since the 1960s, according to the catalog.
A 13th-century crackle-glazed “Guan” vase is expected to fetch as much as 800,000 pounds at Christie’s on Nov. 9. Sotheby’s estimates a 14th-century Yuan dynasty “peony” jar will sell for as much as 600,000 pounds on Nov. 10.
The vase is being sold by the Hong Kong-based U.S. collector Ronald Longsdorf. An almost identical example is on display in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Rosemary Scott, Christie’s international academic director of Asian art, said.
“It’s also possible that it could go to an Asian collector,” Scott said. “Our number of mainland Chinese clients has increased by 90 percent in the space of a year.”
Asian Art in London 2010 runs though Nov. 13. Information: http://www.asianartinlondon.com/
(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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