Asians Battle for Jade at Record $168 Million Chinese Auctions

Recumbent Deer
Chinese Imperial white jade carving of a recumbent deer. From a long-established collection in Dorset, west of England, it sold at the Salisbury auction house Woolley & Wallis on Nov. 17 for 3.8 million pounds ($6 million). Source: Woolley & Wallis via Bloomberg

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The sale of an 18-century white-jade carving has rounded off a series of auctions of Chinese art in the U.K. that raised a record 105 million pounds ($168 million).

The carving of a deer with its young fetched 3.8 million pounds at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, west England. The price was the second-highest of the series after the 51.6 million pounds for a Qianlong Imperial vase, an auction record for Chinese art, also set at a regional saleroom, Bainbridges in west London.

Asian collectors are prepared to pay ever-higher prices for objects associated with Chinese emperors, wherever in the world they are offered, dealers said.

“China has always been the poor relation of Western art,” said London-based dealer Alastair Gibson, a director of Asian Art in London. “Now, it’s up there with Picasso and Warhol.”

Bonhams and Sotheby’s had totals of 10.6 million pounds and 14.1 million pounds, respectively, for their Chinese sales. Christie’s International Plc raised 18.6 million pounds, a 98 percent increase on November 2009, it said.

Woolley & Wallis’s 343-lot event on Nov. 17 raised 10 million pounds, a record for the auction house. Its Qianlong-period carving had been estimated at 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds. It was bought in the room by Xu Zhe Hao, a Cixi City-based dealer in Zhejiang province, who said he was bidding on behalf of a collector in Hangzhou.

Xu was one of at least 10 bidders, six on the phone and the rest among the garrulous crowd of about 20 Asians in the strip-lit saleroom.

Even with the headline-grabbing vase sale on Nov. 11, dealers said there was some selective buying. Woolley & Wallis, Christie’s and Sotheby’s had respective unsold rates of 33 percent, 44 percent and 37 percent.

“Asian buyers are no longer paying crazy money for anything,” said Clare Durham of Woolley & Wallis. “They’re learning to be more discriminating.”

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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