Chinese Vase Resold for Less Than Half $83 Million Record

A Chinese vase for which a bidder offered a record 51.6 million pounds ($83 million) at auction more than two years ago has been sold for less than half the price the original purchaser failed to pay.

The elaborately decorated 18th-century porcelain vase, described as being made for the Qianlong Emperor, was auctioned by Bainbridges in Ruislip, west London, on Nov. 11, 2010.

The winning bid was more than 50 times the presale estimate. The price, including auction house fees, was a record for any Asian work of art offered at auction. The bid was made by an agent in the room on behalf of the Beijing-based collector, Wang Yaohui, according to a person familiar with the transaction.

The owners, a retired solicitor called Tony Johnson and his mother Gene, waited two years for a resolution. They have now sold the vase to another buyer for an undisclosed price between 20 million pounds and 25 million pounds, said a person with knowledge of the matter.

The private transaction was brokered by the London-based auction house Bonhams. The vase has now been exported. The new owner has been identified by dealers as an Asian collector.

“Bonhams is pleased to confirm the sale of the vase for an undisclosed sum, in a private treaty deal,” according to an email from Julian Roup, Bonhams’s director of press and marketing.

House Clearance

“It’s the right price,” the London-based dealer Roger Keverne said in an interview. “That was the figure at which most people were interested when the vase was originally offered. It’s settled to its true value.”

Keverne said dealers would be relieved the two-year non-payment saga had been resolved. “It’s good news,” he said. “This was an itch that needed dealing with. It was at least so far out of the reach of normal trading that it didn’t affect overall levels of confidence. That 51.6 million was a casino price.”

The Qing-dynasty rarity, featuring a pierced “reticulated” body painted in a pastel-colored “famille rose” palette, was discovered during a routine house clearance in the London suburb of Pinner.

In perfect condition, the vase had been owned by William and Pat Newman, who died in 2006 and 2010 respectively. It then passed to Pat Newman’s sister, Gene. It isn’t known how William Newman acquired the piece.

The record bid for the so-called “Ruislip Vase” was the highest of a series of big-ticket prices for imperial Chinese porcelain that were pledged, if not always paid, by Asian bidders at auctions in 2010.

Sale Value

Auction sales of art and antiques in China in 2010 were valued at 6 billion euros ($8.6 billion), a 177 percent increase on 2009, according to a European Fine Art Foundation report published in March 2011.

Further auctions and dealer transactions in the West turned the trade in Chinese artifacts into a business worth more than $10 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Demand for Chinese antiques has since declined as growth in the Chinese economy contracted and western auction houses introduced deposits to deter non-payers.

Though Bainbridges’s original bill for the imperial vase was never met in full, the auction house had received an interim payment, said persons with knowledge of the matter.

Peter Bainbridge, the company’s director, has consistently declined to comment on the non-payment of the vase, citing a confidentiality clause.

Website Video

A video of the record-breaking auction still features on Bainbridges’s website and the vase is used in place of an “i” on the company logo.

Wang Yaohui, the Beijing-based chairman of Zhonghui Guohua Industrial Group Co., Ltd., has been named in connection with the 2010 bid by the China-based art news website and other Asian media sources.

He was unavailable for comment by telephone and did not respond to emails when Zhonghui Guohua was contacted by Bloomberg News yesterday.

Zhonghui Guohua is a conglomerate with interests that include real estate, hi-tech industry, construction and minerals.

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

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