SALISBURY auctioneers Woolley & Wallis have broken their own UK regional record with the sale last week of a Qianlong jade carving of a water buffalo for £3.4m. It establishes a massive new UK landmark for any work of art sold at auction outside London.
The 81/4in (20.8cm) long Imperial spinach-green jade buffalo
dates from the Qianlong period (1736-95), and sits on a gilt bronze
stand from the same period.
Dubbed the 'Pelham' water buffalo, the jade belongs to a group
of monumental jade carvings, mainly of buffalos and horses, that
once adorned the various palaces of Beijing. It was last on the
market in 1938 when it was purchased by Sackville George Pelham,
the 5th Earl of Yarborough, from London dealer John Sparks Ltd for
£300. It was an excellent provenance.
The exact whereabouts of the buffalo was unknown until 2005,
when the Earl's daughter, Lady Diana Miller, returned from Africa.
It was found in a bank vault, wrapped in newspapers dated 1940 and
housed in a wooden chest sealed with nails, string and sealing
The same source had yielded the Richmond Gold Cup, a 1767
silver-gilt trophy made for Sir Lawrence Dundas to a design by
Robert Adam c.1763 sold at W&W for £90,000 (plus 15 per cent
buyer's premium) in October 2005.
Bidding on May 20 opened at £190,000 (the estimate of up to
£500,000 had been available on request), but soon boiled down to a
contest, conducted in bidding increments of £100,000, between a
Hong Kong dealer on the telephone and Daniel Eskenazi, son of
London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, in the room.
Eskenazi clinched it with a European client in mind at £3.4m - a
price that leapt to over £4m when the 19.5 per cent buyer's premium
Daniel Eskenazi told ATG the nuances that make this outstanding
among a rarefied group of large Imperial jades. It was, he said, of
a relatively small size, the turned head and inquisitive expression
were deemed particularly appealing, while the emperor's mark to the
base suggests it was made specifically for him to enjoy.
The price is among the highest paid for a piece of jade at
The Salisbury Salerooms now hold the two highest prices
generated by a UK regional saleroom - both for Chinese works of art
that remain strong in an otherwise difficult antiques market.
The previous provincial record was the £2.6m (plus 15 per cent
buyer's premium) bid for a 14th century Yuan dynasty porcelain
double gourd vase at the equivalent sale in July 2005.
At the time it bettered by more than £2m the previous provincial
high, although it is testament to the power of the regional
saleroom to tap into the international market that subsequently the
seven-figure barrier has been passed twice, by the pair of Fra
Angelico panels at Duke's of Dorchester (£1.7m in April 2007) and a
Rembrandt self portrait at Gloucestershire's Moore, Allen &
Innocent (£2.2m in October 2007).
Confirming the continued strength of the Chinese market at its
many levels, Woolley & Wallis's two-day sale of Asian Art on
May 20-21 also ranks as the largest ever conducted by a regional
auctioneer, with the hammer total a fraction over £5m.
The water buffalo was one of three outstanding Chinese jades
offered in the Salisbury. The Buchanan-Jardine bitong, a Qing
dynasty jade brush pot, also sold to Eskenazi at £460,000, while
the Bruce Imperial bi disc carved with nine dragons sold to another
buyer at £290,000.
By Roland Arkell
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.