A small auction house in Ruislip has shattered the world auction record for a Chinese work of art by taking £43m for a vase consigned to their warehouse auction room as part of a house clearance from a bungalow in Pinner.
The price (£51.6m including buyer's premium) puts it in the top
ten works of art ever sold at auction, an exclusive list that up to
now has only been occupied by paintings and sculpture sold by
either Sotheby's or Christie's. Click here to see the list of all-time
record auction prices.
Despite its modest recent history, the 16in (41cm)yang
cai reticulated double-walled vase with famille rose
decoration would have been a commission for one of the palaces of
the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795), probably the Summer Palace or the
According to the world's leading dealers and collectors, it is
the best object of its type to be seen on the market in decades,
but it also chimes perfectly with current Chinese taste that values
pieces from this period above all others.
Peter Bainbridge, the auctioneer, who runs a typical local
auction room, is likely to have become a multi-millionaire himself
as a result of the sale. His buyer's premium for this sale was 20
per cent, or £8.6m, while he could have charged the vendors
anything up to 17.5 per cent, or just over £7.5m, to sell it.
Opening at £500,000 (the estimate prior to sale was
£800,000-1.2m), the bidding on the evening of November 11 took 18
minutes, with the hammer falling at around 6.30pm to gasps and
applause from a room packed with the world's leading dealers and
collectors and their representatives.
In the week running up to the sale, members of the trade
considered anything between £18m and £30m might be possible, but
even in the context of a rapidly rising market, many thought the
higher figure was fanciful. The consensus after the sale was that
it would not have made a penny more if sold in Hong Kong or
Seasoned dealers and collectors in town for Asian Art in
London had patiently queued along Dover Street on November 8
when Peter Bainbridge brought the vase to the capital to be
Those who missed that chance were able to inspect it up to the
moment of sale in the incongruous surroundings of Bainbridges'
cluttered storeroom, where it sat on a metal table next to the
kitchen. Despite its former tenure on top of a wardrobe, it was in
near perfect condition.
In scenes that were unprecedented outside the world's leading
auction rooms, eight or ten serious buyers were bidding into the
millions, either in person or on the phone. The successful buyer, a
leading mainland Chinese collector, was represented in the room by
his agent. Speaking to ATG immediately after the purchase, a
Chinese translator commented: "This is a very, very important, rare
and splendid item. We have never seen such a beautiful thing
outside China and it is good that a Chinese buyer has bought
His client had only heard about the vase two days before the
The price establishes a swathe of new auction landmarks. The
previous world record for Chinese porcelain (an accolade once
reserved for much earlier pieces of blue and white coveted for
centuries by Western collectors) was set at Sotheby's Hong Kong
only weeks ago when a double gourd yellow ground vase, again made
for the Qianlong Emperor, sold to the Chinese business magnate and
collector Alice Cheng for HK$225m (£18.2m).
The Ruislip vase also surpasses the previous record for any
Chinese work of art, the RMB390m (£37m) for an 11th century
calligraphic scroll by Huang Tingjian sold at Beijing Poly this
Only paintings or sculpture by a handful of major Western
artists have sold for more at auction: at £43m the vase slots into
eleventh place on the all-time list, just behind Rubens' Massacre
of the Innocents sold for £45m at Sotheby's in 2002. Indeed, only
three works of art have ever sold for more in the UK.
After news of the sale spread, a crew from Sky News arrived late
at night to report an unprecedented auction event with the perfect
back story. For filming the auctioneer removed the £51.6m
masterpiece from its protective carrying case - a Waitrose
More on the
Qianlong porcelain masterpiece