For the second time in three years Middlesex saleroom Bainbridge’s turned up the most talked-about consignment of the recent Asian art sales.
The 31-lot sale of the Gertrude Harriman
collection, until recently on loan to Nottingham Castle Museum,
generated £2,977,350 (£3,572,820 including the buyer's premium set
at a flat rate of 20%) at the West Ruislip saleroom on the
afternoon of Thursday, May 17.
Gertrude Harriman (1903-1970) had worked
with her husband Otto (1900-1950) in the paste jewellery trade in
Bohemia, but the couple moved to London before the war, where they
had a wholesale jewellery business. In 1945 they established Ulster
Pearls Ltd, a factory making artificial pearls in Co. Antrim.
The couple developed an extensive knowledge
and love of Chinese art, acquiring, in the War and immediate
post-War years, a varied collection of wares from well-known London
dealers such as Bluett's and John Sparks. When Gertrude died in
1970 the collection was loaned initially to Bristol City Museum and
from c.1989 until this year to the Nottingham museum. It was the
majority of these pieces that were offered for sale by the family
Most lots included multiple paper labels and
original documentation detailing their exhibition and purchase
history. These included a 10in (26cm) diameter Ming dynasty Xuande
(1425-1435) mark and period blue and white dice bowl painted with
five-clawed dragons among cloud scrolls, bought by Bluetts on
August 6, 1948, for £25 and quickly sold to the Harrimans on August
30, 1948, for £65. It was slightly misshapen but was in good
condition with a slight fire crack to the rim and some ground-out
chips to count against it.
Bainbridge's vendor was happy to offer it
for sale at £20,000-30,000, although the auctioneers pointed to
other examples sold in London, Hong Kong and New York - including
the very similar bowl sold by Sotheby's for just shy of HK$10m in
Above: the base of the bowl that made
£1.4m at Bainbridge's.
In a packed Ruislip saleroom (many London
dealers chose to attend the sale of this eminently buyable
collection rather than the concurrent sale at Bonhams Bond Street)
bidding opened at £100,000 before settling down to a contest
between London trader Alastair Gibson and a Chinese agent who was
also in the room.
The latter won his prize at £1.4m - and two
lots later took an 8in (20cm) diameter Hongwu (1368-1398) period
underglaze copper red bowl, painted with a peony within a broad
band of scrolling chrysanthemum, at £850,000. It had been purchased
by the Harrimans from Bluett's for £57 in October 1944.
With the sale bringing a fraction shy of
£3m, it appears lightning did strike twice for Peter Bainbridge who
famously shattered the world auction record for a Chinese work of
art when a Qianlong
yang cai reticulated double-walled vase fetched £43m (£51.6m
including buyer's premium) in November 2010.
That deal, of course, turned sour, when it
joined the long list of Chinese works of art 'sold' but as yet
Bainbridge's sale was scheduled to take
place during London's spring series of Asian Art sales where,
between them, the three major rooms -
Bonhams - offered over 3700 lots in a run of ten sales held
between May 14-18.
Auctions were still taking place at
Christie's South Kensington as ATG went to press but, as always
these days in this market, the series had yielded several dramatic
These were led by Bonhams' sale of a 3½in
(9cm) Imperial Qianlong vivid green carved jade seal of
double-gourd form for £3m, more than double the estimate, bought
over the phone to return to China. Sotheby's too had a very strong
individual jade result when a 6½in (17cm) high Qianlong cylindrical
white and russet carved brushpot eclipsed its £250,000-350,000
estimate to sell for £1.35m to the Asian trade.
At Christie's a small 3in (8cm) wide Ge type
Song dynasty lobed bowl overturned a £20,000-30,000 guide to take
£700,000 to an Asian private buyer.
But equally, perhaps because of the sheer
volume on offer, these auctions were characterised by a selective
overall response from bidders. Looking at the three main Chinese
ceramics and works of art sales, the take-up rate by volume was
only 50% for Christie's King Street sale on May 15; 66% at
Sotheby's the next day and 60% at Bonhams on May 17.
Bonhams' single-owner sale of Japanese works of art from the
Edward Wrangham collection on May 15 was better received with an
83% take-up and a new auction high for a work by Shibata Zeshin of
£250,000 for a single case lacquer inro.