Peter Bainbridge has confirmed to Antiques Trade Gazette that the Qianlong vase at the centre of a highly publicised payment dispute since November 2010 has finally been sold.
The terms of the sale were confidential, but
the private treaty deal brokered by Bonhams brings a welcome end to
more than two years of uncertainty for the Ruislip auctioneer, and
the market in general, after he brought the hammer down at £43m in
a blaze of publicity.
Bonhams also confirmed that they had
negotiated the deal which is thought to be with a new buyer, a Far
As readers will doubtless remember from the
acres of newsprint and hours of broadcast time devoted to the
story, what was for a short time the highest price ever recorded at
auction for anything other than a painting or piece of sculpture
came on the evening of November 11, 2010 as lot 800 was placed
before the rostrum in a warehouse auction room just off the A40 to
the West of London.
The 16in (41cm) yang
cai reticulated double-walled vase with famille rose
decoration, that was to draw bids from a queue of the world's top
dealers and collectors, had been consigned by retired solicitor
Tony Johnson after being discovered while clearing his late aunt's
bungalow in Pinner.
The vase was deemed to have been a
commission for one of the palaces of the Qianlong Emperor
(1736-95), probably the Summer Palace or the Forbidden City.
Seasoned dealers and collectors in town
for Asian Art in London patiently queued along
Dover Street three days before the sale when Mr Bainbridge brought
the vase to the capital to be viewed.
The consensus was that it was the best
object of its type to be seen on the market in decades. Its
discovery also coincided with the height of the Chinese buying
boom, and its craftsmanship and importance could not have appealed
more to Chinese collecting tastes.
Perhaps the best indication of the vase's
true market value was that trade bidding at the original auction
remained active until around the £22m mark, after which the
competition was reduced to two bidders, both thought to be agents
in the room for Chinese collectors.
Bloomberg News reported the
value of the Bonhams deal at between £20m and £25m.
The successful bidder at Bainbridge's is
thought to have balked at the £8.6m buyer's premium on the vase.
However, securing payments from Chinese bidders in general was
already recognised as a fairly widespread problem at the time.
Months later, with no confirmation that the
sale had been completed, the speculation began.
Mr Bainbridge, who remained tight-lipped
about what was going on, was quoted in his local paper, the
Uxbridge Gazette, in March 2011, as saying: "The buyer is
completely legitimate, with no ulterior motives. The sale is going
through and is completely within the time-frame we are comfortable
Later there were reports that Mr Bainbridge
and the vendor had flown to China in attempt to secure payment.
Legal experts consulted by ATG over the
issue raised a number of points that indicated Mr Bainbridge's
options over what to do next would have been limited. One barrier
to a successful conclusion was the question of the buyer's
One expert opinion was that to reduce it, or
scrap it altogether, would have been unfair to the underbidder, who
might well have argued that they would have been prepared to go
higher had they known that a discount would be on offer later.
Bainbridge's went on to enjoy more
straightforward success in the Chinese works of art market when
they took £1.4m for a Xuande
(1425-1435) blue and white dice bowl and £850,000 for a Hongwu
(1368-1398) copper red bowl from the Gertrude Harriman collection
in May last year.
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