There was a good vibe around the Asian art sales this year.
If there was a suggestion that, amidst
political, economic and legislative change - and continued ruckus
over fakery - the market had taken a 'breather' last year, then the
feedback from the plethora of regional sales across April, May and
early June was largely very positive.
Almost a decade into a sustained boom for
Chinese works of art, it had been more difficult than ever to put a
sale together but, if individual 'aces' were harder to find in 2013
than they had been two or three years ago - then the market mood
was certainly reminiscent of those earlier campaigns.
"The difference between sales in November
and sales in May was incomparable. It meant as much as 25% more for
the same objects" said Woolley & Wallis specialist John
He had the most dynamic sale of the season -
the collection of Luís Esteves Fernandes - as the opening act of
Woolley & Wallis's three-catalogue, £5m May 22-23
Luís Esteves Fernandes (1897-1988) was a
Lisbon diplomat who, in 1925, was appointed Third Secretary to the
Portuguese Legation in Peking (Beijing).
Six years in China gave the young man the
chance to indulge a passion for Chinese culture - something that
earned him the respect of members of both the Chinese
intelligentsia and the antique dealers with whom he did
On future assignments in pre-War Paris,
London and Geneva and then in Tokyo (as Portuguese ambassador to
Japan from 1939-45) and Washington (as ambassador to the United
States, 1950-61), he continued to buy Asian works of art wherever
he was posted. John Axford, who pitched for the sale in October
against a London saleroom and a Portuguese dealer, was told on New
Year's Day that he could sell it.
Moving the collection from Lisbon to
Salisbury had not been without issues of red tape (every item had
to be signed off by the ministry of culture) but for many Chinese
dealers and collectors this was the most exciting sale of the
As ever, estimates that put little pressure
on the market and an excellent old provenance that ruled out recent
fakes were crucial to the commercial fortunes of this 183-lot
collection, but so too were the component parts that chimed
perfectly with Chinese taste.
In particular, Fernandes' interest in the
ceremonial paraphernalia of the Qing court set this idiosyncratic
assemblage aside from the stereotypical Portuguese collection of
export wares and kraak porcelain. Supplemented by the occasional
welcome anomaly, this was typified by the financial highlight of
the sale - a Beijing enamel and gold filigree ling
yue or torque sold at £190,000 - and an array of
hardstone belt hooks, archer's rings and pendants aswell as a group
of abstinence plaques.
All were hard-fought in a five-hour display
of alpha-male shut-out bids, marathon ping-pong exchanges and
narcoleptic bid-splitting that saw many items outstrip estimates
ten-fold. "It was agony", conceded Mr Axford, although on suspects
Fernandes' grand-daughter, seated in the front row, felt rather
Ultimately a catalogue that, at face value,
included just half-a-dozen five-figure estimates posted 46 five- or
six-figure prices and a hammer total of £1,877,010.
The financial highlight of the Fernandes
collection was the Beijing enamel and gold filigree ling
yue, as worn by an Imperial consort.
Jewelled collars or torques were listed in the
Huangchao Liqi Tushi (The Regulations for Ceremonial
Paraphernalia of the Qing Dynasty) as an essential part
of court dress for members of the Imperial family and noblewomen.
The number of semi-precious stones used in their manufacture
determined rank: in this case the use of seven pearls (all are
later cultured replacements) denoted the wearer as a first-ranking
official of the Yongzheng or Qianlong court.
Unrecorded either in literature or Imperial
portraits, it was estimated at £30,000-50,000 but sold to a Chinese
buyer at £190,000.
More highlights appear in the image slideshow at
the top of this page.
The buyer's premium was 22%.