Thursday - 17 April 2014

Symbols of longevity – and wealth

15 November 2013Written by Roland Arkell

A new record for any work of art sold in New Zealand was set when Webb’s in Auckland sold this pair of 19th century Chinese carved rhinoceros horns for NZ$680,000 (£375,700).

Described as "the finest and rarest example of a Chinese antique ever offered on the New Zealand market", these unusually large horns, each measuring over 2ft (60cm) high, were intricately worked with auspicious symbols of beauty, perseverance, healing and longevity - references to the perceived salutary benefits of rhinoceros horn in Chinese culture.

The horns, supported tip down on intricately carved openwork stands in a stained black hardwood, were formerly in the collection of Sir John Budd Phear (1825-1905), a noted anthropologist and High Court judge in the former Ceylon whose family owned Marpool Hall in Exmouth.

Sir John's son Gilbert Phear (1877-1955), an engineer in the Indian service in Ceylon, migrated to New Zealand in the early 20th century bringing these carvings with him. Both had survived in good condition with only minor chips and a 1in (3cm) area of restoration to count against them.

Webb's advice to their client to decline several pre-sale offers within the estimate range of NZ$120,000-150,000 proved sage as six bidders were still competing at NZ$600,000 at the auction on October 17.

The successful buyer was a New Zealand resident - acquiring the horns to mark the 80th birthday of a senior family member. There are no rules in place designed to prevent the export of rhino horn works of art from New Zealand but on this occasion bidders from Asia were unsuccessful.

The previous record for a work of art sold in New Zealand was the NZ$640,000 bid for Let Be, Let Be, an enamel and sand on hardboard painting signed and dated 1959 by Colin McCahon, sold by Webb's as part of the Goodman Fielder Collection in March 1995.

The buyer's premium was 15%.

Exchange rate: £1 = NZ$1.81

Back to top