A group of private collectors from China’s Hunan province have privately purchased the famed Min Fanglei, a bronze ritual wine vessel from the Late Shang or Early Western Zhou period due to be sold in New York last month.
The delegation plan to donate their eleventh-hour purchase to
the Hunan Provincial Museum in China, where it will be reunited
with its lid.
With its combination of massive 2ft (60cm) size, powerful
proportions and superb casting,
Christie's deemed this among the most important Chinese archaic
bronzes ever to appear at auction. The surface is intricately cast
with stylised animals and mysterious masks that provide a
fascinating insight into 12th-11th century BC Chinese culture.
This bronze has been extensively published since 1928, and has
been handled by some of the key 20th century dealers and
collectors, including A.W. Bahr, C.F. Yau and C.T. Loo. At
Christie's New York in March 2001, it took $9m, a world record for
any Asian work of art.
It was due to be sold on March 20 with an estimate in excess of
$15m, with talk of a sale at perhaps twice that sum.
But the sale of this culturally sensitive object was not
straightforward. The 'King of all Fangleis' is well-known in China
as its cover, itself measuring over 8in (20cm) high, resides in the
Hunan Provincial Museum in Changsha City. In the run-up to the sale
there had been calls for bidders to stand aside to allow the two
elements to be reunited.
In the wake of the
Saint Laurent/Bergé sale debacle, fear of buyer default was
thought to be part of Christie's decision to strike a private
In Paris in 2009 the €28m sale of two Qianlong bronze heads from
the Haiyantang Zodiac water clock at the Old Summer Palace met the
wrath of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the
successful bidder announced that, as a patriotic act of protest, he
had no intention of paying for them.
Last summer, Christie's owner François Pinault returned the
zodiac heads to China just days after his firm became the first
international auction house to operate independently on the
"As always, it is our duty to be a responsible steward of the
important cultural objects that are entrusted to our care," said
Steven Murphy, Christie's chief executive, in a March 19
"After close consultation with the current owner over the last
several days, Christie's has facilitated a private sale, allowing
the vessel to be united with the lid kept at Hunan Museum. We are
pleased to have brought together our consignor and these
collectors, resulting in this excellent outcome that will allow the
'King of all Fangleis' to go back to its place of origin in
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.