THE large number of increasingly wealthy mainland Chinese dealers and collectors participating in UK auctions are pushing up the prices in certain sectors of the market, including 19th century Chinese-taste ceramics. In the past this area has largely been overlooked in favour of imperial porcelain from earlier periods, but with the best 18th century mark and period routinely commanding six-figure sums, 19th century ceramics must look good value for money.
One of the highlights in Christie’s South Kensington’s (19.5/12% buyer’s premium) 466-lot Asian decorative Arts outing on March 11 was a large 19th century Chinese-taste famille rose bottle vase with a rich yellow ground, pictured right, which carried an £800-1200 estimate. Moulded in relief with mythical lions frolicking amongst the clouds, it was in good condition and stood 19 3/4in (50cm) high.
According to CSK specialist Jeremy Morgan, mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese buyers in the room and on the telephone dominated bidding throughout the sale, and this privately entered vase was secured at £9800 by a Hong Kong dealer against mainland Chinese competition in the room.
However, London and European dealers and collectors were also active and a European room bidder secured the star turn: an unusual Wanli period (1573-1619) Chinese blue and white zoomorphic kendi. Modelled as a recumbent elephant with its tusks forming the spout, it stood 8in (20cm) high. The unusual form and good condition of this privately consigned entry saw it fetch £19,500. Overall, the sale realised £290,190, with a 67 per cent take-up by lot.
The material in Bonhams Bond Street’s (19.5/10% buyer’s premium) 177-lot Export and Decorative Art of The China Trade sale on March 9 may not have attracted the same levels of Asian interest as CSK’s more Chinese-taste auction, but there was healthy competition for the top lots from a mixture of private buyers and dealers from the US, South America, London and Europe. “The idea is to hold a specialist annual export sale at a time when the market is quiet,” explained Bonhams’ specialist Colin Sheaf.
One of the most curious entries was a large, heavily potted blue and white inscribed tripod censer made for the Islamic market. Dating to c.1500 and consigned by a European vendor, it measured 9 1/2in (25cm) in width and was in good condition apart from a hairline rim crack. Unusually, its cylindrical body was decorated both with Islamic calligraphy (expounding the sayings of the Prophet) and a band of Persian calligraphy.
Given south east China’s thriving early Ming dynasty Muslim community and the fact that the Persian script was difficult to read, Colin Sheaf reckoned the censer was probably painted by a Chinese potter who could understand Arabic but who was not an indigenous Persian. Private buyers from the US and South America, together with a London-based Islamic dealer, contested the entry to £35,000, when it was secured by the South American.
A more traditional piece of European export porcelain furnished the sale with its most expensive lot. Once part of Ricardo do Espirito Santa Silva’s celebrated Lisbon collection, the 12 1/2in (52cm) Kangxi period (1662-1722) famille verte charger was pursued by two US privates to a winning £36,000. Overall, the hammer total was £526,880 with 57 per cent of entries sold by lot.