The London Borough of Croydon has chosen Christie’s as the auctioneers for its controversial sale of 24 Chinese works of art from its collection.
The works, which feature Ming, Qing and Early Period ceramics, were acquired by local businessman and collector Raymond Riesco (1877-1964) before entering the council's collection on his death.
But following the council's decision in July to sell the pieces and use the funds to help redevelop their Fairfield Halls entertainment venue (which has been criticised by, among others, Arts Council England), Christie's will now offer them for sale in Hong Kong on November 27.
The announcement of the auction also points to the potential value of the works. Christie's say they expect 24 works to raise in excess of HK$113m (£9m).
The items include a number of blue and white pieces, and the leading lot from the consignment is a rare Xuande mark and period double-gourd moonflask, Ming Dynasty 1426-1435, estimated at HK$22m-30m (£1.8m-2.5m).
A Xuande-marked flask of the same form with the same decoration and similar distinctive rectangular foot is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and two similar flasks from the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing are also known. A flask identical to the Riesco vessel, including a Xuande mark, is in the collection of Sir Percival David, now on view in the British Museum.
The rest of the Riesco collection, comprising 206 other works spanning the Neolithic period to the 19th century, will remain in the Riesco Gallery in the Croydon Clocktower where they are on free public view.
Christie's chairman and international head of Asian Art Jonathan Stone said: "We are pleased to have been selected to auction these ceramics following a competitive tender process resulting from the decision to sell part of the collection."
Croydon Council's cabinet member for children, families and learning, Councillor Tim Pollard, said: "This has been a difficult decision to make and one we have not taken lightly. The high insurance and security costs of maintaining this collection do not provide value for money to Croydon taxpayers. Instead the council intends to get the maximum financial return on the small portion of the collection being sold to invest in Croydon's cultural infrastructure, and we believe Christie's offers the best opportunity to do this."
However, opponents of the sale believe it contravenes the Museums Association's code of ethics to sell works which were donated to the public. They have also raised concerns that other councils could follow suit in de-accessioning works held in their collections.
Interestingly, the Christie's press release for the auction states: "The collection came into the ownership of the London Borough of Croydon when the council purchased Mr Riesco's home, Heathfield House, and surrounding land in Addington, South London, in 1964." Assuming the collection was bought (rather than donated), then the likelihood of Croydon Council's museums service losing their accrediation with Arts Council England would seemingly be reduced.