Examples in white jade can bring enormous sums. A large sceptre, a gift from Chiang Kai-shek to His Highness Maharaja Sir Padma Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, was sold by Sotheby’s in London in May 2013 for £866,500.
The example offered in the same rooms from ‘an important Asian private collection’ was smaller in size at 14in (35cm), but was almost as good.
Finished to a smooth and highly tactile polish, it was notable for the delicate low-relief carving to the head of bats flanking a central shou character – restrained decoration designed to enhance the quality and translucency of the stone. Estimated at £40,000-60,000, it took £370,000.
The fashion in jade remains firmly towards Qing carvings in the palest stones. Sotheby’s gave a separate catalogue to Menagerie, An English Private Collection of Chinese Animal Carvings.
The collection of 100 pieces in a variety of mediums, but predominantly jade, drew strong interest, particularly from Asian dealers, with 82 of the 100 lots sold for a total of £1.1m.
Brimming with auspicious associations, leading the sale at £65,000 (estimate £40,000-60,000) was a 4¼in (11cm) carving of two boys clambering playfully on an elephant. The phrase ‘ride an elephant’ is close in pronunciation to ‘good fortune’. It was admired for both its technical proficiency – demonstrated across the thick, wrinkled skin of the elephant or the embroidered cloth draped over its back – and a fine white stone of translucent and even tone with russet inclusions. The buyer was an Asian private collector.
The word for bear, xiong, in Chinese also means brave and powerful.
On May 11, Bonhams sold a 3½in (9cm) long Song dynasty or earlier carving of a recumbent bear at £91,000.
Finely carved in pale green and russet jade with its head resting on its front paws, it was previously in the collection of Chinese jades formed by the Mod Brit artist John Christopherson (1921-96). He acquired this piece through William Clayton Ltd, London in 1967.
A related carving from the Song or Jin dynasty was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2013, for HK$687,500.
As usual, John Axford had found some fine jades for the Woolley & Wallis sale on May 16. Similar to another in the Palace Museum, a Qianlong pale celadon jade rectangular section vase carved in relief with a scaly five-clawed dragon, 6in (15cm), took £58,000 (estimate £3000-5000). The buyer was a Hong Kong collector.
At the same sale an imperial Qianlong pale celadon ‘birthday’ boulder carving was a little disappointing, selling to a Hong Kong dealer at the lower end of a £50,000-70,000 estimate.
Measuring over 8in (21cm), it is carved in high relief with two figures carrying presents up a hill towards an open terrace, and came with both the original reticulated zitan stand and an impeccable provenance. It was from the family of Lady Robertson (d.1977) and was purchased from John Sparks on January 17, 1958, for £150.
As one London dealer commented after the series: “The sales are always a place to learn. But there is a difference between information and knowledge. I’m not sure we are always wiser.“