Not only were traditional fields of Chinese art sought after but also a European clock made for the Chinese market.
During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-95), hundreds, if not thousands of highly decorated European clocks and watches were exported to China. The emperor was an avid collector and provided a living for numerous clock and watchmakers in London, Geneva and, to a much lesser extent, Paris.
Among those working in the British capital was John Mottram, who was active between 1780-1811. He built a magnificent clock that was the star of the sale at Dr Crott (21% buyer’s premium) in Frankfurt on November 10.
The 21in (53cm) high musical automaton clock can be dated to c.1790. As well as striking the quarters, the musical movement is released every three hours and also activates the automaton mechanism, which is a real eye-catcher. Seven multi-coloured paste rosettes rotate on their own axis while a larger central rosette and the cone-shaped finial also turn.
The musical movement plays three tunes, among them the French melody of Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre (Marlborough Has Left for the War), thought to have been composed in 1709 and better known in English-speaking world as For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. The consignor probably thought that about the Chinese buyer who went over the lower estimate and bid €440,000 (£389,380).
The biggest surprise at the Asian art sale at Van Ham (29/25% buyer’s premium) in Cologne on December 4 was the result for a Sino-Tibetan shrine that was in the catalogue with a guide of €2000-2500.
The 12in (31cm) wooden case with partly gilt bronze mounts was catalogued as 19th or 20th century. The nine bronze figures were thought to be from the late Qing Period, datable to the 18th or 19th centuries.
The upper compartment housed
three Bodhisattvas, the lower section six, among them most probably Avalokiteshvara, Je Tsongkhapa, a Tibetan teacher also known as the Man from Onion Valley, and Amitayus, The Buddha of Boundless Life. Other figures were unidentified, but that did nothing to deter the numerous Chinese bidders that joined in the fray. They drove the price to €90,000 (£79,645).
Asian art record
The high-quality sales of Asian art held by Stuttgart auction house Nagel (33% buyer’s premium) in Salzburg regularly bring notable results and the auction on December 6 continued the trend.
The hammer price of €550,000 (£486,725) for the nine dragon moon flask (previewed in ATG No 2368) was very respectable, and the €620,000 (£548,670) achieved for a blue and white vase, decorated with Buddhist lions, was way above the guide of €40,000-60,000.
However, they were vastly overshadowed by the bidding for the piece shown above. This was a 1ft 11in (58cm) high iron-red, blue and white vase decorated with dragons and bearing a Qianlong seal mark.
The provenance in the catalogue was given as an old European collection, bought in the 1960s. It turns out that this was the same Italian collection that provided a Chinese imperial chair that Nagel sold in June this year for €2.6m (£2.28m).
The estimate of €30,000-50,000 gave little indication of the extreme rarity of the vase – the fact that a special paddle was necessary to bid for it did, however. It also featured as the catalogue cover lot. Several bidders were obviously aware that this was most probably one of only five vases of this specific type that were mentioned in the imperial archives of 1737.
It took seven minutes for the price to go from the estimate to a formidable €5.5m (£4.87m).
This is an auction record for Asian art in a German-speaking country and, by the way, the buyer was Chinese.
It almost goes without saying that the buyer of the top lot at Lempertz (25/20% buyer’s premium) in the Asian Art sale of December 7-8 in Cologne also came from China.
In this case he and a handful of his compatriots had set their sights on a very rare plate in so-called Ge-ware from the Song or Yuan period (1127-1368).
The elegance and beauty of Ge-ware has been praised by connoisseurs and poets over the centuries. Nonetheless, in spite of extensive research, many questions about the exact origins of this type of ceramic ware remain unanswered. It is thought that only 200 pieces of the distinctively crackle-glazed stoneware have survived the ravages of time. They were all made for the imperial court.
This particular 5½in (14cm) diameter dish was consigned by the descendants of the German collector Friedrich Otto Hasse (1886-1964) in Bremen, who amassed a considerable collection of Chinese works of art in the 1920s.
The guide price of €200,000-250,000 proved to be far too cautious. The Chinese buyer settled the affair with his closing bid of €900,000 (£796,450), making the dish the most expensive piece of Asian art sold in a German auction this year.
£1 = €1.13