Early 19th century imperial ‘Twelve Symbols’ blue silk dragon robe, estimate £30,000-50,000 at Dreweatts.

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This spring Bonhams embraces the London market with four sales (one devoted to Japanese arts), Sotheby’s conducts three online sales (one dedicated to the arms and armour of the Samurai) and, as has become the norm, plenty is going on in the regions. Travel outside Mayfair and St James’s and a host of sales is on offer and - in this May’s crop - a healthy selection of well-provenanced pieces of obvious quality.

Here is a selection of highlights including some notable discoveries .

'Twelve Symbols' robe

A rare early 19th century imperial ‘Twelve Symbols’ blue silk dragon robe (pictured top) has an estimate of £30,000-50,000 in Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale in Newbury on May 21.

It was only very recently rediscovered, packed in a tailor’s box at the back of a drawer in the home of the Villiers family - direct descendants of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628), the favourite of King James I.


Tailor's box that contained an early 19th century imperial ‘Twelve Symbols’ blue silk dragon robe, estimate £30,000-50,000 at Dreweatts.

The robe was purchased by Eric Hyde Villiers (1881-1964) who visited China in 1913 as a partner of Martell Cognac. The robe was said to be a gift for his father, Sir Francis Hyde Villiers (1852-1925), and it remained undisturbed in the family home in England for over 100 years. Stored out of the light, it has retained its original colours and in its original condition.

Sewn with the 12 symbols of imperial authority arranged in three groups of four around the neck, the robe is one that would have been used by the emperor twice a year for harvest festivals at the Temple of Heaven. Dated to the early 19th century, it may have been made for the Emperor Jiaqing or his second son and successor Daoguang.

Core appeal


Apple, an ink and mixed media work by Wei Qingji (b.1971), estimate £4000-6000 at Olympia Auctions.

The Chinese and Japanese Works of Art sale at Olympia Auctions on May 14 includes, for the first time, a group of Contemporary Chinese paintings from a private collection. Apple, an ink and mixed media work by Wei Qingji (b.1971), is estimated at £4000-6000 in this west London sale.

The artist paints in the traditional brush-and-ink style but his subject matter is frequently the Western brand names that have become so popular in materialistic modern China.

Qianlong panel


Qianlong red, green and blue lacquer landscape panel, estimate £200,000-300,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

Estimated at £200,000-300,000 in Woolley & Wallis’ Fine Asian Art sale in Salisbury on May 21 is this splendid Qianlong (1736-95) red, green and blue lacquer landscape panel.

Measuring 3ft 5in (1.02m) across, the deeply carved scene of the mountainous ‘Daoist Paradise’ is populated by Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West, and a group of immortals including Li Tieguai, He Xiangu and the Hehe Erxian or Laughing Twins. The integral frame is carved with the eight Buddhist emblems with a bronze handle engraved with dragons and a shou symbol.

Formerly the collections of Colonel Rokeby and Lord Nunburnholme, the panel was pictured in an advert for Spink & Son in the December 1950 issue of Connoisseur magazine and later sold by Christie’s in June 1975. It comes for sale from a private collection in Surrey with proceeds benefiting Parkinson’s UK.

Wine warmers


Pair of 18th century double gourd wine warmers, estimate £6000-8000 at Roseberys.

This pair of 18th century double gourd wine warmers are finely painted with iron red dragons pursuing flaming pearls amid underglaze blue clouds and to the covers with iron red bats.

Both have black enamel seal marks to the base: one for the Yongzheng emperor, the other reading Yang e tang zhi (Hall for Cultivating Harmony). A handful of similar vessels with these ‘hallmarks’ are known including one in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo.

This pair, one with a paper label for John Sparks Ltd, come for sale at Roseberys in south London on May 15-16 with a guide of £6000-8000.

Massive vase


Gilt-decorated grisaille and copper red enamelled ‘dragon’ rouleau form vase, estimate £4000-6000 at Bonhams.

Bonhams Knightsbridge will hold two themed sales this May: an Asian Art sale on May 13-14 and Collector’s Treasures: Asian Art Online that runs from May 13-20.

Included in the live sale is this massive 2ft 7in (78cm) gilt-decorated grisaille and copper red enamelled ‘dragon’ rouleau form vase. Dating from the early 20th century Republic period, it has an estimate of £4000-6000.

Withers wonders


An 18th century blue and white with underglaze copper-red lantern vase, estimate £800-1200 at Dore & Rees.

The May 20 sale at Dore & Rees in Frome includes items from the private collection of George Withers (1945-2023). Hundreds of lots from the home of the Somerset dealer-collector-hoarder have been sold in recent months but his holdings of Chinese include potentially the most valuable individual items.

One of the last items to be unpacked from storage was this 18in (46cm) 18th century blue and white with underglaze copper-red lantern vase. One of a series of known examples from the Yongzheng or Qianlong period, it is decorated with a scene with Fu Xing, the god of happiness and wealth who embodies the emperor. Bought by Withers at auction in January 1982, it has a guide of £20,000-40,000.


An 18th or 19th century Ottoman jade-hilted and gem-set dagger and shagreen scabbard, estimate £800-1200 at Dore & Rees.

Also from the Withers estate is the fine 18th or 19th century Ottoman jade-hilted and gem-set dagger and shagreen scabbard pictured below. It is estimated at £800-1200.

Russian away


Meiji period inlaid iron box by the Komai workshop, estimate £4000-6000 at Mellors & Kirk.

This Meiji period inlaid iron box by the Komai workshop comes with a contemporary handwritten note signed and dated 1905 reading: Large cigarette box damascened gold and iron signed made for presentation to the present tzar (then tsarevitch) when visiting Japan - but not presented as he had to leave in a hurry.

It was on May 11, 1891, when visiting Japan during the construction of the trans-Siberian railway, that Nicholas was subject to an assassination attempt by one of his escort. The injury was not life threatening but what became known as the Otsu Incident precipitated his early departure.

The 5in (12cm) box is intricately decorated overall in nunome zogan (fine damascene work) and hirazogan (flat inlay) with views of the Golden Temple (Kinkakuji Temple), Kyoto, and, to the sides, 10 circular framed views of other local monuments, including the Byodoin and Kurama Temples.

It comes for sale at Mellors & Kirk in Nottingham on May 15-16 with a guide of £4000-6000.

Shrine in miniature


Meiji period metalwork miniature kodansu (incense cabinet) formed as a Buddhistic shrine, estimate £5000-8000 at Mallams.

Mallams’ sale of Asian & Islamic Art in Cheltenham on May 9 includes this Meiji period metalwork miniature kodansu (incense cabinet) formed as a Buddhistic shrine.

Decorated in various metal styles including shibuichi and shakudo, it opens to reveal eight asymmetrical drawers embellished with Japanese flowers and trees. It is signed to the base in both standard script and Sosho for Dai Nihon Kyoto.

Estimate £5000-8000.

Imperial gifts


Qing period cloisonné moon flask, estimate £2000-4000 at Duke’s.

The Asian art auction at Duke’s in Dorchester on May 23 includes items sold by the granddaughter of Thomas Child (1841-98), the British photographer who produced a large body of work during his time in Beijing during the 1870s. He was close to the court and the Guangxu emperor himself, with some items thought to be gifts from the imperial family.


Detail of Qing period cloisonné moon flask, estimate £2000-4000 at Duke’s.

This Qing period cloisonné moon flask with bronze handles to the shoulders in the form of qilin has a guide of £2000-4000.

Realistic animal paintings


Eight ink and colour paintings by Bian Shoumin, estimate £3000-5000 at Sworders.

Associated with the renowned group of artists known as the ‘Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou’, Bian Shoumin (1684-1752) was famous for his realistic painting of animals - particularly wild geese. He is sometimes known by the moniker ‘Bianyan’ (Bian geese).

An album offered by Sworders on May 17 features eight 4 x 6in (11 x 15cm) ink and colour paintings by Bian Shoumin, each depicting ducks, fish, flowers, or still life subjects and inscribed with the signature and artist’s seals. One page is dated February in the year of Guihai (1743) in the first decade of the Qianlong period.

Estimate £3000-5000.

Early cabinet


Early 17th century Namban cabinet, estimate £5000-8000 at Roseberys.

Among the Japanese works of art on offer at Roseberys in south London on May 15-16 is this early 17th century Namban black lacquered, mother of pearl inlaid and gilt decorated cabinet with engraved copper lockplate and hinges.

Estimate £5000-8000.

Ionides provenance


Kangxi blue and copper red decorated ‘lotus and egret’ dish, estimate £1000-2000 at Chiswick Auctions.

Several lots in Chiswick Auctions’ Asian Art sale on May 17 come from the collection of the inter-war connoisseur Nellie Ionides (1883-1962) and were on display at Buxted Park, the country house she bought with her husband Basil Ionides (1884-1950) in 1931.

A large part of her collection, including more than 80 English enamels, was sold by Christie’s in May 2022 as part of the estate of her grandson, the late David Montagu 4th Lord Swaythling (1928-98).

At this west London auction, a rare Kangxi blue and copper red decorated ‘lotus and egret’ dish has a guide of £1000-2000.

Bowl from the Borders


Northern Song or Jin dynasty conical form bowl, estimate £5000-7000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

The Lyon & Turnbull sale of Fine Asian Works of Art in London on May 17 includes this Northern Song or Jin dynasty conical form bowl with a thick crackled green Jun glaze that comes from a Scottish Borders collection.

The owner had an enduring friendship with Asian art collector Dr Kenneth Lawley (1937-2023), a significant part of whose collection was sold by the auction house in November 2023.

This piece, a gift from Lawley in September 2002 was acquired via Bluett & Sons from Sotheby’s in February 1966 and is sold with the original receipt. It was included in an exhibition of early Oriental ceramics held at the University of Stirling in July 1973 and pictured in the exhibition photograph.

Estimate £5000-7000.

Vessel's journey


Bronze ritual wine vessel or fang hu, estimate £80,000-120,000 at Bonhams.

This monumental bronze ritual wine vessel or fang hu was inspired by Western Zhou dynasty vessels but made during the archaic revival prevalent in the late Song or early Ming era. It is offered with an estimate of £80,000-120,000 as part of Bonhams’ Fine Chinese Art sale on May 16.

The item comes with an exceptional provenance, having descended in the family of Swedish industrialist and politician Axel Carlander (1869-1939). He was part of a Swedish consortium that in May 1918 clubbed together around SKr1m to buy the family collection of the late Qing period statesman Li Hongzhang, (1823-1901).

George Patrick Joseph Crofts (1871-1925), the English dealer living in China, negotiated the deal that was headed by Chinese art connoisseur Gustaf Adolf, the Swedish Crown Prince and future Gustaf VI.

At the time of the purchase 109 years ago this 21in (53cm) high bronze was valued at $5000 and considered to date from the Shang period. Today, Asaph Hyman, Bonhams’ global head of Chinese ceramics and works of art describes it as “undeniably a masterpiece of archaistic bronze casting and design with a highly distinguished documented pedigree”.

Tempting triptychs


Album of Meiji woodblock prints from the 1870s-90s, estimate £8000-12,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

Woolley & Wallis’ series of sales across three days (from May 21-23) include a May 21-22 catalogue devoted to Japanese and Korean works.

Leading the line at £8000-12,000 is an album of Meiji woodblock prints from the 1870s-90s. It features 11 triptychs by various artists including Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92), Ogata Gekko (1859-1920), Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) and Migita Toshihide (1863-1925). It comes for sale from Heath House, Hampshire.

Butterflies and flowers


An 18th century porcelain vase of archaistic hu form, estimate £8000-12,000 at Mallams.

This heavily potted 18th century porcelain vase of archaistic hu form is decorated with underglaze blue and copper red with butterflies and flower heads against an intricate diaper ground. The 20in (49cm) vessel, with a stapled repair, was originally owned by the vendor’s great grandfather who ran an antiques shop in Liverpool.

It is expected to bring £8000-12,000 at Mallams’ sale of Asian & Islamic Art in Cheltenham on May 9.

Large Guanyin


Ming or Qing painted wood carving of Water Moon Guanyin, estimate £3000-5000 at Ma San.

The sale at Ma San Auctions in Bath on May 16 includes this Ming or Qing painted wood carving of Water Moon Guanyin seated in the ‘royal ease’ pose. Unusually large at 4ft 7in (1.38m) tall, it was acquired in Hong Kong in the 1990s and comes for sale from a private UK collection.

Estimate £3000-5000.

Handsome jar and cover


Kangxi ‘famille verte’ jar and cover, estimate £4000-6000 at Bennett & Dykes.

The sale of Fine Asian Art at Bennett & Dykes in London on May 18 includes a large section of early Qing wares, such as this handsome Kangxi ‘famille verte’ jar and cover with ladies in fanciful gardens.

It came from an old collection in the Netherlands. Behind that, however, there is a sinister Cold War provenance. The jar had been purchased in the 1970s from a Brussels dealer, Miodrag Boskovic who, along with a fellow Serb nationalist, was shot dead in a Brussels flat in August 1976. The crime was never solved, but it was alleged they had been assassinated by agents from the Republic of Yugoslavia.

The jar has an estimate of £4000-6000.

Single-owner collection


Yuan dynasty dish, estimate Sin$15,000-20,000 at Hotlotz in Singapore.

Singapore firm Hotlotz will offer a single-owner collection of Chinese trade and south-east Asian ceramics in a timed online sale held from May 10-26.

Assembled by Indonesian-born hotelier Adrian Zecha (b.1933) over a 20-year period during the 1960s-80s, the collection focuses on Chinese trade ceramics and their south-east Asian counterparts from the 12th to the 17th century. Zecha, best known for creating the Aman Resorts brand of luxury hotels, is a founder-member of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Society and the publisher of both Asia Magazine and Orientations.

His collection of close to 300 lots includes a large section of Vietnamese blue and white, polychrome and monochrome wares plus Thai ceramics from Sawankhalok and Si Satchanalai.

Yuan and Ming period celadons include this well-executed Yuan dynasty dish moulded in relief with a four-clawed dragon chasing a flaming pearl within a combed border. Acquired prior to April 1977 when Sotheby’s produced an inventory of the Zecha collection, it is similar to another from the Henry Blackwell Harris bequest in the British Museum.

Estimate Sin$15,000-20,000.