Art market

A selection of the most sought after works of Asian art recently sold

The objects that made collectors dig deep


Porcelain vase, Qianlong emperor, Bainbridges, West London, 10 November 2010, £51.6m ($83m). The London vendors inherited the vase, which had been insured for £800. Bainbridges identified it as imperial porcelain. Estimated at £800,000-£1.2m, it sold for a record auction price for a Chinese work of art. In February Bainbridges admitted that it had not received payment and was making strenuous efforts to resolve this as we went to press.

Calligraphic scroll, Song dynasty, Poly, Beijing, 4 June 2010, Rmb437m ($64m). This scroll by Huang Tingjian is over eight metres long, with important additions by later scholars. Although the buyer has not been named, he or she is very likely to be Chinese (calligraphy, unlike ceramics, has a narrower appeal for foreigners).

Bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit, Qianlong emperor, Christie’s, Paris, 25 February 2009, €28m ($36m). The two bronzes belonged to French couturier Yves Saint Laurent and were sold after his death. Before the sale there was a formal protest from the Chinese government (which is much more sensitive about the sale of looted architectural fragments than portable antiquities). The winning bid was made by Cai Mingchao (an advisor to the China Cultural Relics Protection Fund), who refused to pay as a protest. The bronzes were then returned to Saint Laurent’s former partner, Pierre Bergé.

Porcelain double-gourd vase, Qianlong emperor, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 7 October 2010, HK$253m ($32m). Once owned by Alfred Morrison (Fonthill, Wiltshire) and later by New York dealer and collector J.T. Tai. The buyer was Shanghai-based investor Alice Cheng, a supporter of the Shanghai Museum.

Painted scroll, Qianlong emperor, Marc Labarbe, Toulouse, 26 March 2011, €22m ($31m). The 24-metre scroll, depicting the imperial army, was looted from the Forbidden City in 1900. Mining magnate Zhao Xin bought the piece (see above).

Painted scroll, Huizong emperor, Poly, Beijing, 25 May 2009, Rmb169m ($25m). The Buddhist painting Eighteen Arhats is by Wu Bin. It was auctioned by Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens, who are selling extensively to support their Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing. The buyer is believed to be Shanghai collector Liu Yiqian.

Porcelain swallows bowl, Qianlong emperor, Christie’s, Hong Kong, 28 November 2006, HK$151m ($20m). The bowl was sold by Hong Kong-based dealer Robert Chang and bought at auction by his sister, Alice Cheng.

Porcelain bottle vase, Qianlong emperor, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 7 October 2010, HK$140m ($18m). Acquired by an American in China in the late 19th century, it later went to New York-based dealer and collector J.T. Tai, who auctioned it.

Jade seal, Qianlong emperor, Chassaing-Marambat, Toulouse, 26 March 2011, €12.4m ($18m). Sold by a Toulouse family who had owned it since the 1930s. The Asian buyer is believed to be Zhao Xin, a Hong Kong-based mining magnate.

Pair of cloisonné crane censers, Yongzheng emperor, Christie’s, Hong Kong, 1 December 2010, HK$129m ($17m). Once in the Fonthill collection, the censers were bought by Joseph Lau Luen-Hung, the Hong Kong property developer.

Calligraphic scroll, Ming dynasty, Poly, Beijing, 25 November 2009, Rmb109m ($16m). Sold by Guy and Myriam Ullens. The buyer is likely to be Chinese.

Jade seal, Qianlong, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 7 October 2010, HK$122m ($16m). Previously sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1997. The seal was sold to an Asian collector, presumed to be Chinese.

Buddhist bronze figure

(left), Yongle emperor, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 7 October 2006, HK$117m ($15m). From the collection of London dealer Jules Speelman. The buyer was Cai Mingchao.

Note: This table includes sales of over $15m at auction where it is certain or very likely that the buyers were Chinese (mainland, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan) and it is certain or very likely that the objects had been in the West. In one case a sale was cancelled and in another payment has not yet been made.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘The objects that made collectors dig deep'


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