Rare Zhou bronze wine ves­sel goes on the block

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA -

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the rea­son that is im­por­tant is be­cause in many cases, these are the only his­tor­i­cal documents, or some­times the only his­tor­i­cal proof of an event hap­pen­ing or a per­son be­ing at a par­tic­u­lar time.” JA­SON SUN CU­RA­TOR OF THE ASIAN ART DEPART­MENT AT THE MET­RO­POL­I­TAN MU­SEUM OF ART

ac­quired the piece in an ex­change.

It was taken to Europe in the 1930s and its first recorded sale in the West took place in 1945 for 1,134 pounds, a for­mi­da­ble amount at the time. Guiseppe Eske­nazi, a distin­guished Lon­don-based dealer, sold it to the Bri­tish Rail Pen­sion Fund in 1978 for 120,000 pounds. Sotheby’s Lon­don held the last auc­tion of the bronze piece in 1989 where the cur­rent owner Sakamoto Goro bid more than 480,000 pounds, four times its sale es­ti­mate.

Chi­nese bronze pieces have been a sub­ject of in­ter­est to Chi­nese over mil­len­ni­ums be­cause they are re­garded as one of the most an­cient arts, if not the only art that was cre­ated at the time, said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s vice-chair­man of Asian art.

“Cre­ated in a very durable ma­te­rial, they were able to sur­vive to the present day and in many cases in re­mark­able con­di­tions,” he said..

Chi­nese bronzes of the ar­chaic pe­riod (1900 BC-221BC) were of­ten one of a kind, said Wang, un­til the Han dy­nasty (206 BC-220 AD), they were cast in ce­ramic piece-molds, rather than wax cast­ing. De­spite the com­plex­ity of the de­signs, the cast­ing was done in a sin­gle cast, one of the high­est craft achieve­ments in Chi­nese art his­tory.

The bronzes from western Zhou Dy­nasty on­ward are worth not­ing be­cause they have lengthy de­scrip­tions ap­plied to the pieces, said Howard-Sneyd.

“And the rea­son that is im­por­tant is be­cause in many cases, these are the only his­tor­i­cal documents, or some­times the only his­tor­i­cal proof of an event hap­pen­ing or a per­son be­ing at a par­tic­u­lar time,” he said.

In 2011, China over­took the US as the world’s largest art mar­ket. An­nual sales of auc­tion houses in main­land China re­ported about $4.4 bil­lion, led by Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, porce­lain and con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese art, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the China As­so­ci­a­tion of Auc­tion­eers and Artne.

Un­til re­cent years, col­lec­tors shied away from ar­chaic Chi­nese bronzes due to their limited knowl­edge and the limited mar­ket sup­plies. China’s laws and reg­u­la­tions on pro­tec­tion of cul­tural relics pro­hibit trans­ac­tions of Chi­nese ar­chaic bronze ex­ca­vated be­fore 1949 and ones with­out prove­nance, which ex­plains the bronze’s luke­warm mar­ket sta­tus in China and why most high­rank­ing sales hap­pened over­seas, said Wang.

But the surg­ing prices in the main cat­e­gories of Chi­nese art prod­ded col­lec­tors for new op­tions such as wa­ter ink paint­ings and the bronzes.

“This (Chi­nese bronze) is per­haps a field that has eclipsed in terms of the strength of Sotheby’s other collection fields. Pe­riod Chi­nese porce­lain for in­stance, the price be­gan to move very fast in 2007 on­wards. The bronze didn’t re­ally move at that time,” said Howard-Sneyd, “It feels it (Chi­nese bronzes) is a field that has not had its day in the re­cent surge of prices in the Chi­nese art.”

The high­est amount paid for an an­cient Chi­nese bronze was $12 mil­lion for a 2,500 year-old bronze fig­ure of a tapir in March 2007 at the Euro­pean Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in the Dutch city of Maas­tricht on be­half of Lit­tle­ton & Hennessy, the Lon­don and New York based specialist deals in Asian art.

The high­est record for a Chi­nese bronze in the US was set in 2001 by Christies in New York; $9.24 mil­lion for a “Vin­cent dish” party jar from the Shang Dy­nasty.

Sotheby’s New York held a sin­gle­owner sale of rit­ual bronzes from the collection of Julius Eber­hardt last Septem­ber. Orig­i­nally val­ued at be­tween $3.5 and $5.3 mil­lion, the 10-piece collection brought in a to­tal of $16.78 mil­lion. “The buy­ers of the collection were all in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tors and none of them was from main­land China,” said Wang.

That month, Christie’s New York also held a sale of Chi­nese ar­chaic bronzes from a pri­vate collection dat­ing from the Shang to Han dy­nas­ties. They sold for a to­tal of $6.26 mil­lion.

“Chi­nese bronze has a huge in­ter­na­tional ap­peal of great Western col­lec­tions, great Ja­panese col­lec­tions, great col­lec­tions in other parts of the world, not just China,” said Howard-Sneyd.

In­creas­ing in­ter­ests in Chi­nese bronze has meant that po­ten­tial buy­ers ended up push­ing up the price based on sup­ply and de­mand eco­nomic rules, said Sun.

LIU LIAN / CHINA DAILY

Wang Tao, head of Chi­nese Works of Art at Sotheby’s, show­cases a rare Chi­nese bronze owl-headed rit­ual wine ves­sel ( hu), which is to be auc­tioned on March 18 and one of the high­lights of the auc­tion house’s Asian art sales in March. The ves­sel dated back to east­ern Zhou Dy­nasty.

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