Buckman collection in spotlight at London auction
The prominent auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams may have all hosted sales during Asian Art in London — an annual 10-day extravaganza that ended on Saturday in the British capital— but there is a small auction house that’s set to make a big splash among the heavyweights.
On Monday, Chiswick Auctions will host a sale featuring the entire collection of Bernard Buckman, a key figure in Sino-British trade relations during the second half of the 20th century.
Buckman traveled to China many times — most notably in 1979 as a personal guest of then-vice-premier Wang Zhen — and the Englishman’s 120-strong collection reflects someone who was both an enterprising businessman and keen patron of the arts. It also offers a window into China during a time when it was just opening up to the world.
“Buckman went to China every year from 1953 and more frequently after around 1962,” says Lazarus Halstead, Chiswick Auction’s head of Asian art. “He was communicating with top government officials. No (other) Westerner had that level of access.” Buckman’s collection runs the gamut from snuff bottles, jades and scholarly items to paintings and furniture, with price estimates starting from about $120 and going to $36,000. Archival materials and books from Buckman’s personal library further paint a rich picture of amanand his passion for Chinese culture. “He had a really enlightened view of China’s cultural achievements,” says Halstead. And that was at a time when Westerners thought “the nation was probably slightly backward”, he adds. The headline lot on sale is the 1944 hanging scroll ink painting, Garden Balsam and Butterflies, by Qi Baishi, who is considered the “Picasso of Chinese art” and a forefather of modern Chinese painting. The vibrant work was most likely a diplomatic gift, says Halstead, and is offered at a “conservative” estimate of $24,000 to $36,000.
Another noteworthy piece is a delightful Ming Dynasty (13681644) carving of Zhou Tanzi, a figure in Chinese folklore that represents filial piety. Zhou disguised himself as a deer to obtain milk for his aging parents — a story that’s depicted in this beautifully carved dark jade creation that has an almost woodlike patina.
Other highlights include a range of wonderful rock-crystal scholars’ objects — each complete with individuals stands — including an unusual Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) wrist rest.
Buckman was an avid collector of snuff bottles, while novelty items such as embroidered satin purses and a silver hand-held mirror further showcase the breadth of his collecting eye.
Among the oldest pieces are a Han Dynasty (206 BC-220) dancing figurine, which is grouped into a fabulous 11-piece lot that includes Tang Dynasty (618-907) glazed horses. Meanwhile, a vase painted with birds and flowers in famille rose enamels is notably stamped with the year 1955.
A total of 600 lots will go under the hammer on Monday, with the 120 Buckman pieces first to cross the block.
Chiswick Auctions hopes the Englishman’s entire collection will draw in new clients to its west London salesroom who might otherwise not venture beyond the arts hub of May fair.
“For people who know Chinese politics from the second half of the 20th century, Buckman is a major figure,” says Halstead.
“Buyers tend to like things with good provenance, and I hope the sale will attract both English buyers and international Chinese from around the world, including dealers and collectors from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.”
Bernard Buckman visits China as a personal guest of then-vice-premier Wang Zhen in 1979.
A silver handheld mirror
Monday’s auction includes an ink painting by Qi Baishi that is being offered at $24,000 to $36,000.