- Blue & White Anhua Dragon Stem Bowl (HK$50-80m) HK$112.66m
- Yellow-glazed Xuade Bowl (HK$10-15m) HK$27m
- Famille Rose Peach Dish Qianlong (HK$10-15m) HK$19.7m
- Miniature Double-Gourd Doucai Vase (HK$8-12m) HK$15m
Extraordinary numbers as Sotheby’s sells 61% of the 233 lots on offer or 141 lots. The top five lots all sold at huge premiums from their estimates. But the assumption that all strong sales go to Asian buyers, 40% of the top ten went to Western buyers, three of those were American private buyers.
London dealer John Eskenazi made some sales during March’s Asia Week. The gallery says interest was strong particularly among East Coast Collectors:
- one of whom acquired a stone sculpture of Ganesha, dating from 10th century Eastern India, for a six-figure sum. Instantly recognisable and arguably the most popular of the Hindu deities, Ganesha is known as “Bestower of Success”
- a standing Buddha from Vietnam, 3rd/4th century, which sold to a European contemporary art collector for a six-figure sum. The remarkable survival of such early Vietnamese wooden Buddha figures may be due to the fact that they were carved in particularly durable woods and buried in salt-rich marshland. When they were made, Vietnam, and the surrounding Mekong delta region (including modern Cambodia, and parts of Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia) was an Indianized state known as Funan.
- An Indian private collector acquired a bronze figure of Shivakami from South India, dating from the Vijayanagara period, 14th century, also for a six-figure sum; and a bronze head of a Buddha from Thailand, Ayutthaya period, 16th century, found a new home in America.
$10.8 million and 99% sold by lot. Once again, provenance proves its power in today’s market.
Chalk one up for the argument that the auction of the Chinese bronzes in the YSL sale were in China’s interest. A Taiwanese collector, according to now claims that the owner of the dragon from the Beijing Summer Palace zodiac clock was poking around before the sale:
Wellington Wang, a well-known local art collector, told the TVBS news channel he was contacted by a businessman who claimed to have the bronze dragon’s head and was initially looking to auction it. [ . . . ] “He was willing to sell it if the (Christie’s) auction went well. He didn’t expect such a big fallout and now everybody is afraid,” Wang said, indicating that the dealer had changed his mind.
The owner allegedly bought the dragon’s head for 200,000 US dollars from a European antique dealer around 1988 and has since stored it in central Taiwan, Wang told the local Apple Daily. Wang declined to name the collector and added he has not seen the artefact.
Le-Min Lim on Bloomberg offers a long profile of the Chinese antiques dealer who has sacrificed his professional standing for his country’s honor.
After his March 2 news conference, Cai had the art world speculating on his motives and whether he had state backing. That night, he flew back to his office in Xiamen, a city of 2.5 million people just across the sea from Taiwan, sat on his couch and wept.
A March 4 Xinhua commentary compared Cai’s default with not paying ransom to kidnappers. “Paying would encourage more such stealing, and make the robbers happy,” the commentary said. [ . . . ]
Hong Kong antiques dealer Yumi Kunizuka, whose family consigned a collection in London in 1989, said this case is not so much a lesson in law and art-auction protocol than manners.
“The whole matter could have been handled with more grace and wisdom by Christie’s, Berge and Cai,” said Kunizuka. Berge could have done more for Saint Laurent’s memory by not flaunting the bronzes, Christie’s shouldn’t have agreed to auction the items and Cai was unprofessional in what he did, Kunizuka said.
(Amid all the speculation about his motives, no one has asked if he bought the bronzes in good faith but was pressured by the Chinese government to back out. Though he insists there was no collusion.)
AFP is now reporting that the buyer of the Zodiac clock statues that China hotly disputes is Chinese. What remains unclear is whether the buyer is now reneging on his bid or whether his bid was meant to be a “trap.” Remember the earlier statements from China that Christie’s was trying to convince the buyer to reach an amicable settlement:
Cai Mingchao, a well-known antique collector, identified himself as the mystery bidder in a statement released in Beijing by the National Treasures Fund, which is dedicated to retrieving Chinese relics from abroad.
“I believe that any Chinese person would stand up at this time… I am making an effort to fulfill my own responsibilities,” Cai said. “But I must stress that this money I cannot pay.” [emphasis added]
The statement did not specify whether Cai could not pay for the relics because he did not have the money, or whether his inability to pay was for other reasons, such as his conscience not allowing him to buy looted items.
Officials with the fund did not take questions when they gathered reporters and released the statement, which said Cai is an advisor to the body.
Cai, who is also the head of a Chinese auction house, hit the headlines in 2006 when he paid 116 million Hong Kong dollars (14.95 million dollars) for a Ming dynasty Buddha image at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.
China is making a final move to try to stop the sale of the two figures from the Zodiac clock. The Washington Post covers the court case pursued by French lawyer Romauld Sayag:
Sayag submitted the request to halt the sale of the bronzes on behalf of APACE, a group mandated by the Chinese government to protect Chinese art on the world market. The group is not seeking to stop the full Saint Laurent auction, just the sale of the relics. APACE president Bernard Gomez said Saint Laurent legally bought the bronzes, but says they should now be put in a museum. The designer died last year. “What we want is for the pieces … not to go into the private domain, to a collector who will lock them up in his house,” Gomez said. The bronzes are “a national, and international heritage.” The Chinese government asked APACE to try to suspend the sale while it seeks other solutions, Gomez said. “China does not want to buy them. China wants restitution,” Gomez said. If they could be returned to the French government, he said, “That would improve relations between China and France.”
The past year has been a rough one for France-China ties. Chinese protesters called for a boycott of French goods after French protesters disrupted the passage of the Olympic torch through Paris in April.
China canceled a December summit with the European Union to protest talks between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese accuse of supporting Tibetan separatism.
Pierre Bergé further tweaked the Chinese with this quote from Reuters: “I acquired them and I am completely protected by the law, so what the Chinese are saying is a bit ridiculous,” he told Reuters, adding that he would be prepared to return them if China allowed the Dalai Lama back from exile into Tibet.
French Judged Asked to Stop Sale of Chinese Relics (Washington Post)
As the YSL sale approaches the sabre-rattling over the two heads from the Summer Palace Zodiac clock increases. Even though there were reports earlier that the Chinese government had been offered these two relics, the posturing certainly seems like a negotiating tactic. Or that’s how David Barboza played it in the International Herald Tribune:
Liu Yang, a Beijing lawyer who is helping to organize the lawsuit threatened in France, said he had located a descendant of China’s imperial family to serve as plaintiff in the case.
“The Old Summer Palace, which was plundered and burned down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860, is our nation’s unhealed scar, still bleeding and aching,” Liu said. “That Christie’s and Pierre Bergé would put them up for auction and refuse to return them to China deeply hurts our nation’s feelings.”
Liu also asserted that the sale would violate a 1995 UN convention governing the repatriation of stolen or illegally exported cultural relics.
But Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago who specializes in cultural-property issues, said that France never ratified the convention and that even if it had, the agreement does not apply retroactively to objects looted decades before.
“My view is this was looted, but it would be difficult to get that legally back,” she said by telephone on Monday. “But it’s got great historical significance and ought to be returned.”
Gerstenblith suggested that one solution might be for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Foundation to negotiate with China and offer the bronze heads at a reasonable price. “It would probably be in the best interest of everybody if they made a deal privately with China,” she said.
Over the last decade Chinese entrepreneurs and businessmen with close government ties have acquired a large number of historic items at auction and donated them to Chinese museums and institutions.
China Pressures Christie’s to Hand Over Sculptures (International Herald Tribune)