Skyrocketing Chinese Market Obeys Gravity, for Once,at Feeble Sotheby's Ceramics Sale
Source:Artinfo Author:Madeleine O'Dea Date: 2011-04-12 Size:
The question now is why many of them failed to sell. The most obvious difference between these lots and ones that have recently set auction rooms alight is what might be described as their understated nature.


Yongzheng imperial era famille-rose "peach" box and cover sold for for HK$35 million

 In a timely reminder that the Chinese auction market doesn't always run hot, star lot after star lot failed to sell at Sotheby's Hong Kong yesterday evening, when the much-anticipated sale of pieces from the storied Meiyintang Collection faltered. Of the 77 lots, 22 lots were bought in, including the headlining lot — a unique Qianlong imperial period falangcai ("foreign color") vase beautifully decorated with golden pheasants. Before the sale Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's international head of Chinese ceramics, had described this vase as "the ultimate trophy from the Qing dynasty for any great collector of Chinese porcelain." In any event, it failed to sell to a bid of HK$170 million ($21.8 million) — Sotheby's having set an low presale estimate of $23 million for the trophy.

The auction room was packed for the sale, with a standing room also jostling with onlookers. But from the start the auction itself felt muted, with an ominous lack of action on the phones. The first sign that the sale might be in trouble was when the second premium lot of the night — a Yongzheng imperial period famille rose "peach" box and cover was bought in at HK$35 million ($4.5 million) against a low estimate of HK$ 40 million ($5.1 million). This was to be the first of 11 premium lots to be bought in.

The sale had been anxiously anticipated, as the Meiyang Collection is widely considered to be the greatest collection of Chinese porcelain still in private hands in the West. It was built up over more than 50 years by Philippines-based Swiss collectors Stephen and Gilbert Zuellig, with the assistance of famed dealers such as Edward Chow (Nicolas's grandfather) and Giuseppe Eskenazi, and the 77 lots consigned were exquisite examples of porcelain from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.

The question now is why many of them failed to sell. The most obvious difference between these lots and ones that have recently set auction rooms alight is what might be described as their understated nature. There were none of the flamboyant Qing Dynasty pieces that are favored by Chinese mainland collectors, nor were there any pieces with the kind of fraught provenances that get patriotic juices flowing — no pieces looted by foreign troops from the Old Summer Palace like the Bainbridges vase, for example. It also might just have been that reserves were set too high.

The emergence of mainland collectors has certainly been a game-changer for the Chinese art market, with pieces' "worth" increasingly hard to calculate. As Nicolas Chow commented after the sale: "The market sets its own prices." Indeed. The bottom line is that the sale earned HK$399,392,000 ($51,204,103) against a presale estimate of HK$710 million to HK$1.07 billion ($91-137 million) and the falangcai golden pheasant vase sold privately after the sale for HK$200 million ($25.64 million) satisfying Sotheby's presale expectations. There was no hint at the time of writing about which collector took home the trophy.

[Editor] Lola Xu

    Artintern