Magazine article The Spectator

A Frenzy for Chinese Art

Magazine article The Spectator

A Frenzy for Chinese Art

Article excerpt

The great China investment boom has many facets. A fortnight ago at a Sotheby's sale in Hong Kong of Chinese works of art, wealthy mainland collectors and their representatives became so excitable during the bidding that along with the rest of the audience they ended up splurging almost £30 million. Historical works of art from the Qianlong Reign attracted particular attention: one of the highlights of the sale was an 'Extraordinary Group of Seven Jade Imperial Archer's Rings' along with its original cinnabar box and cover, which sold for just over £3 million. 'The Qianlong emperor (1736-1795) was something of a Renaissance man, ' says Henry HowardSneyd, managing director of Sotheby's Asia. 'He took so much interest in his art collection that he wrote poems about it and involved himself personally in it. So any works linked to that emperor have become particularly sought after.' Archer's rings are jade cylinders worn on the thumb by an archer to avoid slicing the skin on the bowstring. Originally they were used by Manchu horsemen who performed archery from the saddle, but in more recent times the rings became more of an affectation, which had a powerful symbolism for the ruling elite. 'These particular thumb rings have poems inscribed on them which reflect his philosophy as a ruler. The dates of the poems cover a 30-year period, so they're interesting in that they reveal his changing thoughts about life as an emperor, beginning very much in a martial spirit, and ending in a more thoughtful and philosophical tone about what it means to be a ruler.' Another private Chinese buyer went home that night with a very rare 'Falangcai' enamel miniature vase from the Qianlong period -- having paid £2.2 million, almost three times its upper estimate. Meanwhile at the end of March, the week-long Sotheby's Asian art sales in New York produced more record-breaking prices. A rare massive limestone Chimera, from the first half of the 6th century, was sold for US$5,472,000 to a Chinese private collector after a lengthy telephone bidding battle involving six aspiring buyers. Another hotly contested lot was an Imperial Jade 'Dragon' Seal, Qing Dynasty, which sold for US$1,608,000, also to a Chinese buyer. But not all of these determined buyers were Chinese. An English dealer representing Compton Verney museum spent US$8,104,000 on a 13th-century BC archaic bronze wine vessel and cover; American private collectors were also busy investing in Chinese works, old and new.

So why the apparent frenzy for Chinese art? …

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