Cleaning out a house near Heathrow Airport inherited from their deceased aunt and uncle, a British family found sitting on the mantel an old vase. They took it to an auction house, where the vase was identified as genuine piece of Chinese Imperial porcelain, probably looted from one of the summer palaces in 1860 by British and French troops during the Second Opium War.
These vases must have considerable sentimental value, as two very determined Chinese bidders proceeded to drive the sales price of this (to my eye) overly busy and noisome object into the stratosphere, establishing a new price record for a piece of Oriental art.
A Qianlong period (c.1740) Imperial yang cai reticulated double-walled vase with six-character reign mark has became the most expensive Chinese work of art ever to sell at auction anywhere in the world. It sold for Â£51.6m ($83m) at Bainbridgeâ€™s Auctions, in the west London suburb of Ruislip, to an anonymous Chinese buyer in the room. It is not yet known whether he represented a mainland Chinese institution or private buyer. The price beat the previous record of RMB436.8m ($65.95m) set at Beijing Poly in June 2010 for a Song Dynasty scroll by Huang Tingjian (1045-1105).
The vase was discovered during a routine valuation at a house in the London satellite town of Pinner. Its owners had inherited it from a relative, who they believe acquired it in the 1930s. â€œThey had no idea what it was, but we could see that it was goodâ€”we gradually realized how special it was when our expert cataloguer began to do some researchâ€, said Jane Bainbridge, co-partner in the auction house.
The estimate was set at Â£800,000-Â£1.2m, but rumours began to circulate that it could reach the Â£15m mark after an advert was posted in the British trade newspaper Antiques Trade Gazette two weeks ago. It was timed to tie in with the annual Asian Art in London sales and exhibitions. â€œPeople began to phone us up from all over the world after thatâ€, said Bainbridge. …
The term yang cai translates as â€œforeign coloursâ€ and refers to the palette of enamels that were introduced from Europe around 1685, and later became associated with the famille rose export wares.
The 16-inch (40.5cm) high vase is of ovoid form with celadon glazed pierced body of interlocking chilong, through which could be seen the inner body of Ming style blue and white scrolling flowers. Four medallions around the body are decorated with varied pairs of fish set against modelled and carved waves.