Doubts hang over record sale of Chinese vase


Questions have been raised over the status of the sale of a previously undocumented Qing dynasty imperial vase found in a bungalow in Pinner, North London, which was sold to an anonymous Chinese buyer for a hammer price of £43m at a suburban auction-house in November – amid reports that the client has not been paid.


The sale set a new benchmark for the price of Chinese porcelain, eclipsing the record £18.2m paid just weeks before for another vase, made for the Emperor Qianlong (1711-99), at Sotheby’s Hong Kong by the business magnate Alice Cheng. It also surpassed the previous record for any Chinese work of art, the Rmb 436m ($63m) paid for an 11th-century calligraphic scroll sold at Poly International Auction in Beijing in June 2010.

这笔交易为中国瓷器拍卖价设定了一个新的标尺。相比之下,几周之前另一件清乾隆(1711-99)花瓶在香港苏富比拍卖行(Sotheby’s Hong Kong)拍出的创纪录价格——1820万英镑——显得黯然失色,买下那只花瓶的是商业大亨张永珍(Alice Cheng)。这也超出了此前各类中国艺术品的拍卖价格纪录:去年6月在保利国际拍卖会上以4.36亿元人民币(6300万美元)成交的一幅11世纪书法卷轴。

When asked, Peter Bainbridge, the auctioneer at Bainbridge’s of Ruislip who staged the November 11 sale, was unable to confirm that his client had been paid, stating only that he had been instructed by his clients not to discuss the matter and pointing out that it was not unusual for any businessman to experience a delay in receiving payment.

在接受询问时,赖斯利普(Ruislip)拍卖行Bainbridge's的拍卖师彼得•班布里奇(Peter Bainbridge)无法证实自己的客户已经收到款项,仅表示他受客户指示不得讨论此事,并指出支付延迟是任何商人都会碰到的事情,并没有什么异常。

The emergence of an exceptional and totally unknown piece in such an unlikely setting had prompted many to speculate on the authenticity of the vase. “It is not clear-cut to say that it is wrong,” explains the respected London-based dealer in Chinese art Giuseppe Eskenazi: “It is not an obvious fake and several knowledgeable authorities, including the late Julian Thompson [a former chairman of Sotheby’s], believed in it completely.” Shortly after the sale, however, James Lally, a New York dealer who viewed the piece in London, told CNBC: “I’m very sceptical . . . There are a number of people who do not find it convincing.” Among those bidding on behalf of clients, however, was Nicholas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and the International Head of Sotheby’s Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art department.

一只如此罕见、此前闻所未闻的花瓶出现在如此没有把握的背景下,让很多人禁不住怀疑它是否是真品。“我们无法肯定地说它是赝品,”受人尊敬的伦敦中国艺术品交易商朱塞佩•埃斯肯纳兹(Giuseppe Eskenazi)表示。“如果说它是赝品,也不是很明显。而且好几位见多识广的权威人士相信它是真品,包括已故苏富比前主席朱汤生(Julian Thompson)(于今年1月去世——译者注)。”然而,拍卖结束后不久,在伦敦查看过这只花瓶的纽约古玩商詹姆斯•拉里(James Lally)在接受CNBC采访时表示:“我很怀疑……有许多人怀疑它的真实性。”然而,代表客户竞拍的人中,还有苏富比亚洲区副主席及中国艺术部国际主管仇国仕(Nicholas Chow)。

No one disputes that collectors were prepared to bid enormous sums for the vase. It had come to the block with an estimate of £800,000-£1.2m, although experts believed it could fetch more than £10m. At £25m, a record-breaking figure, there were still five bidders in the running. “It was an unbelievable price,” says Mr Eskenazi, and one which reflects the thirst for Chinese works of art with an imperial mark or provenance.


Traditionally, it was the purity and simplicity of the early wares of the Song dynasty that appealed to collectors in both the east and west. The new breed of mainland Chinese billionaires, however, prefers the showy, technical tours-de-force produced for the three great 18th-century emperors of the Qing dynasty. The buyer of the opulent, complex Pinner vase is believed to be a wealthy Beijing collector.


On Friday, Sotheby’s Hong Kong unveiled the Meiyintang Collection of exceptional imperial porcelain, the last great classic European connoisseur collection of Chinese ceramics.


Expected to realise more than HK$710m (US$91m) on April 7, it includes a falangcai (foreign colour) vase decorated with golden pheasants (shown in the centre of the main picture), described by Nicholas Chow as “the ultimate trophy from the Qing dynasty for any great collector of Chinese porcelain”.


Before that sale, vendors, collectors, dealers and auctioneers are keen to know whether the Pinner vase really did set a new record for a Chinese work of art or not.