Chinese Collectors Enticed By Jade At Record-Breaking British Auctions

Series Of Chinese Art Auctions In U.K. Raised Record 105 Million Pounds ($168 Million)

This jade seal owned by emperor Qianlong smashed records this spring, selling for over $12 million to a Chinese buyer (Image: BBC)

This jade seal owned by emperor Qianlong smashed records this spring, selling for over $12 million to a Chinese buyer (Image: BBC)

The profile of Chinese collectors abroad continues to rise, as this week Chinese and other Asian bidders powered a record-breaking series of Chinese art auctions in the UK that pulled in a total of 105 million pounds (US$168 million). Attracted by imperial antiques and jade, auction segments they now dominate, Chinese collectors spent lavishly on high-quality lots, passing up items of lesser quality or from less desirable historical eras. As we’ve seen at recent auctions, Chinese buyers are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars for certain lots from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) of the early Qing Dynasty, yet are turned off by antiques from more turbulent eras such as the late Qing (1901-1911). Over the past week in the UK, Chinese collectors again showed they are “learning to be more discriminating,” according to Clare Durham of Woolley & Wallis, who added, “Asian buyers are no longer paying crazy money for [just] anything.” From Bloomberg:

Asian collectors are prepared to pay ever-higher prices for objects associated with Chinese emperors, wherever in the world they are offered, dealers said.

“China has always been the poor relation of Western art,” said London-based dealer Alastair Gibson, a director of Asian Art in London. “Now, it’s up there with Picasso and Warhol.”

Bonhams and Sotheby’s had totals of 10.6 million pounds and 14.1 million pounds, respectively, for their Chinese sales. Christie’s International Plc raised 18.6 million pounds, a 98 percent increase on November 2009, it said.

Woolley & Wallis’s 343-lot event on Nov. 17 raised 10 million pounds, a record for the auction house. Its Qianlong- period carving had been estimated at 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds. It was bought in the room by Xu Zhe Hao, a Cixi City- based dealer in Zhejiang province, who said he was bidding on behalf of a collector in Hangzhou.

Xu was one of at least 10 bidders, six on the phone and the rest among the garrulous crowd of about 20 Asians in the strip- lit saleroom.

Look for more of the same spirited bidding at the upcoming Christie’s Contemporary Asian art auctions, where popular blue-chip Chinese artists will be heavily represented.

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Art & Auction, Culture