Qianlong Vase Or Well-Made Fake? Chinese Collectors, Unbothered, Push To 800x Over Estimate At Auction

    According to art expert Zhang Liguo from the China Academy of Art, prices for rare works from sought-after historical eras have become "totally crazy."
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    Porcelain Vase Estimated At US$9,400-14,100 Sells For $7.5 Million At Auction In San Francisco#

    Over the last year, we've kept a close eye on the wallet-emptying effect that lots from the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1735-1796) have had on Chinese collectors at auctions around the world. From the jade name-chop that sold for US$12.3 million in Hong Kong last spring to the vases that sold for $31 million (over an estimate of $6 million) and a jaw-dropping $85 million (over a high estimate of $2 million) in October and November, prices for rare works from sought-after historical eras have become, in the words of Zhang Liguo, an expert from the China Academy of Art, "totally crazy."

    Seeing this "crazy" trend out to the end of the year, this week a Qing dynasty vase -- ostensibly from the Qianlong era -- sold in San Francisco to a Chinese telephone bidder for a whopping $7.5 million. While this pales in comparison to the record-breaking $85 million vase sold in London, it helps to note that the pre-sale low estimate was a paltry $9,400. As a little arithmetic helpfully illustrates, this means the final sale price was nearly 800 times its pre-sale estimate.

    As Peter Foster from Britain's Telegraph points out, this buyers' frenzy becomes even more of a head-scratcher when you factor in the doubts the auction house had about its origin:

    Although the unique blue and white Dragon jar carried the mark of the Emperor Qianlong, who reigned from 1736-95, experts at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco said they believed the piece was in fact made 150 years later during the late Qing period, probably in the early 1900s.

    "The vase had the reign mark of the Qianlong Emperor, but some of these vases are genuine, and some are not," said Colin Sheaf, head of Asia art at Bonhams in London, "after careful assessment, we were happy to catalogue this as Late Qing or the Republic period."

    At least two anonymous telephone bidders from mainland China saw the pot very differently, however, bidding as if it was an original piece from the Qianlong period, probably from around 1740-50.

    "The bidders obviously believed it was 'exactly what it said on the tin'," added Mr Sheaf.

    As Foster adds, time -- and chemical analysis -- will be necessary to fully determine the authenticity of the vase. But the sale of this lot, and the indifference towards pre-sale estimates displayed by Chinese collectors this year, not only in auctions of Qianlong-era articles but also calligraphy, jade and jewelry, and even modern and contemporary Chinese art, has been nothing short of stunning (and confounding, for many).

    Whether the disregard for estimates, and the astronomical amounts that pieces perceived by Chinese collectors to be important are now selling for ultimately boil down to speculation, actual art appreciation, a desire for repatriation, or a hedge against inflation remains to be seen. But we haven't seen the last of this. Expect to see the "crazy" prices at auction continue as more newly wealthy Chinese collectors look to get in on the game in the years ahead -- a very good thing for auction houses and ultra-high-net-worth collectors, but possibly quite bad for art lovers. As the Global Times suggeststhis week,

    For collectors who love art, such a hot market is definitely a disaster. For the really enthusiastic collectors who keep buying but never sell, there is little chance to get what they want at auctions.
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