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Tag Archives: Sotheby’s

A new world record for Chinese art?

A 15th century “chicken cup” is once again poised to shatter the record for a Chinese work of art at auction, 15 years after it achieved the then record price of $4m in 1999.

Following a string of increasingly high profile sales of Chinese art, a new figure of $32.4m was set for a Qing dynasty vase at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2010.

It seems almost a certainty that the cup will break the current record, due to the extraordinary regard with which it is held in Chinese culture.

The 15th century chicken cup

At first glance, the diminutive cup does not look much like a contender to become the most valuable anything, but like many of the most fascinating collectibles – there is more than meets the eye.

The story begins in the Chenghua period of the Ming dynasty (1464-1487), where the cups were produced in tiny quantites in the imperial kiln.

They were designed specifically for the appreciation of the emperor and as a result, the quality of the porcelain and the simple, elegant painting is unmatched.

Their delicate beauty fascinated subsequent generations, who saw in the cups an unmannered and unaffected aesthetic perfection.

Subsequent emperors and scholars sang their praises, resulting in a meteoric rise in value throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

They took on an almost legendary quality, becoming symbols of Chinese artisanship.

Poet and writer Zhu Yizun (1629-1709) wrote: “Chicken cups were not obtainable in the city for less than five pieces of white gold and those who did have the means to buy them greatly cherished them.”

Similarly another writer, Cheng Che, commented in the 17th century, “A pair of Chenghua cups was already worth 10,000 cash.”

Endless copies have been made throughout the ages to feed the public demand for these iconic wares and now, of the very few originals, only three survive.



Unassuming Chinese owl unleashed on Asia Week

As the consignments start to roll in for the annual Asia Week New York (March 14-22), Sotheby’s has announced that the spectacular highlight of its sales will be…

An owl.

Unassuming at first, this owl will have you fascinated by its history

Unassuming at first, this owl will have you fascinated by its history

It’s a rather fine kind of an owl, cast from bronze and designed for use as a wine vessel. Yet, next to the glittering jewels and spectacular artworks offered during the week, it does look a little shabby…

$4m worth of shabby, apparently.

At first, you might dismiss the piece – it’s nice, but perhaps not the most coveted item on your list. However, dig a little deeper and this wise bird begins to reveal its secrets.

The key to the owl’s value is its age; this vessel was created during China’s Zhou dynasty. For those of us that aren’t well versed in ancient Chinese history, that’s the 8th-7th centuries BC.

Yes, that’s right…BC.

600-700 years before Jesus Christ was supposedly born.

To give that date some context, this was a time when the Assyrian Empire dominated Babylon and Egypt, while Nebuchadnezzar was busy building the famous Hanging Gardens.

Meanwhile, my forebears were presumably still mucking about in caves in England, making rudimentary weapons to destroy their enemies.

China was light years ahead, with the country under the grip of the longest dynasty in its history, while their political and culture was already developed enough to draw comparisons with medieval England.

Just some food for thought before you dismiss this unassuming owl…it’s amazing that the piece has even survived the tests of time, let alone made it to auction in fantastic condition.

Learn more about its fascinating provenance.


P.S. You can read all about Asia Week New York and the latest consignments over at Paul Fraser Collectibles’ news site – or sign up to the free newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out.

Sotheby’s Japanese erotic prints – Piscicolous prints for over 18s only

A number of sexually explicit Japanese prints are bound for Sotheby’s Hong Kong.


From July 18 until July 31, the x-rated images, on loan from the collection of antique dealer Uragami Mitsuru, will adorn the international auction house’s walls, presenting art lovers with a rare opportunity “to understand more about shunga as well as the general social and cultural perception of sexuality during the Endo period,” according to gallery director Angelika Li.

“Shunga” is a Japanese word for erotic art.

In terms of subject matter, shunga created during the Endo period (1603-1868) varies enormously, reflecting the protean, and often symbolic, nature of sexual desire during the age.

“The influence of Western ethics after the Meiji period meant that shunga came to be regarded, both socially and academically, as taboo,” collector Uragami Mitsuru explains.

However, following recent cultural re-evaluations, shunga has been repositioned as a serious art form worthy of solemn aesthetic consideration.

The exhibition has been deemed suitable for over 18s only…a rule that seems a bit mean, but is likely to reduce levels of giggling.

In exploring the (often complex) relationship between sex and society, the exhibition offers attendees a chance to view works by renowned artists Suzuki Harunobo (1724-1770), Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).


Mikki the Chimp’s photographs – why should we give a monkey?

It seems that only the weirdest or the most valuable auction lots ever reach the international press.

But this lot – set to star at Sotheby’s in June – ticks both boxes.

The leading auction house is set to sell a collection of photographs taken by former Moscow circus performer Mikki the Chimp, which are valued at a whopping £50,000-70,000.Moscow, Sothebys, Auction

Now – if you are anything like me – you may be thinking, why should I give a monkey?

Well for a start, the shots weren’t taken on Mikki’s initiative, instead at the behest of Soviet art duo Komar and Melamid.

The pair have worked together for years, passing off the work of animals as their own. They began with a drawing by a dog, before working their way up the ladder.

They even set up the famous elephant sanctuary in Thailand, where tourists can still buy artworks from painting pachyderms to pay for their upkeep.Moscow, Sothebys, Auction

But the images also provide a somewhat poignant commentary on Soviet Russia itself, with the Mikki representing the thousands of tourists that flock to Moscow every day.

His blurred photographs can be considered symbolic of the skewed vision of Russia they would have received under the Soviet regime, the entire concept commenting on the circus that prevailed under the flag of communism.

Just some food for thought before you dismiss these as simple simian snapshots…Mikki, Chimp, Photographs, Russia, Moscow, Sothebys, Auction



First Editions, Second Thoughts

Every so often, an auction comes along that stands out from the rest, that is moving, inspiring, and captures the imagination.

The press release sitting in my mailbox that most recently had this effect was Sotheby’s upcoming auction, ‘First Editions, Second Thoughts’ in London, scheduled for May 21.


It is a fantastic idea – to return authors and illustrators to first editions of their contemporary classics, and have them annotate and scribble and doodle all over them.

To name a few of the highlights, authors, playwrights and poets such as Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, Tom Stoppard, Seamus Heaney, Ian McEwan, Yann Martel, Philip Pullman and others have taken up their pens against their most celebrated works.

Some authors annotate copiously, correcting their writing, criticising their choices. Some speculate as to their own intentions at the time of writing. Others clarify what has been misinterpreted.

The famed illustrators of novels also feature: Quentin Blake returns to Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and Ralph Steadman to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

What stunning pieces of memorabilia, the ultimate first edition. And what a revelation in the study and understanding of each work. If made public, these notations could change the way these books are perceived forever.

Even better, the proceeds of the auction are going to charity English PEN, which aims to promote the freedom to write and read in the UK and around the world.

By Louise

January 2013 auction highlights – top treats for the New Year

Christmas is done for another year yet, as you sit back to survey your haul, you may notice that a few of your most wanted items failed to leave Santa’s sack…

Luckily, the collectibles world has come to the rescue with some exciting consignments for January 2013:

Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione, auction, Berlinetta,Competizione, Barrat-Jackson, Scottsdale, Arizona

Unfortunately, Santa didn’t get me one of these either!

No Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione in your stocking? Not to fear, a stunning example is available at Barratt-Jackson’s Scottsdale auctions, which will be taking place at the end of the month in Arizona.

No 16th century masterpiece under the tree? Sotheby’s have got you covered with El Greco’s Entombment of Christ providing an exciting entry in Old Master’s Week, which will see sales from numerous top auction houses in New York.

Did you plead for one of the finest examples of the first US dollar in your letter to Santa? Well, Santa may have let you down this time, but Heritage Auctions won’t. The auction house has the famed Frothingham 1794 dollar crossing the block on January 9, as part of its six-day US Coin FUN Signature auction.

And don’t forget, Paul Fraser Collectibles always has a brilliant range of collectibles for sale, with something to fill the gap in everyone’s wish list for 2013.


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