By John Norris
The headlines proclaim it all: “Sotheby’s Chinese Art Auction Breaks World Records,” “Record-breaking Bowl Shines at Sotheby’s Asia Sales” and “Christie’s Leads in Asia Week Auction Sales.”
Some auction houses in Toronto, a city whose second spoken language after English is Mandarin, are also commanding high prices for choice Asian art. For example, Waddington’s started offering Asian art in February, 2009, but only later saw collectors bid six-figure prices: In December, 2010, a “rare,” rhinoceros carved horn libation cup, “Hundred Boys,” Qing Dynasty, 17th century, realized $893,750 (est. $40,000.60,000). In June, 2011 another libation cup, “Eight Immortals,” realized $370,500 (est. $30,000/40,000), and in December, 2011 a “rare” Ming-style blue and white vase, realized $692,500 (est. $150,000/250,000).
A.H. Wilkens Auctions & Appraisals, in business now for two and half years, has always offered Asian art. But it was not until October 18, 2011, when it sold lot 1115, a Chinese Ming bronze Buddha to a collector in China for $526,500 (with then 13 percent premium), that it cemented its place in the Asian art market.
On April 17, 18, 2012, Wilkens again offered Asian art as part of its Decorative Arts auction to an audience of mostly Asians bidding in the gallery, on six phones, on the internet, and via absentee bids. Partner with Andrew Wilkens, Andrea Zeifman, presided on the podium for the Asian art, but Ross Morrow presided over the first lots of international silver.
“The sale went well with what was expected of the market,” said Wilkens. “Jade, silver and porcelain still held their ground, while art and other categories struggled. I am happy with how things went, and I think the Chinese, Indian and Korean categories will still continue to be relatively strong. Japanese art is still very weak and may take some time to recover. The biggest surprise was a large Chinese famille rose porcelain figure that hammered at $10,0000.00. These historically have had no value on the market, so it appears all forms of the Chinese arts will eventually be recognized and surface with some significance.”
“Two hundred and seven lots of Asian art went on the block on April 17th with a sell through rate of 83%,” added Zeifman. “The majority of the passed lots fell in the Japanese section, confirming what Andrew stated. We are finding that the Chinese arts are still very strong with a huge amount of bidding coming from the internet and phone lines. What I found most intriguing was lot 1166, a photo album of an Asian tour, which fetched $2,200. There is an obvious interest in Chinese heritage.”
The firm’s highlight was lot 1052, a pair of Paul Storr, English silver baskets, London, 1823, about which a female dealer commented to some peers, “Aren’t they gorgeous? They’re so gorgeous! Textbook quality.” Estimated at $20,000/30,000, they sold for $37,440 (with current 17 percent buyer’s premium).
Zeifman praised effusively lot 1110, a Chinese export, silver, two-handled tea tray, its rim engraved and inlaid with grape vines and foliage and its base marked “Canton Cutshing,” mid-19th century, calling it “a really magnificent piece.” Estimated at $5000/7000, it sold, nevertheless, for only $5,616. “What a steal!” she responded.
She began bidding for lot 1119, “an unusual thing,” a Chinese, silver, Buddhist figure of a seated Manjusri, Ming-style, “possibly” 19th century, at $5,000, but it passed (est. $10,000/15,000). Lot 1129, an “unusual,” Chinese export, blue and white platter, octagonal shape, its centre painted with five birds and peonies inside an octagonal cartouche, estimated at $800/1200, brought $1,053.
Lot 1134, a Chinese, finely carved, ivory seal with scene of landscape and miniature inscriptions in black pigments, signed “Yu Shuo” (1873-1940), and dated 1924, also passed (est. $4000/6000). (Zeifman insisted bidding start for it at no less than $1000.) Lot 1139, two Chinese white jade cups, early 19th century, one of two “very popular” lots, brought $3,744 (est. $700/900). Lot 1165A, a Chinese Tang Dynasty amphora in white glaze, flanked by a pair of high looped dragon handles, early 10th century, passed (est. $10,000/15,000). And lot 1179, a Chinese, carved ivory group of a male scholar and three ladies walking under a pine tree, late 19th century, went home for $4212 (est. $2000/4000).
Wilkens also offered only two Indian lots, 1240 and 1241. The former, a finely carved, ivory figure of Hindu god Ganesh, estimated at $2000/3000, passed, as did the latter, a finely jeweled and painted ivory plaque painted with Ganesh sitting on a jeweled throne (est. $800/1200).
Japanese art followed. Lot 1244, a late 17th century, blue and white ewer painted with two men in a continuous landscape scene, passed (est. $1000/1500). Lot 1250, a fine pair of large carved ivory tusks, Meiji, both engraved with mythological figures, including a dragon, birds, and animals, passed (est. $5000/7000). Lot 1251, two more tusks with carved figures in various domestic and festive scenes, signed, also passed (est. $3000/5000). And lot 1273, a large, finely embroidered silk panel with six cranes and bamboo trees at riverside, the Fuji mountains in the distance, sold for only $585 (est. $1000/2000).
The auction of Asian art ended with four Korean lots. The first, 1288, an oil on canvas by Kim Tschang-Yeul (1929-) titled Water Drops, 1988, estimated at $40,000/60,000, brought $42,120. Lot 1291, a mixed media on paper, Ecriture No. 910314, by Park Seo-Bo (1931-) estimated at $10,000/15,000), sold for $10,530.
Collectors of canes bid for 110 lots at 2:00 p.m. on April 18. Lot 2017, an American, silver-handled walking stick, estimated at $300/500, passed. Lot 2020, an American Civil War cane, engraved with “Capt. Daniel W. Flagler (1835-1899)” and “Gettysburg 1863,” also estimated at $300/500, brought $702. And lot 2015, an L-shaped racing horse’s head walking stick, won a $321.75 bid (est. $200/300).
That night, Wilkens offered a variety of international decorative objects, among them historically important American items. Lot 3003, a leather fire bucket, inscribed “Calais Club,” J. Boyd, Boston, 1810, sold for $234 (est. $600/800). Lot 3041, three U.S. Civil War diaries, covering the years 1861-1865, and a hat belonging to Murdock McGregor, sold for $4446 (est. $400/600). Lot 3042A, an equestrian bronze of horse and jockey with label “Forego,” signed René Williams (1917-2002), raced to $643.50 (est. $500/800).
Lot 3052, one of four Tiffany lots, a 12-light lily lamp, estimated at $35,000/45,000, passed. Lot 3123, an oil on canvas, Logging in the Forest, by William Lees (1842-1928) sold for $585 (est. $1000/1500). Lot 3169, a Federal, pine, long case clock, movement entirely of wood, by A. Hopkins, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1820, passed (est. $1000/1500).
On June 1, 2, 2012, A.H. Wilkens will offer the Marilyn Derrin Art Deco Noritake Collection.
John Norris is a Toronto freelance photojournalist and retired English teacher. He has written articles, with photos, for antiques and other journals across Canada, the United States and Britain. He may be reached at email@example.com.