International demand for Asian art finds ally in online bidding

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NEW YORK – It may have taken centuries for China’s art treasures to make their way to the Western World, but it is taking less than a minute for many of them to repatriate to Asian ownership via the Internet.

“Buyers from China, Hong Kong and other Asian nations have become very comfortable about bidding in overseas auctions online,” said Julian Ellison, CEO of “In many instances they’ve become repeat buyers and have formed ongoing, mutually beneficial business relationships with auction houses in America and Europe.”

Boston-based Skinner Inc. was one of the first auction houses to cultivate a bond of trust with Asian buyers. Their June 25-26 auction of Asian Works of Art, with Internet live bidding through, brought in an impressive $4.8 million – around $260,000 of it from online participants. The company’s director of Asian Works of Art described the sale as “an all-out bidding frenzy.”

Late October saw a continuation of the now-familiar trend. In Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ Oct. 26 Asian Works of Art auction, the Chicago firm sold 142 lots (29 percent of the total lots offered) online through LiveAuctioneers. The lots also represented 25 percent of the sale by value.

White jade, for which demand far outweighs supply, was hotly pursued online. A LiveAuctioneers bidder paid an above-estimate $22,320 for a 10-inch white jade ovoid vase with cover with lion-shape finial. A Chinese yellow jade drinking vessel based on an ancient Greek object known as a “rhyton,” with relief carving and a spiraling design, also sold above its estimate to an Internet bidder, for $17,360.

But it wasn’t just jade that the 414 online participants were chasing in Hindman’s sale. A Chinese Ming Dynasty landscape painting on silk, 66 inches by 16-3/4 inches and dated 1535, paid no heed to its $1,500-$2,000 estimate, selling to an Internet bidder for $21,080. Also, a Wang Hing & Co. Chinese silver export serving tray with pierce-carved dragon motif, weighing in at 145.87 ozt., sailed past its $5,000 to $7,000 estimate to settle at $17,360 online.

Postsale statistics indicated there was keen interest prior to the auction. There were 5,540 electronic-catalog page views, with 616 absentee bids placed online through LiveAuctioneers.

Jackson’s International of Cedar Falls, Iowa, had its own Internet success with a selection of outstanding Asian pieces included in an Oct. 27 offering of antiques and fine art. The sell-through numbers showed that 33.5 percent of the lots sold via LiveAuctioneers, representing 24 percent of the sale’s total value. There were 735 online participants, and more than 8,600 people viewed the catalog through LiveAuctioneers, placing 1,115 absentee bids.

Because it was not exclusively an Asian art sale, not all of the lots sold online were of that particular genre, but here are a few of the many examples that were – an 11 1/4-inch white jade vase with cover, late 19th or early 20th century, with a mountainous garden scene in relief and a Qianlong seal, realized $24,600 against an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000; while a baluster-form white jade vase with cover featuring pierced and scrolled foliate openwork streaked past its $8,000 to $12,000 estimate to achieve $18,450.

Another Internet highlight was the 10-1/4-inch carved mortar of spinach-colored jade, late 19th or early 20th century with a design of dragons, clouds and waves, that made $14,760 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,500.

“I think we’re going to see much more of the same in the fall and winter sales featuring Asian art,” said Ellison. “On November 21st, Austin Auction Gallery in Austin, Texas, is going to be selling a single-owner collection of jade originally brought to the United States around 40 years ago by an American Army colonel who was stationed in Asia in the post-World War II period. From what I’ve been told, one of the jade pieces – a carving of two crickets on a cabbage – is highly important, and experts who’ve examined it say it is a premier artwork. It’s just this sort of discovery that keeps the auction business exciting.”


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