Highlighted Archaic Bronzes at Bonhams London Spring Sales

Earlier this month, an auction house in the UK insisted on auctioning off a rare Chinese bronze looted from Old Summer Palace despite protests from the Chinese government. It has sparked a heated debate over how auction houses should deal with controversial artefacts.

Provenance is one of the important factors that collectors and art dealers should take into consideration. For the coming spring sale in London, Bonhams is going to offer an array of archaic bronzes with reliable provenance, which further bolsters buyer’s confidence in making purchases.

Leading the sale is an archaic bronze ritual food vessel, Ding, from the late Shang Dynasty (12th/11th Century BC). 21cm tall, the Ding vessel is estimated at £180,000 - 240,000. It once belonged to a legendary art dealer J.T. Tai. It was later kept in the collection of an Australian collector and exhibited in art galleries there.

The deep round body flanked by two upright loop handles and supported on three cylindrical legs, crisply cast on the sides with three taotie masks intersected by flanges, each with prominent eyes, upright horns and small claws, beneath a band of twelve stylised kui dragons on a leiwen ground. The wall of the interior is cast with a pictogram, and the bronze covered with an attractive olive patina with areas of encrustation.

J.T. Tai was a legendary Hong Kong art collector

An archaic bronze ritual food vessel, Fangding, from late Shang/early Zhou Dynasty carries an estimate of £120,000 - 150,000. It is from the Mengdiexuan Collection formed by Hong Kong collectors Kenneth Chu and Betty Lo. The couple has jointly assembled the Mengdiexuan Collection of Chinese antiquities, which comprises scholar's objects, metalwork, ancient Chinese gold and personal ornaments. 

Fangding are among the scarcest ritual vessels of the Bronze Age. Food vessels of square ding form were first produced in pottery as food containers in the Erlitou period and were later made in bronze in the Erligang period. In the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties, fangding were made for use in ancestral worship or other sacrificial ceremonies.

Kenneth Chu and Betty Lo are the owner of the Mengdiexuan Collection

An archaic bronze wine vessel and cover from Warring States Period, 25cm wide, is estimated at £80,000 - 120,000. It was owned by prominent art collector T.T. Tsui in his Jingguantang Collection. Then it went up for auction at Christie’s Hong Kong in 1996.

T.T. Tsui on the left and Sir David Tang on the right

The 'He' vessel comes in different shapes in different periods. The image below shows another He example from the Shaanxi History Museum. The major difference between the present one and the below one lies in the handle. 

Another highlight of the sale is a pair of archaic bronze ritual wine vessels, Gu, from Shang or early Western Zhou dynasty. The wine vessels are 19.3cm tall, inscribed “Mu Ning Ri Xin”. It is also from the Mengdiexuan Collection, carrying an estimate of £20,000 - 30,000.

Of a slender form, the wine vessel rises from a hollow foot to a slightly bulbous middle section before widening again into a trumpet-like mouth. Gu is a common type of Chinese bronze wine vessel and its surface is often decorated with taotie.

An archaic bronze model of a buffalo made in the Han dynasty carries an estimate of £15,000 - 20,000. Naturalistically cast standing four square, the domesticated horned animal detailed with prominent ears and backbone leading to the muscular haunch and curling tail, attached with a ring to the nasal, the surface covered overall with an attractive malachite incrustation.




Highlighted Bronze

A Very Rare Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessel, Ding
Late Shang Dynasty, 12th/11th Century BC, inscribed YU

Lot no.: 31
Height: 21cm

  • J.T.Tai & Co., New York
  • William Bowmore, Australia (1909 - 2008)
  • Mossgreen, Melbourne, 25 November 2008, lot 762
  • The Reid Collection

Estimate: £180,000 - 240,000

A Very Rare Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessel, Fangding
Late Shang/early Western Zhou Dynasty, inscribed Zhu Fu Ding

Lot no.: 36
Height: 26.2cm

  • The Mengdiexuan Collection

Estimate: £120,000 - 150,000

A Very Rare Archaic Bronze Wine Vessel And Cover, He
Warring States Period

Lot no.: 34
Width: 25.5cm

  • T.T. Tsui, The Jingguantang Collection
  • Christie's Hong Kong,The Jinggutang Collection: Magnificent Chinese Works of Art, 3 November 1996, lot 597
  • An Asian private collection

Estimate: £80,000 - 120,000

A Pair of Archaic Bronze Ritual Wine Vessels, GU
Shang or early Western Zhou Dynasty, inscribed Mu Ning Ri Xin

Lot no.: 35

  • The Mengdiexuan Collection

Estimate: £20,000 - 30,000

An Archaic Bronze Model of Buffalo
Han Dynasty, possibly Sichuan Province

Lot no.: 32
Length: 36cm

  • Cultura Antiga Kuok Ngai, Macau, 18 October 1996
  • Cheng Huan S.C. Collection, Hong Kong

Estimate: £15,000 - 20,000


Auction details

Auction house: Bonhams London
Sale: Fine Chinese Art
2018/5/12 - 13|11am - 5pm
2018/5/14 - 16|9am - 4:30pm
2018/5/17|10:30am (Lot 1 - 150)
2018/5/17|2pm (Lot 151 - 315)