Highlights from The Ollivier Collection of Early Chinese Art

Jean-Yves Ollivier is probably best known for his role as a parallel diplomat as he played a pivotal role in knitting together behind-the-scene negotiation and deals, which finally led to the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela.

Apart from his achievements in business, philanthropy and politics, Ollivier is also an avid collector in Early Chinese Art. Part of his collection will be up for sale this month at Bonhams London. We talked about the story of how he began collecting in the previous article, let’s take a look at some highlights from his prized collection.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is an avid collector in Early Chinese Art

Part of Jean-Yves Ollivier's collection

There are several outstanding pieces of archaic Chinese bronzes in Ollivier’s collection. He is fascinated by Bronze Age art in particular because it was not created just as merchandise, but for ritual purposes, which have imbued a certain spiritual element in each object.

Leading the sale an archaic bronze ritual food vessel, Gui, Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC). Gui was a ritual food vessel for serving cooked millet, sorghum, rice or other grains. Bronze casting came fully into its own in China during the Shang dynasty (circa 1600BC -1046 BC) with the production of sacral vessels intended for use in funerary ceremonies. Chinese people in the old times believed in afterlife and spirits so they would bury their relatives with everything they could possibly need in the afterlife, including food, wine, jade and tools. In daily life, too, regular offerings would be made in ancestral temples to keep the family spirits nourished and happy.

The decoration of vertical ribs emerged during the late Shang period. This form of decoration was especially popular in the early and middle Western Zhou period. Ritual bronze gui with similar motifs of dragon on the neck and ribbed belly are rare. There are several related gui with forms and ribbed motifs in important museums and private collections. The present gui is expected to fetch between £350,000-500,000.

There is another bronze vessel from Early Western Zhou dynasty at the sale. An archaic bronze tripod wine vessel, jia, is estimated at £300,000-500,000. Jia with large, broad lobes and wide, flaring necks were popular from the late Shang period and into the early Western Zhou period, mainly in undercoated versions. By the middle Western Zhou, tall jia had been replaced by shorter ones with proportionally shorter necks.

Some experts believe the function of jia was to keep the wine warm by burning charcoal underneath. This argument can be proved by a number of excavated jia which retained dark charcoal ash on the bottom and limescale in the interior caused by heating.

The present bronze jia has a seven-character inscription beneath the handle that reads ‘犬白乍父寶尊彝’, which may be translated as: 'Earl of Quan made this precious sacrificial vessel for the late father'. This would suggest that this vessel was placed in a tomb to supply the ancestor with wine. However, it could also be that the deceased was required to continue the rituals in the afterlife to honour ancestors who had preceded them.

Jean-Yves Ollivier with a Tang Sancai Bactrian camel

Besides bronzes of early dynastic China, another lot that worth noting is a massive, richly glazed Bactrian camel from the Tang dynasty (618-907). Estimated at £300,000-400,000, the Bactrian camel is an exceptional example of sancai sculpture created during the Tang dynasty.

It conveys a sense of realism by the forward moving posture of the creature, enhanced by the strong and slender legs, highly detailed with tendons and naturalistic tufts of dark fur, and the tall humps, gently swaying to either side of the body.

Decoration on both sides of the Bactrian camel

It would have been commissioned for internment in a burial belonging to an elite member of the Tang society and deemed to become alive for the benefit of its owner. Ancestors in China were deemed active participant to the life of their living offspring, which they could positively influence if provided with continuous care. Miniature universes were thus presented in burials and filled with a variety of necessities disguised as painted, carved or moulded images.

Lot details

An Important Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessel, Gui
Western Zhou Dynasty

Lot no.: 23
Width: 32.5 cm

  • Sir Herbert Ingram (1875-1958) and Lady Hilda Ingram (d.1968), Driffield Manor, Cirencester
  • The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • Sotheby's London, 9 June 1993, lot 122
  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 1993
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £350,000-500,000

An Important Archaic Bronze Ritual Tripod Wine Vessel, Jia
Early Western Zhou Dynasty

Lot no.: 21
Height: 35.5 cm

  • C.T. Loo, New York, no.87246
  • Frank Caro, New York
  • Arthur M. Sackler Collection, acc.no.V-142
  • Christie's New York, 1 December 1994, lot 130
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £300,000-500,000

A Magnificent and Massive Sancai-glazed Model of a Bactrian Camel
Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 28
Height: 82 cm

  • Stephen K. C. Lo, P. C. Lu Works of Art Ltd., Hong Kong, 12 November 1991
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £300,000-400,000

An Extremely Rare and Massive Archaic Bronze Ritual Vessel, Fang Hu
Eastern Zhou Dynasty

Lot no.: 12
Height: 68 cm

  • The Wang Family Collection, Taipei, by repute
  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 1996
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £250,000-350,000

A White Marble Head of Mahasthamaprapta
Northern Qi Dynasty

Lot no.: 31
Height: 34 cm

  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 2006
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £250,000-300,000

A Very Rare Pair of Large Inlaid Bronze Square Vessels and Covers, Fang Hu
Early Western Han Dynasty

Lot no.: 9
Height: 41 cm

  • The Wang Family Collection, Taipei, by repute
  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 1996
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £200,000-300,000

Auction information:
Auction house: Bonhams London
Sale: The Ollivier Collection of Early Chinese Art: A Journey Through Time
Lots offered: 35
Date: 8 November 2018|10:30am