US$1.2m Archaic Bronze Vessel Fails to Salvage Sotheby’s Disappointing Chinese Art Sale

To celebrate New York Asia Week in September, Sotheby’s has prepared a series of sales. Important Chinese Art sale was held yesterday, featuring over 280 lots of Chinese ceramics and works of art. Yet, the sale fell short of expectation as a number of high-value lots were unsold. In spite of the strong boost brought by an archaic bronze vessel from the Shang dynasty, which realised the highest price of the sale at US$1.45m, the overall performance was far from satisfactory.

The winning lot of the sale was an archaic bronze ritual vessel, zun, from the late Shang Dynasty. Estimated at US$650,000 - 850,000, the zun is notable for its crisp decoration preserved. Originally used as ritual wine containers, zun is known from the late Erligang period and grew in popularity during the Shang dynasty.

The present zun sparked the interest from both telephone bidders and room bidders, heating up the lukewarm atmosphere at the saleroom. The bidding started at US$450,000 and the price soon went up to US$650,000. The price was further pushed up to US$1.1m after some new room bidders entering the bidding battle.

The auctioneer brought the hammer down at US$1.2m and sold the bronze vessel for US$1.455m, double its low estimate. The winner was a telephone bidder.

A large famille-rose ‘landscape’ vase from the Qianlong period realised the second highest price, US$471,000. The vase features Chinese landscape depicting storied pavilions built on a lake island surrounded by jagged rockwork and trees. The base has an inscription in iron red with a six-character seal mark of Qianlong. The vase is estimated at US$500,000 - 700,000.

The auctioneer opened the bidding at US$250,000 but received several bids only. The vase was hammered down for US$380,000 and sold for US$471,000, below its low estimate. Still, the price was high enough to make it the second top lot of the sale.

Also ranked in the second place was a ‘mille-fleurs’ bottle vase from the Jiaqing period. Estimated at US$250,000 - 350,000, the vase was previously sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Hong Kong during the 90s. The vase was hammered down for US$380,000 and sold for US$471,000. The mille-fleurs pattern means wan hua dui ('ten thousand flowers piled up') in Chinese. The vase is enamelled with a rich profusion of flowers centering on a large peony bloom.

Of top 15 lots carrying highest value, only four were successfully sold. One of the unsold top lots was a sancai-glazed pottery seated court lady. The figure reflects the cultural, social and political strength of the Tang dynasty; in particular the enjoyment of power, privilege and autonomy of court women. Estimated at US$500,000 - 700,000, the sancai figure was passed and bought-in.

Top three lot

An Archaic Bronze Ritual Vessel (Zun), Shang Dynasty, Yinxu Period

Lot no.: 183
Height: 34.6cm

  • Nagao Art Museum, Tokyo.
  • Japanese Private Collection.

Estimate: US$650,000 - 850,000
Hammer price: US$1,200,000
Price realised: US$1,455,000

A Large and Rare Famille-rose 'landscape' Vase Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 156
Height: 70.5cm

  • M.W. Williams Ltd., London, 1970s (by repute).
  • Collection of Jaap Nieuwenhuis (b. 1927) (by repute).

Estimate: US$500,000 - 700,000
Hammer price: US$380,000
Price realised: US$471,000

A Fine and Rare 'Mille-Fleurs' Bottle Vase. Jiaqing Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 160
Height: 31.1cm

  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st-3rd May 1994, lot 678A.
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th November 1996, lot 892.

Estimate: US$250,000 - 350,000
Hammer price: US$US$380,000
Price realised: USUS$471,000

Unsold top lot

A Rare and Important Blue and Amber-glazed Pottery Figure of a Court Lady Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 203
Height: 29.3cm
Estimate: US$500,000 - 700,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Sale date: 2018/9/12
Lots offered: 280
Sold: 185
Unsold: 95
Sold by lot: 66%
Sale total: US$12,695,375

(All prices realized have included buyer’s premium unless otherwise specified)