On Wednesday, a rare Chinese bronze vessel went up for auction despite protests from the Chinese government. It is believed to be looted from Old Summer Palace (Yuanming Yuan) in Beijing in the 19th Century.
It is a bronze tripod water vessel which its shouldered ribbed body supported by three short legs, each cast with a taotie mask. The spout and cover are each cast with models of tigers, and the inside of the cover is cast with a four-character pictogram, covered overall with a malachite green encrustation.
According to the auction house, the vessel belonged to Capt. Harry Lewis Evans, RM, (1831-1883). The Royal Marines recorded in detail the looting of Old Summer Palace, “I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperor’s imperial pattern.”
China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage condemned the auction and demanded the cancellation of the sale. China had contacted the auction house “through various channels” and told them to respect national feelings of the Chinese people.
Despite protests from China, the auction house went on with the sale. Estimated at £120,000 - 200,000, the vessel sold for £410,000 (US$582,000), almost four times the estimate. The vessel sold to a telephone bidder.
The ‘Min’ Fanglei, King of all Fangleis, was once offered at Christie’s
A similar situation had happened before when a ‘Min’ Fanglei was offered at Christie’s New York in 2014. As a leading auction house, Christie’s worked out an exemplary solution dealing with the controversial issue. We will talk about how Christie’s handled the crisis skilfully in our next article.
An Important and Extremely Rare Archaic Bronze Tripod Water Vessel and Cover (Ying)
Late Western Zhou (1100-771BC)
Auction house: Canterbury Auction Galleries
Sale: April Two Day Sale of Fine Art & Antiques
Sale date: 2018/4/11
Lot no.: 450
Size: 35cm long x 26cm high (32cm high with stand)
Capt. Harry L. Evans, RM, (1831-1883) and thence by descent to the present owner.
Estimate: £120,000 - 200,000
Price realized: £410,000