Asian Art auction – 100 Chinese Stories

Images above: Celadon glazed ‘arrow vase’ from the 12th Century

Every piece of art has its own story

Chiswick Auctions is looking for Chinese art. They have a big sale coming up on 1 June and they are trawling for interesting items.

What makes them interesting? Chinese art depicting narrative scenes. Art with a provenance or history that they can trace and items whose worth is unknown.

Without the specialist knowledge of the art market, you might look at this old vase, pictures above, and not think much of it. Clearly it’s been broken because someone has emphasised the break line with a big thick gold line. You might even be tempted to throw it out. But that would be a bad idea.

This is a rare celadon glazed ‘arrow vase’ from the 12th Century, used in a game where arrows are thrown with points allocated if the arrows land inside the vase or inside the tubular handles on the sides.

Given the nature of the game and the properties of ceramics, it’s not hard to see why these might be rare, but could they not have done a more subtle repair job? This type of Japanese gold repair is apparently a speciality and it reveals that the piece was recovered from the Longquan kiln site in China, where it was  discarded at the time of production because of some flaw.

It would never have got to play the arrow game with all the other pots, but this would not be a good time to introduce it to its cultural purpose as it’s now valued at £3,000 – £5,000 according to Lazarus Halstead, Head of Asian Art at Chiswick Auctions. It comes from the Alfred Clark collection, a famous collector of Chinese artefacts in the early part of the 20th century.

Lazarus is fascinated by the stories bound up with these objects – both the traditional stories associated with the art itself and the personal stories of how they’ve come to be in the UK and on sale now.

Image above: Decorative dish, depicting the tale of Queen Dou, the wife of the founding Emperor of the Tang Dynasty

A good archer maybe, but was he a good husband?

This decorative dish was sold at a previous auction for £375. It depicts the tale of Queen Dou, the wife of the founding Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Li Yuan. Legend has it that as a young maiden, her father worried about finding a suiter who would be worthy of her beauty and wisdom.

He tested potential suitors by inviting them to take part in an archery competition. He painted two peacocks on a large screen and announced that whoever hit the eyes of the peacocks with an arrow would win his daughter’s hand. Many young men tried and failed until finally, a young fellow by the name of Li Yuan came forward. His first arrow pierced the bird’s left eye and the second it’s right; the rest is history, though I’m not sure if history records what kind of a husband he turned out to be.

Image above: Pair of vases depicting a depict a scene from Dream of the Red Chamber

The Dream of the Red Chamber

This pair of vases from the Yongzheng period in the 18th Century, which will be up for auction on 1 June, depict a scene from the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber where the lovers Zhang Shengyu and Yingying secretly meet.

Written at some point in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing dynasty, Dream of the Red Chamber has long been considered a masterpiece of Chinese literature, one of China’s four great Classical novels. It has a huge cast of characters, and much like the role Jane Austen plays in British literature, it offers precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century society.

Image above: Woodblock print from the Ten Bamboo Studio and Mustard Seed Garden

How Chinese paintings captured the imagination of Europeans

This woodblock print, also in the sale, is one of a selection of prints associated with the Ten Bamboo Studio and Mustard Seed Garden painting manual, published in 1679. It is recognized by many scholars as China’s preeminent painting handbook. Very much a luxury item, running to several hundred pages, several copies are to be found in the British Museum and various of the big American institutions.

This page comes from the collection of Henri Vever (1854-1942) a successful Paris jeweller who was one of Europe’s great collectors of Oriental art in the late 19th and early 20th Century. His jewellery designs were often inspired by Oriental motifs and his interest in Oriental art helped inspire the Art Nouveau movement. A large number of his Japanese print collection was sold off in the 1920s, another in the 1970s and the final group at Sotheby’s in October 1997.

Chinese modern art

Chinese art has ended up in the UK in a variety of ways: looted in the sacking of the Summer Palace in 1860, during the Second Opium War; brought back by the missionaries, traders and administrators who worked in China during the 19th century; brought here by migrants who moved to Hong Kong and thence to the UK and bought by British visitors on trips to Far East. A lot of Chinese art is now going back to the East, bought up by prosperous Chinese.

Chiswick Auctions is looking for modern objects as well as Classical art. These two paintings above are by the Hong Kong artist Lui Shou-Kwan (1919 – 1975), perhaps the most important and influential Chinese ink painter of the 20th Century to have emerged from Hong Kong.

These have come from the collection of the English artist Margaret Cannon and were inherited by her family. This is often the way art comes to be resold at auction, but every now and then there is one of those Cash in the Attic moments so beloved by auction houses.

A car boot sale lucky find

This photograph album showing the fire at the Hong Kong Happy Valley Racecourse in 1918 was bought for 50p at a car boot sale and sold for in excess of £4,000 in a previous sale at Chiswick Auctions.

So if you have Chinese art – prints, jade ornaments or ceramics for example – that may have been in inherited or no longer brings you joy, that privately you regard as clutter that you’re not sure what to do with, you may want to think about getting it valued.

Deadline for entries for consignment for the 1 June auction: 2 April. Contact Lazarus at Chiswick Auctions by email at: or by phone at 0208 992 4442 / 07906 210 067.

Chinese Art: 100 Stories is carefully curated sale celebrating traditional Chinese myths and legends and the personal stories the objects hold. The curated sale is part of Chiswick Auctions Spring Asian Art Sale Season, on Tuesday 1 June 2021, and will include a specialist Asian Art sale featuring ceramics, jade, bronzes, artworks in cloisonné and fine paintings from China, Japan, Tibet, Korea and Southeast Asia.

This page is paid for by Chiswick Auctions

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See also: About Chiswick Auctions

See also: Profile of Leigh Osborne, owner of Chiswick Auctions

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