I am not sure I have ever seen Freeman’s auction so packed with furniture. Today’s American Furniture, Silver, Decorative & Folk Arts auction in Philadelphia featured an array in styles and quality, providing insights into market strengths.
The highlight for me was an architect’s desk once owned by Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll. Irish in origin, this item stood out in a sea of mahogany, walnut and maple. The provenance only enhanced the innovative design. Continue Reading »
Paintings by Wu Guangzhong, one of China’s most important contemporary artists, headline the biggest and most valuable sale to date at Surrey’s premier auctioneers Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers. The three-day Summer auction is on June 29, 30 and July 1.
Leading the sale are six works on paper by Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) from the private collection of Mrs Juan Chi, the owner of the Celadon Art Gallery which, until it closed in 2008, operated from premises in Princes Arcade, Piccadilly. Each of the six is worth £40,000-60,000, while among prized ceramics is a Yixing earthenware teapot by Jiang Rong (1919-2008) alone worth £10,000-12,000.
Mrs Chi was born in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin Province in northeast China, but moved to London to marry her British lawyer husband in 1996. She opened Celadon Gallery, strategically placed opposite the Royal Academy of Art, the following year, inviting living Chinese artists, both well known and less well known, to exhibit their work in a series of popular and successful shows. She organised further exhibitions at the annual International Art on Paper exhibitions held at the Royal College of Art. The gallery closed in the recession of 2008.
Her exhibition of works on paper by Wu Guanzhong, one of the major artistic figures of the 20th century both in China and the West, was a highlight of the gallery’s 10 years in operation. Aged 90 when he died last June, Wu Guanzhong had risen to become one of the most accomplished and influential artists of his generation.
He was born in Jiangsu Province and studied at the National Art School in Hangzhou and in Paris at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He returned to China and taught at the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing, but was exiled to the country during the Cultural Revolution. For the next two years, separated from his wife who had been sent to a different camp, he was forced to do the back-breaking work of a labourer, painting only when permitted, using any scraps of material he could find. He remarked later that he had belonged to the “dung basket school of painting”.
He was subsequently rehabilitated and allowed to take up painting once more, decorating hotels and public buildings before an exhibition of his work at the Central Academy in 1978 revived his fortunes. Major exhibitions followed at the British Museum in 1988, the US in 1989 and in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. His pictures, mainly landscapes of haunting beauty, blend Western oil painting techniques with traditional Chinese brush strokes and calligraphy. In 2009, his 1974 oil painting Panoramic View of the Yangtze River sold for $8.4 million at an auction in Beijing.
Known for preferring to give away his paintings rather than sell them, the six pictures in the Ewbank sale were given to Mrs Chi after they were exhibited at the International Art on Paper Fair in 2006. Each is signed and executed in ink and colour. Two dated 2001 and 2004 respectively are forest landscapes, two show views over village rooftops, one of which is dated ’94, and two others, each dated ’94, are mountainous views of villages and forests.
Master potter Jiang Rong is renowned for her highly naturalistic teapots decorated with fruit, flowers and animals, made from the unique Zisha clay found only in Yixing. Zisha teapots are treasured for their ability to enhance the flavour, aroma and texture of the drink. She learned her craft from her father and uncle and studied the arts of the famous Zisha masters of the Ming and Qing dynasties before joining the Yixing Zisha Industrial Art Manufacturing company in 1955. Her toad, water lily and seed pod teapot is among her masterpieces. It derives from the saying that “a toad never knows he is ugly” and interestingly, each seed impressed into the side of the pot can be rotated freely but cannot be removed.
Among a number of other teapots are two Yixing Zisha examples, each estimated at £3,000-5,000. One is modelled in red earthenware with a fruit finial and is inscribed around the bowl in Chinese, while the other, by Lu Wen Xia is modelled in cane-coloured earthenware as a woven basket with faux driftwood handle, spout and finial. Lu Wen Xia studied under Jiang Rong, among other masters, and her work, most in naturalistic themes that mimic bamboo and wood, is unique to her. Her husband, Lu Jian Xing, is a sculptor and teapot artist who collaborated with her on the making of this piece.
Elsewhere, the Juan Chi Collection includes porcelain, jade, glass, bronzes, cloisonné, calligraphy, drawings, scroll paintings and prints to be offered in 190 lots.
It is a tradition in Chinese culture that artisans of later generations imitate earlier works as part of the learning process. In Chinese, “Lao Fang” means imitation made before 1911 when Republic of China was founded, and “Min Guo Fang” are those made during the regime of the Chinese Nationalist Party. These are NOT, by any standard, forgeries but could confuse collectors by their hi fidelity and excellent craftsmanship.
A curious case came today at Midwest Auction Galleries, when the sale included a Qing Dynasty urn with Ming Dynasty mark. Lot 228 features a fairly large urn with Chinese character “double happiness”. The catalog says:
Possibly from the Jiaqing Period. Bears the 4 character mark in underglaze blue: “Cheng Hua Nian Zhi” which translates as “Made in Cheng Hua.” Very large measuring 17″ H x 10″ Dia. Private collection, Metamora, Michigan
Jiaqing ruled China from 1796 to 1820. It is generally consented that Qing Dynasty began to decline from his regime. The White Lotus Rebellion and the rampant opium were two causes that led to the falling of the empire. But the artisanship overall was kept at fairly high level, if not as great as that of his father Qianlong period.
The mark of the bottom of the urn says “Made In Cheng Hua”, which leads to an emperor of Ming Dynasty who ruled China in the second half of the 15th century. There is a good reason that porcelain artisans of later period seeks inspiration from works from Chenghua because the achievement of porcelain making with respect to quality, style and innovation was not rivaled until Yongzheng period, which was 150 years later. “Ming Kan Cheng Hua, Qing Kan Yong Zheng” was one of the famous old sayings of collecting procelain. It means the best Ming porcelain appears in Chenghua period while Yongzheng period produced the most consummate works in Qing Dynasty.
Ink blue porcelain came to a turning point in Chenghua period.
First the color changed from strong and exuberant of earlier period to restraint and paler. The blue material comes from Raozhou of Jiangxi province, which tends to be dainty in color. From this perspective, this one surely showcases an exquisite subtle blue evenly painted.
Secondly, the painting style of the ink blue porcelain also changed to be more feeble and graceful. In particular, “shuang gou” was used. Shuang gou or double-stroke is a term not as a specific calligraphy style, but as a technique used for both writing and painting. It basically means to to hollow out words or objects such that each stroke or gesture is represented by two strokes or gestures. (You may think of wood engraving.) The outlined strokes are often in darker blue color while inside the outline is painted in a textureless light blue.
Some collectors called such a style consummate naivity because children often draw the outlines first and then color objects in a flattening way.
Early scholars was puzzled that there were no big porcelainware from Chenghua period. Such a statement has been proved wrong because certain large (some unfortunately broken) works have been found recently. The scarcity of Chenhua porcelain has made the generalization of Chenghua period almost impossible because of the meager number of samples available.
The mark at the bottom betrayed the maker. The official kiln in Chenghua period had special personels whose job was to write the marks, which are also six-character mark ” Da Ming Cheng Hua Nian Zhi”, which means “Made in Chenghua period, Ming Dynasty”. None of the four-character-marked porcelain has been attributed to be authentic period works. In fact, because probably all marks were written by the same person, the particularity of these six characters has been summarized as one of the criteria for authentication.
Well, although it is a little bit disappointing to know that this lot is not a real Chenghua masterpiece, it is still desirable and surely beautiful to behold. In fact, I would be more conservative to comment if it had a six-character mark, because modern forgery uses all these tricks to confuse collectors while the incentive to forge a late imitation work is not great enough. A Chenghua porcelain was sold at Sotheby’s HongKong a few days ago for 36 million HK dollars, while a Jiaqing imitation work can be found regularly in Chinese antique markets. Since I am not anywhere near the position to obtain an authentic Chenghua porcelain, I would not be tempted if there were one with an affordable price tag.
Below is the Chuanhua porcelain that made the news at Sotheby’s.
If you are interested in learning more about those four-character “Chenghua” mark from the Qing Dynasty and want to know which mark leads to which Qing emperor period, this is the page you should refer to. You don’t have to read Chinese, just focus on the shape of the character, and be critical and firm on attribution, you will find it is not that hard.