Ancient Chinese Jade Ceremonial Blade Discovered

A rare archaistic Chinese jade ceremonial blade from the late Shang/early Zhou Dynasty (11th - 15th century BC) with important collectors’ labels, inscribed with a translation of the engraved Chinese calligraphy which reads: ‘In the Royal 12th year in the 1st Moon, and the fortunate 1st day of the King whilst staying in the Capital caused to be made this blade of jade. May it be for perpetual use.’
A rare archaistic Chinese jade ceremonial blade from the late Shang/early Zhou Dynasty (11th – 15th century BC) with important collectors’ labels, inscribed with a translation of the engraved Chinese calligraphy which reads: ‘In the Royal 12th year in the 1st Moon, and the fortunate 1st day of the King whilst staying in the Capital caused to be made this blade of jade. May it be for perpetual use.’

A rare and important archaistic Chinese jade ceremonial blade from the late Shang/early Zhou Dynasty (11th – 15th century BC) has been discovered by Toovey’s specialist, Mark Stonard. This remarkable object formed part of the collection of the late Fred Clark, a gifted and meticulous antiquarian, whose collector’s label it bears.

It is believed that Fred Clark bought it in the years immediately after the Second World War. The blade has an older hand written paper label which offers a translation of the Chinese calligraphy engraved into the jade and also a printed paper segment which reads ‘Beasley Collection’.

It is always the cause of some excitement when an archaic piece surfaces bearing the name of the early 20th century collector Harry Geoffrey Beasley (1882-1939).

Between 1895 and 1939 Beasley put together one of the largest collections of ethnographic material in Britain. The collection was formed of more than 10,000 objects from Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, and across the world. In the years after Beasley’s death in 1939 the majority of the collection was donated to leading British Museums.

The Chinese have always prized jade more highly than gold. This hard translucent stone has, over the centuries, been worked into decorative and ritual objects as well as ceremonial weapons.

Jade was worn by kings and nobles in life and was buried with them, affording the material a high status and associations with immortality.

The Chinese way of life was based on a combination of faith, tradition and ethics which bound families and communities together. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), emphasized the moral responsibility that accompanies authority. Confucius established a school with a radical new principal of accepting students of sufficient intelligence regardless of their background or ability to pay. He combined this belief in meritocracy with a faith in the generous order of a hierarchical society. The hierarchical principles expressed in Confucianism may, perhaps, give some insight into the use of this jade blade. A ruler had a right to obedience and respect but equally had a duty to act justly in the best interests of his subjects. Many academics believe that jade objects like this blade were symbols of office. If this is correct it is probable that blades of this type were used in a similar way to ceremonial jade Kuei tablets of the period. A high ranking courtier would have held the blade to his mouth and spoken through it when addressing the Emperor.

When you hold this ancient ceremonial blade you become aware of the exquisite workmanship employed in its making. The balance and line of the blade work in concert with the patterns in the jade. It has the power to move you and a particular, vital quality to it.

This late Shang/early Zhou Dynasty jade ceremonial blade has just returned from exhibition at the International Asian Art week in London where it attracted much attention and is expected to realise thousands of pounds when it is auctioned at Toovey’s specialist Asian Art sale on Thursday 30th November 2017.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

£132,000 Chinese Discovery in West Sussex

The pair of Chinese imperial famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies
The pair of Chinese imperial famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies

A pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled porcelain tea caddies dating from the Qing dynasty have just sold at Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers for £132,000. They were being displayed on a window sill in a Sussex home when they caught the eye of a Toovey’s valuer during a routine visit. The result illustrates the strength of Chinese Hong Kong collectors and the benefits of the post-Brexit pound which have caused prices and competition from abroad to soar.

Today’s Chinese collectors are following in the tradition of the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) who was the last of the great imperial art collectors and patrons in Chinese history. His genuine passion for art and collecting seems to have been inspired by his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722), and his uncle Yinxi (1711-1758).

The Qianlong emperor was prolific in his collecting applying an exceptional personal connoisseurship not only to the acquisition of art and antiquities but also to his patronage. His collection would number more than a million objects. It included the collection of the Ming emperors (1368-1644) which was the oldest art collection in the world with a continuous collecting tradition dating back over 1600 years.

The Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in porcelain production and was an ardent collector of it. Many of the types of porcelain associated with the Qianlong emperor, however, were seeded under the Emperor Yongzheng’s supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Tang Ying (1682-1756).

Toovey’s Asian Art Specialist, Tom Rowsell, with the £132,000 pair of Qianlong period tea caddies
Toovey’s Asian Art Specialist, Tom Rowsell, with the £132,000 pair of Qianlong period tea caddies

Toovey’s Asian art specialist, Tom Rowsell, explains “The mid-18th century porcelain designers had an unprecedented freedom due to their technical understanding of glazes. This resulted in enamelled wares often decorated with dense, complex and colourful designs as you can see on the side panels of this remarkable pair of Qianlong period tea caddies from the imperial kilns. Their shape and proportion is typically well judged and shows the influence of European taste, the superb fine white bodies and beautifully ordered and executed decoration are quintessentially of the period.”

The densely decorated sides of the Chinese famille rose tea caddies, typical of the Qianlong period (1735-1796)
The densely decorated sides of the Chinese famille rose tea caddies, typical of the Qianlong period (1735-1796)

I comment on the virtuosity in the contrast between the restrained depiction of the blossoming branches and flowering stems which enfold the finely executed text, and the polychrome enamelled sides densely filled with lotus flowers and scrolling tendrils on the yellow and iron red grounds. Tom agrees and says “This technical excellence and style is explained by the production processes refined by Tang Ying at Jingdezhen. Tang Ting was the foremost ceramic expert in China. He was summoned to Beijing in 1743 to illustrate and catalogue the imperial collection and described the process of porcelain manufacture in twenty steps. This led to an elaborate division of labour at the imperial kilns so that no one person was responsible for the production of a single piece at Jingdezhen.”

Today’s Chinese collectors are as passionate in their collecting as their imperial forebears and the market shows no signs of abating. If you would like advice on your Chinese objects Tom Rowsell can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The International Appeal of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

A £30,000 Chinese Kangxi period blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), finely painted with a continuous scene of poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits
A £30,000 Chinese Kangxi period blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), finely painted with a continuous scene of poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits

A remarkable selection of Chinese blue and white porcelain dating from the late 16th to the early 18th century has just been sold at auction by Toovey’s in their December specialist Asian Art sale. This important collection was bought in the 1960s and 1970s in London. Its sale attracted international attention.

A Chinese blue and white Kraak porcelain dish, late Ming dynasty, from the Wanli period
A Chinese blue and white Kraak porcelain dish, late Ming dynasty, from the Wanli period

Chinese blue and white has from the 16th century appealed to an international market. The decorative designs of late 16th century blue and white porcelain had been characterized by panels filled with flowers, precious objects and Buddhistic emblems in often repeated patterns, contained within compartmentalized borders. These motifs can be seen on the Wanli period Kraak porcelain dish seen here.

The Manchu threat meant that money was diverted to the Ming army which, together with the luxury and corruption of the Court of Wanli, deprived the kilns at Jingdezhen of imperial patronage. This had a liberating effect on the Jingdezhen potters and by the time of the death of the Ming Emperor, Wanli (1572-1620) a noticeable shift in the design and decoration of Chinese porcelain had occurred. This new and exceptional work would span the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties and is therefore termed the ‘Transitional period’. The Transitional style was more painterly than anything that had gone before. It is filled with movement; the figures appear natural and at ease. Perhaps it was influenced by the tastes of the Dutch merchants for whom much of this blue and white porcelain was produced.

A £37,000 rare Chinese Transitional period, mid-17th Century, blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), decorated with horses and three female acrobat riders
A £37,000 rare Chinese Transitional period, mid-17th Century, blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), decorated with horses and three female acrobat riders

The decoration of Transitional period porcelain typically employs naturalistic themes depicting, beasts, flowers and most especially figure subjects. Figure subjects on Transitional wares are often united by a narrative following the traditions of Chinese opera which incorporated music, song, dance and acrobatics as well as literary art forms. The finely painted ‘bitong’ or brush pot illustrated dates from the mid-17th century. It is a fine example of Transitional period porcelain, decorated with a continuous scene depicting horses and three female acrobat riders galloping through a woodland landscape with trees, rocks and mist. This rare object, measuring 22cm in height, realised £37,000 in Toovey’s December specialist Asian Art auction.

The Transitional aesthetic would continue into the first twenty years of the reign of the Qing Emperor, Kangxi (1662-1722). Kangxi was the fourth and arguably the most famous Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. His reign was marked by long-term stability and a period of relative prosperity.

The Kangxi period is renowned in the history of blue and white porcelain. In 1683 the Imperial Court appointed a director of the factory in Jingdezhen. The restoration of court patronage raised standards even further.

The exceptional quality of the painting and clear cobalt blue distinguishes Kangxi blue and white porcelain and is apparent in the decoration of the brush pot seen here. Our eyes are met by a continuous scene reminiscent of the Transitional with poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits. Some sit at a table playing Weiqi whilst a lute is played. Two figures and an attendant look on as a scholar writes. It fetched £30,000 at Toovey’s reflecting the international appeal and technical brilliance of Kangxi blue and white porcelain, which many ceramic historians believe has never been surpassed.

If you would like more information or advice on your Chinese porcelain and works of art email auctions@tooveys.com or telephone Toovey’s specialist, Tom Rowsell, on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

China, the Maturing Market

The British Embassy in Beijing
The British Embassy in Beijing

The thing which never ceases to surprise me about doing business with the Chinese, in mainland China and here in the UK, is the phenomenal speed with which this creative and dynamic nation are adapting and changing in order to do business in the global economy.

In 2013 Toovey’s, together with a group of the UK’s leading regional auctioneers, formed the Association of Accredited Auctioneers (AAA) and were invited to China to form an exclusive working relationship with Epai Live, China’s largest mainland online auction platform for the marketing of art and antiques. The introduction of British auction practice and ethics was seen as an important part of this relationship in Beijing.

Rupert Toovey pictured here at the British Embassy in Beijing with Dr Qi Qi Jiang of Epai Live and Mr Gan Xuejun from the Chinese auction house, Huachen
Rupert Toovey pictured here at the British Embassy in Beijing with Dr Qi Qi Jiang of Epai Live and Mr Gan Xuejun from the Chinese auction house, Huachen

The British Embassy hosted the launch of this agreement which was signed by the Epai Live Chief Executive, Dr Qi Qi Jiang and attracted much attention in the Chinese media.

A series of promotional lectures have established relationships with mainland collectors and the emerging aspirational professional class. Working with Epai Live continues to allow Toovey’s to overcome the obstacle of the Chinese internet firewall in order to market directly to Chinese mainland collectors.

There have been extraordinary developments in this market with an increasing connoisseurship evident amongst Chinese mainland collectors and specialist dealers. This rapid maturing of this is enormously important to the long term health of this market. The strength of demand has to date shown no signs of abating.

The Qianlong (1736-1795) Chinese famille rose vase sold at Toovey’s for £520,000
The Qianlong (1736-1795) Chinese famille rose vase sold at Toovey’s for £520,000

Demand from China has had a profound effect on collectors’ markets. Together with India, China looks set to recover its historic economic position. Between 1500 and 1850 AD China and India accounted for between 50% and 60% of the World’s GDP. Britain has the most varied and largest art and antiques market in the European Union, and the third largest internationally next to the US and China. Tom Rowsell, head of the specialist Chinese and Oriental sales at Toovey’s commented “In a few short years China has established itself as the world’s largest antiques market. The new super-rich Chinese elite have the money and the desire to dominate the market. Many of the strongest results in the UK are in the regions. Take for example the Chinese famille rose and pea green ground vase dating from the reign of the Emperor Qianlong which realised £520,000 at Toovey’s. It was sold to a Chinese mainland collector.”

Many areas of China’s economic activity appear to be slowing but their desire to acquire Chinese and increasingly European art and antiques remains undiminished – a trend which looks set to continue in this maturing sector of the collectors’ market.

Tom Rowsell concludes “Toovey’s have specialised in Chinese porcelain and works of art for almost twenty years, with a long standing Chinese client base. But we are continuing to successfully build relationships with new, emerging Chinese mainland collectors through our business activities out there, working with China’s leading collectors’ internet platform EpaiLive.”

Exciting times in this maturing international market!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st October 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Chinese Jade Prized more Highly than Gold

An 18th century Chinese carved jade table screen, auctioned by Toovey’s for £120,000
An 18th century Chinese carved jade table screen, auctioned by Toovey’s for £120,000
Rupert Toovey in China
Rupert Toovey in China

The Chinese have always prized jade more highly than gold. This hard translucent stone has, over the centuries, been worked into decorative and ritual objects, as well as ceremonial weapons.

Jade was worn by kings and nobles in life and was buried with them, affording the material a high status and associations with immortality. Later it was the exquisite objects fashioned from this remarkable stone which continued to be highly prized, connecting the Ming and the Qing periods with earlier times.

A Chinese Imperial quality jade archer’s ring, Qing dynasty, sold at Toovey’s for £40,000
A Chinese Imperial quality jade archer’s ring, Qing dynasty, sold at Toovey’s for £40,000

The English translated the Chinese word ju as jade. Our interpretation of jade is narrower than that of the Chinese including only nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is typically white in colour. However, the presence of copper, chromium and iron can gift it with colours ranging from subtle grey-greens to brilliant yellows and reds. Jadeite has an even broader spectrum of colours and was notably employed from the 18th century.

It was an extraordinary moment when I discovered the exquisite small jade table screen in a modest flat in Richmond. It realized £120,000 in a Toovey’s specialist Chinese and Asian Art Sale, selling to a Chinese connoisseur. The 18th century panel is delicately carved with a shoreside scene. It portrays a meeting of scholars. In the corner you see nine beautiful lines of calligraphic text. On the reverse is a scene depicting a figure in a garden hut; six further figures sit beside a stream flowing from a waterfall. Jade workshops created pictures on jade, often following the themes and conventions of Chinese painting. Chinese depictions of nature are seldom just representations of the landscape. Rather, they reflect the artist’s spiritual, emotional and intellectual reaction to the natural world. It is a tradition which connects the artist with their ancient civilisation.

An 18th century Chinese pale celadon jade lotus bowl and a cover, sold at Toovey’s for £52,000
An 18th century Chinese pale celadon jade lotus bowl and a cover, sold at Toovey’s for £52,000

The 18th century Chinese pale celadon jade lotus bowl’s decoration reflects the influence of Buddhism. The lotus flower, upon which the form of this bowl is modelled, represents purity and enlightenment. Repeated lotus flowers also decorate the lid. The body has a frieze of petals each containing one of Buddhism’s eight emblems, including the Dharma Wheel. The wheel symbolises the auspicious qualities of the turning of the Buddha’s teachings, in all realms and at all times, enabling beings to experience the joy of servanthood and liberation. The bowl and cover was auctioned at Toovey’s for £52,000.

An 18th century Chinese archaistic jade libation vessel and cover, sold at Toovey’s for £70,000
An 18th century Chinese archaistic jade libation vessel and cover, sold at Toovey’s for £70,000

The term libation refers to the ritual pouring of a liquid as an offering to a god or a spirit. The Chinese traditionally poured rice wine or tea left to right in front of an altar as an offering to their gods in honour of the deceased. The Chinese archaistic jade libation vessel once again dates from the 18th century. The sides are finely carved with stylized birds against clouds whilst the handle is entwined by a dragon. This ritual object was sold at Toovey’s for £70,000.

The ceremonial Chinese Imperial quality jade archer’s ring dates from the Qing dynasty. It is carved in the form of a horse’s hoof and finely incised with an eight line text. The characters are heightened with gilding. It realised £40,000 at Toovey’s.

The Chinese and Asian Art Department at Toovey’s has been established for twenty years. Over all these years the Antiques Roadshow specialist, Lars Tharp, has worked closely with Toovey’s resident specialist, Tom Rowsell. Toovey’s particular success has been to connect its selling clients directly with wealthy Chinese mainland collectors who, like their forebears, value jade more highly than gold. Tom and Lars are always pleased to discuss the acquisition or sale of Chinese and Asian Art. They can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 26th August 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.