Nearly 70 lots were sold in the last weekend’s auction at Brunk. Most of them were appraised as medium-range items, from couple hundreds to a few thousand dollars and were sold within the estimates, however, fierce competition possibly between an on-site bidder and an internet bidder fired up the prices of a few items to astonishing sum.
“It was smooth, until they came up. I could not believe my eyes when seeing the numbers jumping up nonstop.” A friend of mine who was watching on LiveAuctioneers online commented.
Lot 494 is a monumental famille rose Chinese lidded jar with three interesting reserve paintings. It has a better name in China — “Jiang Jun Guan,” meaning General Jar, perhaps because of its gigantic size. Although possibly made in the early 20th century, it bears the provenance of Stair & Company, New York, 1983, and came from the estate of the late Herbert and Jean Schulman, Nashville, Tennessee.
According to Brunk Auctions, “Herbert and Jean Schulman were life long collectors. They created a dramatic, elegant home that was full of beautiful art and furniture and was also an inviting and stimulating place to entertain friends. These are some of the best and most beloved items from their collection.”
Although the internet bidders may not have known this particular collection, they certainly understood that an early transaction date eliminates the possibility of the jar being brand new. Such jars are among some of the most difficult pieces to make because of its sheer size. The marvelous skills demonstrated in this FenTsai jar overcame the possibility of its Republic period’s dating. It went to an on-site bidder for $23000 plus premium.
Lot 495 was estimated between $600 and $1200. It came from the estate of the late Isabel Johnston, Atlanta, Georgia.
An Chinese porcelain expert, Frank, told me through phone that this bowl was possibly dated from GuangXu period (1875-1905) in the style of QianLong reign. He commented a $1,000 price would be a good bargain and recommend me not to bid beyond $1,500 if I intended to bid. Although pink lotus flower pattern does not fit in my taste, I have noticed similar-patterned plates were sold much higher than the estimation in last year’s Eleanor Gordon sale at Sotheby’s. Still the final price ($10,000 plus premium) seemed to show that the winning Internet bidder may think it from QianLong period.
My favorite is lot 497, a famille rose charger, with two iron-red bats flying between branches bearing peaches, flowers, and branches. It bears blue Qianlong mark at the bottom. Seldom do I see the design that connects the inner painting with the painting on the outer surface. In China, it is called “Guo Zhi”, meaning “flowers cross the wall uniting inside with outward.”
Bats and peaches are common symbolic objects in Chinese decorative arts, corresponding to fortune(same pronunciation as bat) and longevity. Metropolitan Museum of Art has one QianLong famille rose vase with peaches so delicate that one could almost feel the velvety texture of the fruit. However, without the opportunity of examining the object in person, potential buyers are at the mercy of the photographers of the auction houses. Here neither Frank nor I could date the charger from the pictures online. Frank commented that the front looked fabulous as authentic QianLong period while the back photo told a different story. Apparantly, one internet bidder had probably done his homework and bid boldly against an onsite bidder and grabbed it for ten grand.
One of the last few lots offered a Chinese export silver bowl. It has the inscription of “Presented by the Imperial Chinese Government to/Captain A. Sharp U.S.N./in Commemoration of the Visit of the American Fleet to China/Amoy October 1908”. The bowl has an unusual elaborate border of dragons flying in the cloud.
According to Wikipedia, the Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the United States Navy battle fleet that completed a circumnavigation of the globe from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 by order of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It consisted of 16 battleships divided into four squadrons, along with various escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability. On Oct 24, 1908, the fleet was in Amoy (Xiamen today), one of the main export port in China and stayed there for a couple weeks. Possibly during that period, this bowl was made for the event.
I suspect not many commensurate bowls existing for this special around-globe circumnavigation. The result showed some bidders agreed with me. It went for $6500 eventually to an internet bidder, against the low estimation.
Will the bowl go back to China? I don’t know, but certainly the historic significance makes the bowl more than just a piece of decorative art object. During my research for the White Fleet, I found this picture depicting the fleet at Amoy. It was a rather boring picture, perhaps the actual circumnavigation was no more interesting either, with endless seas most of the time. I would rather just hold a beautiful bowl like that at home, if I had been the only person who knew the story behind it.