A spring in the market for Asian art

Twice a year - once in the spring, and again in the autumn - the UK’s salerooms hold specialist events devoted to Asian art.


This painting on lacquered paper, a study of a leafy branch with chestnuts, is signed by Shibata Zeshin (1807-91). Acquired at Mayuyama, Tokyo in 1968, and thence by descent to the current owner, it is guided at £3000-5000 as part of Roseberys’ Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art sale on May 16-17.

Finding enough great objects to feed a global collecting habit doesn’t get any easier, but once more a wealth of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other Eastern works of art will come for sale in the final two weeks of May.

Searching the sales listed on TheSaleroom.com will reveal objects catering to all budgets and tastes from the classic wares of Song dynasty China to the alluring arts of Edo and Meiji Japan.

A selection of highlights appears here.

May 12 TSR Dreweatts

Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art & Japanese, Indian & Islamic Ceramics & Works of Art sale on May 17-18 includes a very rare Xuande (1426-35) mark and period cloisonné ‘pomegranate’ box and cover.

It comes from the collection of the late Major Edward Copleston Radcliffe (1898-1967), having been acquired at Sotheby’s in London in 1946 and then exhibited in the National Gallery of South Africa’s Chinese Exhibition in Cape Town in 1953. It is one of only five known examples and seemingly the only one to remain in private hands. Dr Yingwen Tao, specialist in Chinese and Asian Art at Dreweatts believes all were made by the same craftsman for the emperor.

“There is every indication that all five were made in the same Imperial workshop as crucially all are doubly marked with an incised Xuande six-character reign mark on the underside of the box and the interior of the cover. They also all have similar designs and are uniform in size [5in (12cm) in diameter].”

Dreweatts found the piece among other Chinese works of art still displayed in a cabinet in the attic of a family home as it had been when Major Radcliffe died in 1967. 

This box has a printed estimate of £6000-10,000 although Dreweatts now believe that is “now looking extremely modest, even in its slightly damaged condition.”

May 12 TSR Woolley

This rare 2ft 7in (78cm) high white marble stele depicting the Buddhist goddess Guanyin was carved in the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577AD), around the time of the Sutton Hoo hoard.

Estimated at £40,000- 60,000 it comes for sale as part of the Fine Chinese Works of Art and Paintings sale at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury on May 24 as part of a consignment from the family of the Belgian engineer, financier, and noted collector Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949).

It was exhibited at ‘Art Bouddhique’, in Paris at the Musée Cernuschi in 1913 and pictured in the catalogue of the Adolphe Stoclet collection (part I) that was published in Brussels in 1956.

May 12 TSR Mallams

This special edition of A Japanese Collection (1898) by Michael Tomkinson (1841-1921) is one of the first 25 copies printed on Indian paper and is signed and dedicated by the author to his daughter Dora.

The two volumes highlight Tomkinson's famous collection of ceramics, ivories, swords, textiles, lacquers, and numerous other Japanese works of art. Mallams, that sold a similar set dedicated by Tomkinson his son Raymond in 2019, expect it to make £1500-2000 on May 24.

May 12 TSR Bonhams

This 16in (41cm) blue and white sleeve vase from the Transitional period has a guide of £8000-12,000 at the Bonhams Knightsbridge sale titled Asian Art on May 15. Made in the reign of Chongzhen (1627-44), the last of the Ming emperors, it is painted with a scene from the literary epic, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

May 12 TSR Sworders

The oshi-e technique, meaning ‘pressed picture’ involves folding and pressing scraps of fabric, such as kimono cloth, and washi paper to create an image. It is still a popular pastime today although its origins lie in the Edo period and Kyoto's aristocratic classes. 

Sworders’ Asian art sale on May 19 includes, estimated at £10,000-20,000, this Meiji period oshi-e tapestry depicting craftsmen and sculptors carving and chiselling a giant Nio statue.

It measures 112 x 70cm and is housed in a wood frame carved with millefleurs incorporating chrysanthemum and scrolling leaves. The needlework is signed Seppo.

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