Friday, June 29, 2012

Chinese Porcelain, Bronzes, Carpets, Paintings From North Shore and New England Estates

A brief look at Chinese Porcelain, Bronzes, Carpets, Paintings  From North Shore and New England Estates

Over the years a common question folks ask me is, what kinds of Chinese porcelain and objects are you likely to find in houses in New England? Fortunately our area is rich in dense pockets of Asian and in particular Chinese and Japanese art. Most of it remains from simply having been passed down from family member to family member as estates are settled and heirs take possession quietly from generation to generation. Its the ultimate in trickle down ownership.

Nearly all of it arrived here during the period of 1790 to 1930.  140 years of  trade with the far east interrupted a few times by the war of 1812, Civil War and WWI. Interestingly during the early years most of what was brought here was newly made for the European and American markets.  By the late 19th and early 20th C. tastes had broadened around the world including New England and the objects of desire from China and Japan became much earlier examples, from the early Qing Dynasty Circa 1720 back to the Tang Dynasty Circa 800 AD and before. In Europe their period of trade with Asia is even a longer period of time starting nearly 300 years earlier during the Ming Dynasty around 1517 AD. By 1602 with the formation of the VOC  the Dutch East India Company it all went into high gear like never before.

With all this, after thousands of ships over hundreds of years, carrying millions of tons of cargo its no surprise thousands of non consumable items are left in tact, i.e. Silks, Jades, Porcelain, Carvings and paintings. As family's downsize they trickle into the market, we're very glad they do.

Qianlong Lotus bowl
Qianlong Period Famille Rose Bowl
So, here are a few of the things we've seen, bought, sold and enjoyed since 1979.

As time permits we'll put up more...much more.

Get in touch with me if you want to know more, or get help in selling an item.

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs
Gloucester, MA 978-283-3524
Chinese Porcelain, Bronzes, Carpets, Paintings  From North Shore and New England Estates
Chinese Porcelain, Bronzes, Carpets, Paintings  From North Shore and New England Estates

Export Porcelain China Trade
Late 18th C. Chinese Export Chocolate Pot
China trade teapot 18th C
Chinese Export Grisaille Tea Pot for the European market 
Yongzheng Famille Rose Charger
Chinese Famille Rose Export Charger, Yongzheng period
Kangxi Period blue and white Kendi
Kangx Period Blue and White Kendi, Circa 1710

Chinese Export teapot
Late 18th C. Chinese Export Porcelain Tea pot
Wucai wanli jar
Late Ming Wucai Decorated Chinese Jar
Famille Jaune famille vert vase
Pair of Chinese Famille Jaune Vases, 18" tall, Circa 1890
Kakiemon plate japanese
Japanese Kakiemon Plate with Crackle Glaze, Circa 1690
Rouge de fer Chinese export porcelain
Rouge de Fur Qianlong Plates, Qianlong Period
Rare ming jar and lid
Ming Jiajing Period Covered Jar ( 1521–1567)
Kangxi kesi panel
Early Qing Dynasty Kesi Panel, 18th C. 
Chinese qianlong foo lion rug
Qianlong Period Foo Lion Carpet, Circa 1750
Qianlong court scroll painting
Qianlong period Colors on Silk Painting, 18th C.  
Scroll After Castiglione
Qianlong blue and white export platter
Fine Blue and White China Trade Platter, 18th C. 

ming Buddha porcelain statue

kangxi Famille verte figure
Fine Kangxi period Famille Verte on Bisuit Ho Ho Boy

Qing dynasty bronze quanyin
Qing Dynasty Cast Bronze

Pair Chinese famille jaune vases with verte enamels
Qing Dynasty Famille Jaune Enamel vase, 19th C. 

Famille Rose Chinese Export Porcelain Plate
Famille Rose Chinese Export Porcelain Plate, Circa 1860

Famille Rose Bowl
Chinese 18th C. Famille Rose Bowl

Chinese Export Plates with Monogram plcombs
Late 18th Early 19th C. Chinese Export Plates with Monogram

Tea dust glaze Yongzheng Bowl north shore
Yongzheng Period (1723-1735) Tea Dust Glaze Bowl 

Song celadon Massachusetts collection
Late Song Dynasty Celadon Bowl, 12th C.

chinese blue and white vase Boston massachusetts collection
Late 18th to early 19th C. Chinese Blue and White vase

Youngzheng famille rose vases, Beverly Mass collection
Pair of Fine Famille Rose vases, (1723-1735)

Famille Rose export vase, Boston collection
Famille Rose Mandarin Decorated vase, Circa 1835
Boston North Shore collection Chinese art
Late 19th C. Chinese Famille Verte On Biscuit Lion
Chinese Jun vase Hamilton Collection
Yuan to Early Ming Period Chinese Jun Double Gourd Vase

Pair Chinese Transitional vase manchester Mass collection
Fine Pair Chinese Transitional Period Vases early 17th C. 
Massachusetts collection Kangxi period bowl
Kangxi Period Blue and White Jardiniere, Circa 1680 

Famille Rose porcelain box Boston collection
Fine Pair of 19th C. Famille Rose Chinese Porcelain Boxes

Chinese flambe glaze yixing vase Dupont family collection
18th C. Flambe Glazed Chinese Yixing Meiping vase

Chinese rare famille verte bowl Beverly massachusetts
Kangxi Period Famille Verte Bowl, Circa 1700

rare arita bowl Massachusetts collection
Fine 18th C. Japanese Arita Blue and White Bowl
North SHore Collection Chinese blanc de chine rhino cup
Fine Chinese Blanc de Chine Libation Cup, 18th C. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Chinese Art Market Bubble

Yes The Bubble of all Market Bubbles, Chinese Art and Antiques

Its no secret that over the last 20 years the amount of private wealth in China has risen dramatically.Whenever you have a rapid expansion wealth, in particular extreme wealth, money starts to get spent on everything from luxury cars, jewelry, larger and better houses, vacations, yachts, jewelry and of course art. All very normal.

The Chinese Art Market Bubble
Rare late 18th C Qianlong Vase,
Sold at Christies for 2.2 million British Pounds
From this spring board formed by new cash wealth Chinese business people began buying art from their own cultural past. Chinese art has long been collected in the west as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but buyers in Mainland China were less active due to the oppressive regime imposed by Mao during his reign of abuse and murder.  It was a very bad time to be a collector in China, it could cost you your life as it was viewed as a very anti communist pursuit. In fact many in Mainland China hid works of art and cultural rarity's for decades waiting for a time when owning and selling them would be more legal and acceptable, clearly that time has come.

Happily Communism failed as it has everywhere around the world and Communist China was forced to embrace capitalism to support the dying communist cause. Slowly China's strict controls on foreign trade have relaxed, bringing a better life for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens and money, lots of it.

As these controls have been relaxed, the entry into the world art market by Chinese nationals has created enormous pressure on prices,  Chinese Imperial porcelains to carved jades and 20th C. Scroll paintings have all spiked in value. You name it, if its a Chinese antique or painting created for the domestic market, its worth more in most cases by multiples over a couple decades ago.

China's rapid economic expansion has created a bubble..a huge bubble in the art market.

Qianlong vase at Bonhams
Rare Qianlong vase, Sold by Bohnams London,
$14,000,000, yes MILLION!
I know many will argue, the prices are only stabilizing and the idea of a bubble is silly, but then that's what everyone says about bubbles.

Sorry, the Chinese Art market bubble is very real and the latest auction sale's results prove it with the number of unsold lots for middle range items increasing. The first stage in a bubble getting ready to burst is a leveling off of values, starting first with the less than top range material. High auction gross sales mixed with widening Buy In ratios indicates weakness.

This burst could be accelerated if the Chinese Government is unable to sustain it's economic growth at the rate it has been for the past decade and a half. Weakened financial markets in the EU , South America and more competition from India may exacerbate and work against China's growth.

In the art market you've always had two basic groups; The true trophies and everything else. The TRUE TROPHIES are the best of the best by category. These items drive the entire market right down to the prices realized on a Saturday after noon estate auction in central Maine.  When the top of the market feels a category flattening out or weaken, not unlike Dominoes the entire sector does as well. It may also spread to related groups almost like an infection. The Japanese art market collapsed 20 years ago and has never come back as did the buying by the Japanese for Impressionist paintings.

Record Price for Modern Chinese painting Boston
Qi Baishi Painting $65, 000,000
sold By Guardian Auctions , Hong Kong
The Middle market, always feels it first. As we've seen over the last 10 years with American Furniture and decorative art, the prices have plummeted. The bureau that sold for $50,000 a few years ago, struggles to reach $20,000 today. American Folks art has become even more vulnerable, the once "wonderful" thing is now relegated to being "interesting". With the exception of paintings and the top 1%, the rest is now just stuff once again and values have dropped by as much as 80%.

Will all of the Chinese prices drop hard? No, the top will likely level off with the possible exception of paintings and the very very finest pieces still reaching new highs, but everything less than spectacular will be bought with more selectivity. This "selectivity" will bring more sales results like those conducted by Christie's and Sothebys this past Spring in New York, London and Hong Kong. The very top pieces fresh to the market did great, the rest? Not so much with "buy-ins" due to excessive estimates and lesser demand coupled for weak results in those category's.

In the not too distant future, within 2 years, the weakening interest in the upper middle market down to the bottom end i.e. things selling for under $10,000 will become weaker still. More and more folks who bought during the boom will switch from collector driven to protecting capital investment driven as they see lower prices in the auction market and fewer items making reserves.. This will cause a growing flood of goods into the market, starting with Jades, Rhino Horns (stupidly overpriced) and of course porcelains.


The flip downside of bubbles can also be seen when those driving a market begin to diversify their buying. This is happening today in China. In the last few years, Jackson Pollocks', fine French furniture, Dutch paintings and rare watches as well as fine jewelry have become in vogue. Tastes in China are broadening, this will further weaken demand for Chinese works of art, with the exception of the great rarity.

Fakes and the Chinese Antiques Market

Adding fuel to the fire many collectors will learn that what they bought are fakes over the last 20 years.

These fakes have been pumped out of China by forgers like oil out of the Bahken and have flooded the lower end auction houses across America for years.  From Skinners in Boston to DuMuochelles in Detroit and Sloans and Kenyon in Maryland they have all moved millions of dollars in modern reproductions to unwitting amateur buyers all of whom were hoping to score on an overlooked rarity. Does this mean these small auction houses never sell authentic items? No, it doesn't, however they simply have very poor history's with regards to authentication and providing accurate pre-sale descriptions, leaving the buyer with having to make the decision of authentication with no help from the auctioneer, while in many cases claiming defacto "expertise" on their websites.

Smaller Auction Houses and Fakes

For the most part these auction houses, knew or should have known so many of these items are reproductions, did refrain in most cases from dating or giving any indication of authenticity for the lots being sold. In other words, "you are the experts, not us". For proof of this duplicity you only need look at their auction estimates.  These estimates say they either have no idea what they are doing, or are witting partners in this fraud, or are just trying to make a buck while covering their behinds. Either way, the buyer's lose.

These realizations by owners of  fakes will cause more objects to enter the market as their owners desperately try to get rid of them and recoup the money spent. In reaction the major auction houses i.e. Christies (my personal favorite), Sothebys, Bonhams  and Gaurdian in Hong Kong will impose provenance requirements for consignors to meet. (Who you bought objects from does not create provenance.) Causing a second flood onto the market via the same auction houses who sold many of the fakes originally and may now be less wiling to re-sell. Or if they are willing to re-sell them they will require most likely those same old low estimates, leaving the seller with a Hobson's choice.
plcombs, Dealers and Appraisers of Asian Antiques and Art
plcombs, Dealers and Appraisers of Asian Antiques and Art
stricter and stricter

It will be a mess. Jades have already started to weaken as they are by far the largest group of reproductions on the market numbering in the Millions. Many of which have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars as authentic early examples. Jades can be very difficult to authenticate as to when they were carved as is the case with anything carved from stone of any kind.

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs
Gloucester, MA 978-283-3524

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chinese Ivory Carvings a Brief History Over 2000 Years.

Chinese Ivory Carvings a Brief History Over 2000 Years.
Rare 18th C. Qianlong Imperial Court Fan

Chinese Ivory Carvings a Brief History Over 2000 Years.

By the end of the end of the 18th C. westerners had been exposed to the amazing skills with which the Chinese had been able to carve Elephant Ivory's through the items brought back during the China Trade Era.

The skill with which they were executed was unsurpassed any where in the world including Japan, long known for fine Ivory carvings. These stunningly fine works were the result of  2,000 years of evolution, through trial and error, thousands of different types of tools have been developed just for this craft. Eventually these objects were fashioned into finely worked Imperial fans adorned with exotic elements such as carved Horn bill with Enamel handles.

The Shang Dynasty (16th C. to 11 C B.C.)
The history of carving Ivory in China is a long an interesting one. The tradition of carving Ivories not surprisingly had its start in the Shang Dynasty  with the carving of animal bones. The material used most commonly came from pigs, dogs, ox and deer including the antlers.

Shang dynasty ivory Marblehead hamilton collection
Shang Dynasty Bone Cup with
Turquoise Inlay
Prior to the start of the Sino-Japanese War the Academia Sinica began a program of excavations near the Shang capital, over the years since then vast amounts of material and knowledge surrounding the origins of this tradition has been gathered and further increased exponentially with additional archaeological discovery's. These later discovery's covered a fairly large area, ranging from the Shang capital of Anyang in the Henan Province all the way south to Sichuan. These later finds revealed not only carved bones but a massive early carved elephant ivory industry as is evidenced by the exhumation of over 70 ivory tusks originally harvested from Asian elephants. However the largest physical sites discovered are by far in the area of the capital. These sites cover thousands of meters across and thousands of objects.

The rarest of the Shang bone carvings are usually in the form of  cups with turquoise inlay. Often taking the form similar to bronzes of the era.

During the Shang Dynasty most of the carving consisted of fairly simple forms and shapes ranging
Asian Art Online Magazine
from beads, pendants, garment hooks, hairpins, arrowheads and so forth. The decorations were usually simple ones with incised designs, simple painting of pieces and inlaying them with various forms of turquoise, shells and small stones. Numerous hairpins have been found and over the years comprising over 8 types based on shape, size and carving, many having animal heads, birds etc. Interestingly archelogists found these rather odd looking Spatula shaped carvings in both Royal tombs and those of  civilians. What they were used for remained a mystery for a long time until it was realized they weren't for serving food, but were in fact early Shuttles used in weaving. Similar in use to the shuttle cock used elsewhere around the world.

Boston collection Zhou Dynasty Bone Carvings
Zhou Dynasty Bone Carvings
The carving skills mastered during the Shang Dynasty transitioned as many artistic endeavors do in China into it's successor the Zhou Dynasty.  By then the workshops producing bone and ivory had become very sophisticated. New polishing techniques had been invented, with the advent of a primitive lathe smooth even circular objects were being made and carving techniques had evolved resulting in a very defined division of labor. The scale of production had become more of a commercial enterprise as demand for output grew almost endlessly. Much of the production resembled contemporary items produced in bronze and other materials. Hairpins, arrowheads, and Spatulas continued to dominate much of the output as well as elaborate combs with straight sides as well as lunar or crescent shaped  examples as China entered the Warring States Period. (475-221 B.C.)
During the Warring States Period carving evolved very little with the exception scabbards and  common jade forms being introduced, which since 1900  have since been found in numerous tombs. The other carvings include small pendants and disks known as Bi found buried in Houma and Shanxi.

The Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.)
<img src="Ming Ivory.jpg" alt="Carved relief worked ivory box ">
Ming Dynasty Low Relief  Carved Ivory Box
The carving industry continued to produce similar forms in jade, ivory and bone. The styles were often remarkably similar if not identical, the only difference being the material utilized. During this period it's been found that Ivory was by then being brought from new sources, not just India and Vietnam, excavations reveled a source for African ivory had been established as well when five full tusks were dug up at the tomb of the second king of the state of Nanyue in Guangzhou. Fascinatingly within this same tomb were found carved ivory Pyramids which clearly demonstrating just how well developed maritime trade between China, India Africa and Arab lands was. By this time items in Royal tombs also included Goblets inlaid with gold and precious stones.

Though painting pottery was very popular during the Han period, very few examples of painted ivory or bone have been as yet found.

Boston collection, Ming Dynasty Carved Ivory
Ming Dynasty Carved Ivory Brush Rest With Dragons
The Jin to Tang Dynasties (265-907 A.D.)
Oddly during this period, almost 700 years, very little has been found of  items carved from bone and ivory. A few tombs have yielded some combs, hair pins and some un-carved raw bones and ivory sections but little else. The biggest grouping were found buried in an ash pit located in Yangzhou.

Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty (907-1368 A.D.)
This was an interesting period for one significant reason, during the Song and Yuan Dynasties numerous written records exist about the importation Ivory and the establishment and maintaining of carving workshops. How Ivory was used has also been written about extensively during this time, yet no one single example has been found in either the Northern or Southern Song sites. None! While some wooden and bamboo carvings have been found, the dearth of Ivory examples is astounding.

<img src="Ivory Box.jpg" alt="Fine Export Carved boc from New England Estate ">
Qing Era, Kangxi Period Carved Ivory Paste Box
In Liao and Jin (10th-11th C.) tombs a few more were found, but mostly simple utilitarian items, combs, beads, small plaques.

During the Yuan period, their was also no increase in production despite the Mongol affinity for the color white with only a few ivory examples being excavated since the 1963. One was found in a tomb in Liaoning along with some Longquan Celadons , small glazed Jun ware bowls and brown slip glazed jars. Another example was excavated form the tomb of the parents of the well known Yuan rebel leader Zhang Shicheng (1321-1367). Who died just a couple years before the start officially of the Ming Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty  (1368-1644) Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
With the collapse of the Yuan Period China went back under the control of the Han Chinese. During this period, China went into its greatest period of economic expansion with the rapid growth of domestic and foreign trade, orderly Government in it's history. Chinese ships were produced in massive sizes, some over 550 feet long, often referred to as the Tribute Fleet.

new England collection ming ivory
Ming Period Ivory Brush Pot

As the Ming Dynasty got underway, under the new Imperial rulers and with their full financial support for education, housing, crop production and many other things needed to run an orderly Government. Along with this seed change, Imperial support for the arts flourished. vast sums of money flowed into the artistic community encouraging a return to classical forms as well as tasteful new innovations.

Ming Ivories were for the most part tended to be small examples, delicately carved statues, seals, brush rests, trays, boxes, hair pins, pendants and of course brush pots. Many were executed to serve on the scholar's table. The quality of the work was subtle, simple and devoid for the most part of ostentation and leaning more towards subtle elegance.

Chinese ivory puzzle ball, Massachusetts and New Hampshire collections
Fine 19th C. Carved Ivory Puzzle Ball for the
China Trade Market

By the end of the Qianlong period Ivory carving had become perhaps the most finely worked of any carving ever known. The work included the making of baskets, all carved by hand with such fineness they resembled the screen you would have on a window. These were not woven, but were actually carved. Buyer's in the west marveled at the quality of these works and bought them en-masse. From sewing sets, to card holders, buttons, chess sets, elaborately inlaid boxes and furniture, calling card cases, fans, puzzle balls, doll heads, as well as using the superb surface ivory provided for painting miniatures, which were most often small portraits and Hong Scenes.During the Qing Dynasty Ivory Carving became much more technically developed  reaching new heights during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796). By then China was a booming world power in trade. On a weekly basis ships from Europe were moving in and out of Chinese ports trading gold for silks, tea spices, porcelain, cotton and almost anything else they could buy to satisfy the home markets. These traders built upon the enterprises of previous traders building a trade route and business network like nothing ever before seen in human history. The result? an even more massive demand for Asian goods by the west. By the second half of the 18th C. the American colonies were among the buyers as well, with Salem, Massachusetts being among the most important by 1800. At one point Salem has so many ships going to China, the Chinese thought that Salem was a country.

Carved ivory vase antique Massachusetts Collection
Fine Rare Late 19th C. Carved Chinese Ivory Vase
in the Qianlong Style
By the second half of the 19th C. Ivory carvers were still busily at work producing larger and more unusual forms including large Luohan figure sets, a vast array of more calling card boxes, table boxes based on European styles, statues reminiscent of Ming examples as well as elaborately carved vases based on Imperial Kangxi and Qianlong period examples as well a doing other vases in the form of Ancient bronzes.

Despite the world wide ban on harvesting elephant trunks in Africa, thousands of tons of fresh Ivory reaches China today for carving.

To see more about the history of Dynastic China Visit the University of Southern California's Chinese History Pages, its quite excellent!

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs
Gloucester, MA 978-283-3524