Chinese bowl fetches $2m at auction

Updated: 2013-03-21 11:10

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Chinese bowl fetches $2m at auction

Christina Prescott-Walker oversees bidding at the Sotheby's on Wednesday at the auctioneer's sale of fine Chinese ceramics and art. Caroline Berg / China Daily

At Sotheby's, one must be careful when waving a number.

"Is that a bid? Is that a bid?" the auction house's Christina Prescott-Walker asked a potential buyer from her podium. "No? Just waving your paddle?"

The item in question was a Buddhist monk's embroidered-silk vestment from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which ultimately sold for $62,500.

During a two-day auction of Chinese ceramics and artworks at Sotheby's, the highest prices were for a modest 1,000-year-old ceramic bowl and an imperial jade seal from the 18th century.

On Tuesday, London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi bought a rare white "Ding" bowl from the Northern Song Dynasty for $2.23 million, smashing the presale estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The New York-based seller had bought the bowl in 2007 at a garage sale for the royal sum of 3 bucks.

"I got back to my desk and I found an e-mail, which was in capital letters, 'WOW,' and then a new line, 'WOW', with exclamation points," Henry Howard-Sneyd, vice-chairman of Asian art for Sotheby, said in relaying the seller's reaction to the final price at Tuesday's auction.

"It's an exceptional piece. There's only one other that we know of," Eskenazi said. "It's in perfect condition."

The only other known bowl of similar form, size and decoration is in the British Museum in London.

Eskenazi, asked what he planned to do with his purchase, joked that perhaps it would be used to eat cereal. Its new owner said the bowl would remain in New York in a Sotheby's gallery until he finds a client who "will appreciate it as much as we do".

The auction's other multimillion-dollar purchase was by an Asian buyer. That person, whose identify wasn't disclosed by Sotheby's, successfully bid $3.41 million for an imperial green jade piece, the Seal of the 70-Year-Old Son of Heaven at the Hall of Five Happinesses and Five Generations. It dates from the Qing Dynasty's Qianlong period (1736-95).

The rare seal was owned by a private collector in Washington state who had inherited it from his great-grandfather, a US brigadier general. The piece remained stored in a box for several decades until being rediscovered recently.

Topped by a pair of carved dragons, the work is one of at least nine seals created during the Qianlong period with the inscription (wufu wudai tang guxi tianzi bao) in honor of the emperor's becoming a septuagenarian in 1781.

The Sotheby's auction was split into four sessions. Besides ceramics, items for sale included rare decorative vases, figurines, silk panels, paintings, snuff bottles and furniture.

One Chinese man mumbled into a mouthpiece attached to his phone, conversing with a client in southern China. When the auctioneer moved to Huanghuali furniture from the Qing Dynasty, the man was on the edge of his seat. Among a series of winning bids, one of his more modest buys was $15,000 for a Huanghuali brush pot.

"My client doesn't give me a budget," said the man, Morris Low of Morris & Joey Low Gallery in Hong Kong. "He just watches the scene and tells me what he wants from there."

The auction came to a close with the sale of Twenty-Nine Erotic Paintings from the 18th-19th century Qing dynasty period.

"What you've all been waiting for," Prescott-Walker of Sotheby's said in introducing the item, prompting chuckles from some bidders.

The paintings include a man getting caught by his wife while with another woman; others were more risqu.

"That was a cheap laugh," the auction executive said. "It's been a long two days."

The paintings sold for $50,000.