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Chinese works of art bring $14 million at Bonhams San Francisco December auction
An export style carved polychrome lacquer table with gilt metal mounts, 19th century. 33 x 50 x 17 1/2in (83.8 x 127 x 44.4cm). Sold for $797,000; Estimate $10,000-15,000. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- A standing room only crowd of committed Chinese buyers bid on lot after lot to multiples of their estimates at the Bonhams Fine Chinese Works of Art auction in San Francisco on December 17. This session, part of a two-day auction of Chinese and Asian Decorative Art, featured fine jades and scholar’s objects from the collection of Emmanuel Gran, textiles from an important American collection, along with bronzes, Ming and Qing porcelain, furniture and Chinese paintings from private collections and museums throughout the United States.

Buyers pounced on the Emmanuel Gran jades from the opening gavel, bidding fiercely on each lot, driving prices consistently to more than 10 times their pre-sale estimates. The second lot of the sale, two rare white jade 19th century oval plaques, hammered at $85,000 to a determined bidder. Three lots later, a fine nephrite carving of a mythical beast, 17th/18th century, achieved $509,000 (est. $20,000-30,000) after a bidding war of multiple bidders, to be followed shortly after by another huge competition for a fine and rare white jade ruyi scepter, 18th century, ultimately selling for $281,000 (est. $20,000-30,000). Mr. Gran, a Russian architect who lived in China between 1917 and 1941, amassed a large and refined collection of Chinese art, which he brought to California after leaving Shanghai, and then he was on to New York, where he became the in-house architect for the Hilton hotels. Much of his collection was sold to major collectors before his death in 1969; the scholar’s objects and jades were kept by the family until now.

An impressive gold and silver plated dragon decorated snuff bottle from the collection of Stephen Chase was the top lot of the day, bringing an astounding $965,000 in a tenacious battle between a buyer in the room and a telephone bidder. The ovoid bottle, bearing a Qianlong mark and worked with movable five-clawed dragons contesting flaming jewels surrounded by clouds, was acquired in 1978, and was, by repute, from the collection of Stephen Mille. Bonhams has a strong reputation for selling fine snuff bottles for world record prices, and this was no exception for its rare type.

A fine Ruyao–type vase, Qianlong six-character seal mark and of the period, brought $857,000 (est. $100,000-150,000) in a heated contest among multiple buyers which narrowed to two telephone bidders from Asia. The rare Song dynasty style vase, from a Pacific Northwest collector, by descent, purchased in Shanghai in 1941-43 and brought to the US in 1947, has a related example in the renowned J.M Hu family collection. A pair of sky-blue molded porcelain jardinières from a Northern California Private collection produced frenzied bidding, topping out at $581,000, to the same successful buyer. Two rare Republic period plaques depicting Buddhist figures, by the artist Wang Qi, (1884-19370) and dated to 1932, sold for a record-setting $581,000, a testimony to intense interest in this relatively recent collecting area among Mainland Chinese buyers.

An export style polychrome lacquer table with gilt metal mounts, late 18th/19th century, consigned by New York Fine Art Appraisers on behalf of a West Coast Estate was the star of the works of art section, bringing $797,000 after a battle by two telephone bidders. Exquisitely executed in cinnabar lacquer with a twisted rope and bat patterned apron flanked by ruyi headed corner brackets mounted by gilt metal double dragon pendant accents, the top is rendered in blue lacquer in a fine diaper patterned ground. A rare eagle-wood (chenxiangmu) ruyi scepter, Qianlong, acquired by the consignor from the great collector-dealer Alice Boney in the 1970s, brought $353,000 (est. $10,000-15,000). Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhist bronzes riveted the attention of collectors, with the top lot, an 18th century gilt bronze figure of Ushinishavijaya, selling for $389,000 (est. 20,000-30,000). Two paintings by the artist Liu Guosong, (b.1932), both exhibited at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita States University in 1976 and acquired directly from the artist following the exhibition, were the top lots of the painting section, selling for $83,750 and $131,000. The day’s total was $11,332,000, with 86 percent sold by lot, and 96 percent sold by value.

The second day commenced with 100 lots of Japanese works of art and paintings, with the top lot, a monumental bronze exhibition koro, Meiji Period, by Suzuki Masayoshi, selling for $37,500 to a telephone bidder. The remainder of the 708-lot day was devoted to Chinese works of art, with the same buoyant interest by the buying public as the day prior, as bidders vied for jades, snuff bottles, porcelains, textiles and paintings. A group of eight hardstone seals comprising a partial set of zodiac figures brought a remarkable $118,000, and two archaistic jade decorations, consisting of an axe-head and a circular bi disc brought $68,750, sought after by numerous buyers in a packed room. A pair of polychrome enamel decorated porcelains, Qianlong mark, 20th century, was the top porcelain lot of the afternoon, selling for $68,750, and the star of the extremely buoyant textile section was a Tibetan chuba made from a yellow ground silk dragon robe, which sold for $40,000 (est. $2,500-4,000). The total for the second day was $2,793,000 with 80 percent sold by lot and 93 percent sold by value.

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