Top-selling porcelain dishes star in our pick of six auction highlights sold this week
1. Huế porcelain tableware – £20,500
Two Chinese blue and white bowls, recognized by bidders as examples of Bleu de Huế porcelain, flew in at Acreman Street auction house in Sherborne, Dorset on 26 January for £20,500.
The two dishes, paired with a battered low-value Cantonese dish, were expected to fetch just £100-150. The winning bid came online via thesaleroom.com.
Vietnamese buyers have been sending the finest artworks of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) into uncharted territory in recent years. A particular focus of the collection is the Bleu de Huế porcelain, which was made in China based on Vietnamese patterns. Often these pieces (named after Huế, the Nguyen capital and site of the Forbidden Purple City) contain the bespoke marks of members of the royal family and court officials.
An influential exhibition titled Signed porcelains from the Lê, Trinh and Nguyen dynasties took place in 2018 at the Museum of Royal Antiques of Hue.
The larger of the two pieces offered in Dorset was 11 cm in diameter and decorated on the shell and base with two dragons facing the flaming pearl among waves and clouds. It had both a four-character blue marking and two incised characters. The slightly damaged smaller bowl, decorated with the mythical Kylin on a similar ground, had a different four-character mark.
Both had the protective silver rims popularized on Vietnamese porcelain in the late 19th century.
Many of these pieces came to Europe during the colonial years. From the aftermath of the 1884-85 Sino-French War to the final months of World War II, the Nguyen Emperors ruled only nominally as heads of state of the French protectorates.
Extraordinary sums were achieved for Nguyen bleu de Hue porcelain in both France and Ireland. At Adam’s in Dublin in November 2021, a 16cm plate finely decorated with a dragon, a qilin and the khan (Luck and but (Longevity) Icons flew to €140,000 (£127,300).
The four-digit mark for reading backwards khánh xuân thị tả (Eternal Spring, Left Palace), a reference to a residence of the Trinh clan, the family that ruled the royal court in the later Le period.
2. “Queen Victoria’s Letter Box” – £14,500
The sale at Hansons in Teddington on January 28 included what was marketed as ‘Queen Victoria’s letter box’. Whether she ever used the late Victorian oak “country house” pillar box is unclear, but it had a more robust origin from Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, which for many years was the summer home of Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice.
She was appointed governess of the island in 1896 and used the castle, which was restored and remodeled by architect Percy Stone for HRH, until 1938. Her death in 1944 was followed by a sale in September 1945, conducted by local auctioneer Marvin & Son and here the seller’s grandfather bought the 15 inch (37 cm) high mailbox cataloged as lot 92 along with an umbrella stand.
These are always popular items, selling in the £3000-5000 range depending on condition, but Hansons thought this one with some condition issues but a blue blood history could bring more. They were right: it was appraised at £4000-6000 and sold to an online bidder for £14,500.
3rd Shanghai Jubilee Medal – £6400
The Shanghai Jubilee Medal was introduced in 1893 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first British Consul created under the 1843 Treaty of Nanking. The medal was minted in China in both silver and bronze and presented to various dignitaries during the jubilee celebrations on November 17, 1893. About 625 silver and 100 bronze medals were awarded with a silver clasp reading 1843-1893, marked with the ribbon was awarded.
This example, put up for sale at Denhams in Horsham, West Sussex on 25th January, was attributed to a WM Keswick – probably the dealer and later politician William Keswick (1834-1912). As the patriarch of an influential shipping family operating in Hong Kong and China, his company operated as a trader and was influential in both the First and Second Opium Wars.
The company ceased the opium trade in 1870 to devote itself instead to shipping, railroad, textile and real estate development. Later, after moving to Surrey, William Keswick was elected Conservative MP for Epsom in 1899 and held the seat until shortly before his death in 1912.
Shanghai Jubilee Medals are coveted issues that today appeal to numismatists in the Far East at prices well in excess of those previously fetched by British and European collectors. This example, minted in much the same way (though without the band and clasp) was estimated at £300-500 but cost £6400.
4. Drawing of Albert Einstein – £4800
A red chalk drawing of Albert Einstein by Danish artist Ivan Opffer, estimated at just £50-80, was sold at the Stamford Auction Rooms in Lincolnshire on January 28 for £4800.
The winning bid came online via thesaleroom.com.
Ivan Opffer (1897-1980) is known for his portraits of writers and other notable figures. Although born in Denmark, he first moved to Mexico, then to New York, where he studied at the National Academy of Design, and finally to Paris, where he met James Joyce, Edgar Lee Masters, Siegfried Sassoon, George Bernard Shaw, among others and Carl Sandburg drew.
This characterful portrait measuring 53 x 39 cm is signed and dated 1933 and dedicated ‘For Louba Hambourg with Kindst Regards Ivan Opffer’. Luba Hambourg appears to be a member of the German-Jewish family, which included her brothers, musicians Boris, Jan and Mark Hambourg.
The year 1933 was a significant year for all German Jews. On a visit to the United States, Einstein learned that Hitler had come to power and began to seek American citizenship.
5. World War I Bronze – £28,000
Nine pieces by or attributed to British sculptor Gilbert Bayes (1872-1953) are part of architect and designer Chris Hancock’s collection sold by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on 25th January.
Hancock, who worked in London and lived in St Albans, was an avid collector of late 19th and 20th century art for almost 50 years. His wife compared their partnership to “living with a museum curator with his own private museum”.
His admiration for Bayes ranged from a Cupid and the lovers silver plated bronze buckle circa 1900 (£400) to elements of the St Pancras Housing Association project manufactured by Royal Doulton in the 1930s. One of the clothesline’s post knobs, modeled after a Roman galleon, was in some condition but cost £1200.
However, topping the Bayes bid of £28,000 (estimated at £6,000-8,000) was an emotional World War I work of a half-naked, grieving woman entitled Anatkh or Destiny.
Bayes rose to prominence in the wake of the growing demand for monumental sculpture after World War I, and his workshop was at the forefront of the war memorial movement. determination was shown at the Royal Academy in 1916 and later used as the centerpiece for the Ramsgate War Memorial.
This bronze statuette of the model, 59 cm high on a slate base, was made later in 1918.
6. North African parchment Quran – £75,000
Islamic art specialist Plakas Auctions sold a privately entered group of 11 Qur’anic folios from the early years of Islam in London on January 30th.
Together they show the development of calligraphy, which laid the foundation for the development of the modern typeface used today.
The earliest folio of the group, measuring 5 x 7.5 inches (13 x 19 cm), comes from a vellum manuscript written in North Africa as early as the 9th century.
The Kufic text is worked on gold with brown outlines on each side with five lines from Sura Al-An’am. Parchment like this may once have been part of small multi-volume Qurans that were very popular in the 9th and 10th centuries. Their style was typically strikingly simple, with each folio containing only a few lines of text. The focus was simply on the written word and the rigor and beauty of the Kufic script itself, with gold rosette markings and subtle green, blue, and red dots for vocalization as the only embellishment.
Probably written at one of the wealthiest Fatimid or Umayyad courts, it was estimated at £6000-8000 but sold for £75,000.