Jianyao ‘hare’s fur’ tea bowl – £9000 at Alastair Gibson Auctions.

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Harry Geoffrey Beasley (1881-1939), heir to the North Kent Brewery in Plumstead, developed an interest in ethnography at an early age.

A collecting obsession that began aged 13 with the acquisition of two Solomon Island clubs developed over a lifetime to number approximately 10,000 artefacts from all over the world. Until the building was bomb damaged, many pieces were displayed at the Cranmore Ethnographical Museum in Chislehurst.

Substantial portions of the collection, acquired during that inter-war golden age when London was awash with dealers, collectors and civil servants returning from the empire, were donated to other institutions.

The HG Beasley provenance is one attached to pieces in the British Museum, the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. However, the remainder of the collection was retained by Beasley’s widow Irene and his family.

A total of 15 pieces – four ivory brush pots and 11 rhinoceros horn libation cups – were offered as part of the inaugural sale at Alastair Gibson Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) in London on November 18.

Some great rarities were available here, all dating to the late Ming and early Qing periods (17th and 18th centuries).

Estimated at £20,000-30,000 but sold at £40,500 was a finely carved 5in (13cm) wide ‘Jian Guangzhi’ vessel copying a Western Han jade ‘ear’ cup. One of only half a dozen recorded, it has an inscription dated to the Guiwei year (1643 or 1703) that reads: ‘in the year of the Ram, stone fire, star fire, copy of Han dynasty jade Jianguang Zhi’.

An old paper collection label is dated June 20, 1930. Three signed examples are known by the famous Yangzhou carver Bao Tiancheng; including that from the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, sold at Christie’s in London in November 2006 for £100,000.

The sale and movement of rhinoceros horn works of art is quite properly subject to tight controls and it is fair to say that the family had left it relatively late in the day to decide to sell. Export licences are now only granted to objects with a hammer price that exceeds $100 per gram by weight and it had required some months working with the Covid-hit CITES team in Bristol before even a well-provenanced group such as this could be sold.

Another very rare form was a cup carved as a recumbent mountain goat – one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac and an auspicious creature often used as a symbol for the coming of spring. One of three other examples illustrated by Jan Chapman’s The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China (1999) bears both a Wanli reign mark and a Bao Tiancheng seal mark, which helps date this group to c.1600.

This example was particularly well observed (the natural striations of the horn had been used by the carver to accentuate the fur of the animal). It took £31,000.

In total the Beasley lots (three were unsold) took £255,000. Most sold to Hong Kong and China.

Several hats worn

Gibson has seen the Asian art world from the perspective of both poacher and gamekeeper. Head of Chinese and Japanese works of art at Sotheby’s for many years, he became a dealer and consultant (to Canterbury Auction Galleries among others) in 2008. As the business continues to evolve, he now plans to return to the rostrum full time.

“This sale was primarily born out of lockdown boredom and the inability to do business in the traditional way at fairs during 2020 and 2021,” he said. “But going forward I have decided to return to my former career as an auctioneer, primarily specialising in Chinese ceramics and works of art.

“Generally speaking, Asian clients prefer to transact via auction, and over the last two years all online auction formats have been thriving. I am currently working towards my next auction in early July.”

The first sale, on view at the Brian Haughton gallery during November and sold from the Kerry Taylor Auctions premises in Bermondsey, south London, set the bar at a pretty high level.

The online catalogue was among the best published for the AsianArt in London series, complete with scholarly references and detailed condition reports. The hammer total was £675,060 with a healthy 78% of the 234 lots sold. At a time when Sotheby’s and Christie’s are scaling back the London focus on Chinese art (Sotheby’s will soon join Christie’s in holding one sale in the capital with other event moving to Paris and Hong Kong) there is clearly some wiggle room in the market.

Boston bonus

Items from the estate of Diana Metcalf Stainow (1926-2019), a native of Boston who lived and worked as an artist in London, Paris and Hong Kong, were offered by Gibson without reserve.

Some raced away. From a group of classic-era ceramics (catalogued as 19th century copies by another auctioneer) were three Jianyao ‘hare’s fur’ tea bowls from the Song or Jin period (12th or 13th century) estimated at £400-600 each. They sold for prices of £490, £2600 and £9000 – the last-mentioned for a bowl covered in a running russet and black glaze that fell just short of the foot, exposing the unglazed purplish-brown body.

A feature of the market in recent years has been the willingness to accept damage when it comes to Qing mark and period porcelain. Some good examples of this came for sale from a private source: all had been listed in an old inventory from 1967 (updated by Christie’s in 1976).

An 8in (20cm) Yongzeng (1722-35) lotus-petal from bowl decorated with chrysanthemum sprays to a powder blue ground took £16,000 (estimate £2000-3000) despite having been broken in half. This rare type of decoration was created by blowing the cobalt pigment onto a stencil. An identical bowl in good condition sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2012 as part of the Meiyintang Collection for HK$1.4m (£140,000).

Also Yongzeng mark and period (and also broken in seven pieces) was a green and brown yellow ground ‘dragon’ dish. Most pieces of this type from the Kangxi period have grapes to the border decoration but this one adopts the crane motif used on other Yongzheng yellow and green porcelain wares made for the Forbidden City. The hammer price was £6500 (estimate £400-600).

In better condition were a trio of pieces of Kangxi famille verte.

Two 5in (13cm) brush pots (bitong) had been bought from a Dutch private collection at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2007. The example painted with two scholars in a classical landscape, a kingfisher perched on a spray of trailing peony and bamboo and two poems took £11,000 while another depicting a scholar offering a book to the poet Li Taibo and to the reverse with the Daoist god of literature Guixing brought £9000. The latter had a star crack to the base.

A 14in (35cm) famille verte dish decorated with a central image of a leaping carp in iron red and gilt sold at £13,000. The carp in Chinese mythology symbolises courage and perseverance; in the ‘Dragon Gate’ fable it swims up a waterfall where it is transformed into a benevolent and powerful dragon. This dish with a lozenge mark to the base had previously sold at Christie’s New York in January 2014 for $18,000.

An exceptional pair of large baluster vase and covers from c.1740 came for sale from a Portuguese private collection and had previously been with London export porcelain dealership Cohen & Cohen.

Finely painted in the famille-rose palette with green peafowl, Manchurian cranes, paradise flycatchers and myna birds among luxuriant full-blown peony blooms, they stood 4ft 3in (1.28m) high on 18th century European carved gilt-wood stands. The epitome of English country house taste and in overall good condition (one with a recently restored hairline), these took £41,000 (estimate £40,000-60,000), the top bid of the sale.

Not forgetting the addition of some good Japanese ceramics, a 10in (25cm) Meiji satsuma vase sold at £3200 (estimate £2000-3000).

Finely painted with a processional scene of high-ranking ladies, gentlemen and children enjoying the spring blossom, it has the artist’s signature in iron-red and gilt, Okamoto Ryozan, for the Yasuda Company, Kyoto.