Large Ming bronze of the seated figure of a guardian, £68,000 at Hansons, 340 times the top estimate.

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Charles Hanson himself was on the rostrum at Hansons (25% buyer’s premium) to field bids for what he called “our very own beast from the east” on January 9. “And forget the guide, we are straight in at £44,000,” he said.

The subject of unexpected competition at the Etwall, Derbyshire saleroom was a large 21in (53cm) high gilt bronze temple figure of a seated guardian.

The subject, probably one of the heavenly protectors of Buddhism, is bearded and dressed in full armour. His symbolic weapon is the sword (now missing) which he carries in his right hand.

This cast was thought to be from the 17th century ‘transitional’ period – the late Ming or the early Qing era.

It carried humble hopes of £100-200 (it was catalogued as the likeness of the Han emperor Wu) but interest soared ahead of the sale.

It was part of a 30-strong collection of Chinese ceramics, bronzes and works of art amassed from 1895-1920 by Thomas Johnstone Bourne (d.1950), a civil and mechanical engineer who worked on the construction of railways in China.

He was given the Chia Ho medal by the Empress Dowager Cixi for bringing a private branch line from the Peking Syndicate Railway to the Forbidden City.

Grainy photo


The 17th century gilt bronze of the seated figure of a guardian, sold for £68,000 at Hansons, was owned by the engineer Thomas Johnstone Bourne and was pictured in 1903 at his home in the British territory Weihaiwei.

“Strong provenance helped it achieve the hammer price of £68,000,” said Hanson. “The seller discovered a grainy black and white photo of the object pictured in the Bourne’s home in British Weihaiwei on the north-eastern coast of China in 1908. We also had detailed information about his life and how the collection was amassed.”

The battle to own it was won by an online private Chinese buyer against 11 phone bidders.