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This year Bonhams (27.5/26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) fielded a single-owner event in this category when it offered just over 150 lots from the well-known UK specialist dealer in Chinese export wares Cohen & Cohen.

The January 24 sale was titled Cohen & Cohen: 50 Years of Chinese Export Porcelain. It reflected a long pedigree in this field that started back in the 1970s when Michael Cohen had an antiques stall on Portobello Road before he and his wife Ewa established their galleries in Kensington Church Street and the West End.

The lots on offer at Bonhams ranged across the different categories of these wares that were made in China in quantities for export to the countries of the West from the 17th century onwards as part of the China Trade.

They included figures, tablewares and garnitures of vases, pieces with European inspired decoration and examples decorated with Western armorials. Most of the pieces were published in the firm’s detailed catalogues written and researched by William Motley.

Buyers were found for 85% of the lots, netting a hammer total of just over $1.366m.


European prints were often used as a source for decoration on Chinese export ware. This 9in (23cm) diameter plate of c.1755 is painted in a rich puce pink with a European merchant ship in full sail before a European port which is possibly Amsterdam, although the direct print source has yet to be found. The shipping scene is set within the unusual feature of an eel cartouche showing the encircling fish biting its own tail. Only a few plates of this scene are recorded, Bonhams noted, and the plate appears to have been a private order for a ship’s captain or supercargo. It sold for $5000 (£4065).

Western traders

Among the predicted highlights were a ‘Hongs at Canton’ bowl guided at $60,000-80,000 which sold for $110,000 (£89,430) and a rare large standing figure of a European lady estimated at $80,000-120,000 which realised $70,000 (£56,910).

The bowl, which measures 14in (35cm) in diameter and dates from 1787-88, is of a type depicting the facades of the ‘Hongs’ or Western trading warehouses on the waterfront of the Pearl River.

The Western business factors or traders were required to live and work there. Rented annually, they can be identified by the national flags flying from their facades.

The earliest bowl of this type depicting panels of Hongs apparently dates from 1765, but versions like this one painted with a continuous Hongs panorama entirely surrounding the bowl date from c.1775 onwards.

What distinguishes the Cohen & Cohen bowl at Bonhams’ sale is the feature of an overpainted pentimento of the American flag in its location prior to 1787 between the British and Dutch flags.

The bowl appears to have been modified by removing the original enamelling and relocating the flag to a position in front of the newly rented Hong, implying that the bowl was commissioned before the move and was in the process of enamelling when the change to the new location was made, necessitating a modification of the design.

It also features the new Philippine flag for The Real Compañia de Fliipinas (Royal Philippine Company) which had very recently been founded in Madrid in March 1785, under the direct patronage of Charles III of Spain.

The European figure, which dates from the Qianlong period, c.1740, stands 16in (42cm) high and would have originally formed a pair with a male companion. Her brightly coloured costume includes a ruff collar, a tight cap with ear protectors and pointed shoes just visible below the hem of her dress.

These figures are thought to have been modelled after a print by Casper Luyken of c.1703 illustrating figures in 17th century Jewish costumes, allegedly worn by ladies of the Frankfurt Jewish community, and is taken from Abraham a Sancta Clara’s Neu Eroffnete Welt-Galleria, published in Nuremberg in 1703, as part of a series of illustrations of exotic foreign costumes.

Piece for a lady


This pair of figures of ladies are shown reading a book or painting album and leaning against a pile of books in loosely flowing costumes. The depiction is a suggestion of pregnancy and the books are a literal representation of the Chinese metaphor: reading a book nourishes the growth of ideas in the mind like a child developing in the womb. They sold for $60,000 (£48,780) at Bonhams.

Other sought-after lots included an 11¾in (30cm) diameter dated and inscribed saucer dish and a pair of figures of reclining ladies (previewed and pictured in ATG No 2575).

The saucer dish, which is painted in underglaze blue with two phoenixes and peony to the interior and Buddhistic lions to the exterior, sold for $49,000 (£39,840).

It is dated to the 22nd year of the Wanli emperor’s reign (1594AD) and is of the period, and has a detailed seven-line inscription to the base indicating that it was a privately commissioned piece for a lady of Shicheng in eastern China.

The reclining ladies, shown reading and wearing loose costumes suggesting a state of pregnancy, doubled the estimate to sell for $60,000 (£48,780).

These examples are pictured along with a selection of other works from across the auction’s price range.

£1 = $1.23