A pair of 18th century double gourd wine warmers, one with the hallmark for the Hall for Cultivating Harmony, £260,000 at Roseberys.

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Despite the selectivity in the market, demand for Chinese works of art generally held up well across a full week of selling.

Creating harmony

Leading this year’s regional auctions was a pair of 18th century double gourd wine warmers that came for sale at Roseberys (26/25/20% buyer’s premium) on May 15-16 with a guide of £6000-8000. They hammered at £260,000.

Finely painted with iron red dragons pursuing f laming pearls amid underglaze blue clouds and to the covers with iron red bats, both have black enamel seal marks to the base: one for the Yongzheng (1722- 35) emperor, the other reading Yanghe tang (Hall for Cultivating Harmony in the Old Summer Palace).

A handful of similar vessels with these ‘hallmarks’ are known. This pair, one with paper label for John Sparks Ltd, came for sale in good condition from a UK private collection.

Three-times top estimate

A rare early 19th century imperial ‘Twelve Symbols’ blue silk dragon robe (jifu) sold for £150,000 (estimate of £30,000-50,000) at Dreweatts (26/25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on May 21.

It was only very recently rediscovered, packed in a tailor’s box at the back of a drawer in the home of the Villiers family – direct descendants of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592- 1628), the favourite of King James I.

The robe was purchased by Eric Hyde Villiers (1881-1964) who visited China in 1913 as a partner of Martell Cognac. The robe was said to be a gift for his father, Sir Francis Hyde Villiers (1852-1925) and it remained undisturbed in the family home in England for over 100 years.

Stored out of the light, it retained its original colours.

Sewn with the 12 symbols of imperial authority arranged in three groups of four around the neck, the robe is one that would have been used by the emperor twice a year for harvest festivals at the Temple of Heaven. Dated to the early 19th century it may have been made for the emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820) or his second son and successor Daoguang (1820-50).

An earlier imperial yellow-ground dragon robe from the Yongzheng period topped Bonhams’ series of four sales at a hammer price of £290,000. Probably made for an empress or empress dowager, it had a provenance to Marie Joséphine Eugénie Brégère-Kromer Violet (1864-1921), the head of France’s premier aperitif brand Byrrh. It was part of the Bond Street Fine Chinese Art sale on May 16.

Sophisticated horse


Tang dynasty sancai glazed horse, £90,000 at Sworders.

Sworders’ (25% buyer’s premium) sale on May 17 was topped by a Tang dynasty (618-907) horse, a sophisticated 2ft (60cm) high model with sancai splashes of amber, green and blue to a cream body.

It bears comparison to the famous Tang horse in the Asia Society Museum in New York that was sold in 1969 for the then unprecedented sum of £16,000. Sworders’ model – affectionately known in the family as ‘Arkle’ after the famous racehorse – came by descent from Col AL Gracie of Cadogan Square in London who was thought to have bought it from dealership John Sparks. Estimated at £30,000- 50,000, it took £90,000.

Indra in demand


A 14th century Nepalese gilt copper figure of Indra, £80,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

Woolley & Wallis’ (26% buyer’s premium) Fine Asian Art sale on May 21 was topped by a 14th century Nepalese gilt copper figure of the Hindu and Buddhist deity Indra.

Inlaid with hardstones, typical of metalwork from the Kathmandu Valley, the 11in (28cm) high figure was formerly in the collection of the British field botanist and Himalayan plant collector John David Adam Stainton (1921-91) and given by him to the 6th Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair. It sold at the lower end of an £80,000-120,000 estimate.

Seasonal offering


Meiji iron inlaid jar and cover decorated with birds and flowers of the seasons, £90,000 at Bonhams.

The four sales at Bonhams (28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) included one devoted to Japanese arts.

Here a 15in (38cm) iron inlaid jar and cover c.1890 on an elaborately carved hardwood stand took £90,000. Signed to the base for Kawaguchi Yohei, a Tokyo buyer of works from some of the leading Meiji artisans, one of its four silver panels, representing the four seasons, has the signature of metalworker Yano Katsumine.