No Ordinary Family: Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No 9 Could Sell for Almost $4 Million at Phillips

12_001

What you see: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang. Phillips estimates it at more than HDK 30 million, or around $3.8 million.

 

Who is Zhang Xiaogang? He is a contemporary Chinese artist who is best known for his Bloodlines paintings. His parents were government officials, and at one point during his childhood, they were forced to attend a re-education camp for three years. He graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, but it was a three-month stay in Germany in 1992 that transformed his approach to art. He embarked on the Bloodlines series soon after. Zhang turns 60 this year.

 

The expert: Wenjia Zhang, Phillips’s regional director in Shanghai.

 

The lot notes for Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 as an “extremely rare rendition.” What makes it an extremely rare rendition? Because this painting is directly based on a family photo of his parents and his older brother, the first child in the family, celebrating his 100-day birthday. It’s directly based on a family picture, but it’s more of a fantasy picture.

 

How many of the works in the Bloodlines series are based on photos of Zhang’s own family? I think this is one of very few. It may be the only one directly based on a picture of his family. In China, the previous generation all has this kind of family photo. It’s a generational thing, not just his family. I remember my parents’ wedding photo was very similar. And we didn’t have color photos. We only had black and white.

 

Do we know when that photo of Zhang’s parents and eldest brother was taken? I can’t say the exact year, but I think it was 1955, 1956, or 1957. [Zhang was born in 1958 and was the third of four children, all boys.]

 

Zhang painted this in 1996, which is about in the middle of the timespan given for the Bloodlines series. Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors? I personally don’t really think of the year as the most important year. I think it’s the work itself, and I think it’s the most important of his Bloodlines: Big Family series. This work is very romantic, reflecting a romantic part of his character. On the other hand, for the technical part, the brushstrokes and the drops of water on the face [the pink splotches on the right of each face] are very delicate. It makes me feel it’s very special.

 

When you say that the painting reflects a romantic part of his character, what do you mean? It’s because of the smoothness of the colors, the way that he painted, and the light on the painting. I can’t say more. It’s just a feeling.

 

Can you talk a bit about the imagery he’s using here that would have meaning to Chinese viewers? The immediate meaning to us Chinese people is our memories and our family. We all have this kind of photo for special occasions–birthdays, weddings. For him, the image of every figure in the Bloodlines series is a variation on his mother.

 

Why did he use the phrase ‘Big Family’ in the title when the family shown consists of only three people? I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It’s about the whole generation [in China] as a big family. For his generation, and less for mine, everyone was part of a big family. We share everything, we work together like a big family. Also, he was not part of the generation where they could have only one child per family. It does not have that meaning. He was not from the only child generation.

 

Where does this painting rank among those in the Bloodlines series? I think he started this series in 1994, after traveling to Germany. He was inspired by Gerhard Richter a lot. I think he came back to China and saw pictures in a library and from that time, he started painting the series. In 1996, his technique becomes more mature. He found the way to paint–this concept of the photo and trying to technically express his thinking of his memory. It’s very delicate. The colors are so beautiful and reflections of the lighting is extremely beautiful. Those things make this painting very different and very important. Also, in 1994 and 1995, his paintings are being chosen for the Venice Biennale [and other important shows]. For him it was a turning point.

 

Bloodlines: Big Family No. 9 explores ideas that Chinese people will recognize right away, but you don’t really need to know anything about Mao or the Cultural Revolution or 20th century Chinese life to fall under its spell. Why do you think it’s so powerful? Good question. What I can say is to share my experience of going to his studio. We’re not exactly the same generation. He was born in 1958, and I was born in 1974. I have no direct experience with the Cultural Revolution. I’m almost 20 years younger than him. When I first entered his studio, I was attracted to the color and the atmosphere of the painting. If it’s a good work, it can attract you. If it’s strong, you can feel it. For me, the work speaks for itself.

 

What’s the auction record for a work by Zhang Xiaogang? Might this work set a new record? I think the record is Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2014 for HKD $94.2 million, or $12.1 million. Whether it will set a new record, we can’t say. Of course if it can make a record that would be so exciting for us, but we can’t say now. It really depends on the market and on the collectors.

 

What is the painting like in person? It’s very quiet. I think you can be immediately attracted by the painting when you enter a room.

 

How to bid: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 is lot 12 in Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, taking place May 27, 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

 

Surprise! A Chinese Cloisonné Vase Estimated at $400 to $600 Fetches More Than $812,000 at Quinn’s

 

Chinese Cloissone vaseJPG(1)

What you see: A 10-inch-tall Chinese cloisonné bottle vase, initially believed to date to the 18th or 19th century, and estimated at $400 to $600. In April 2017 it sold for $812,500 at Quinn’s Auctions, via the iGavel online platform.

How did you arrive at the $400 to $600 estimate? “The first thing we did was look at the condition. It was heavily restored,” says Matthew Quinn, executive vice president of Quinn’s Auction Galleries. “We try always to have super-conservative estimates. We didn’t know the full extent until we watched it play out. We thought the vase might be 18th century. We didn’t know it was 14th century.”

Why did you describe the vase as dating to the 18th or 19th century? “It looked like it had sufficient age to fit that category. We were still wrong. That’s the beauty of the marketplace,” he says, laughing.

What marks it as being from the 14th century? “The form more than anything. The bottle form, and the colors of the enamels. We were told it’s from the late 14th or early 15th century. The bottle form was only done then, and it wasn’t copied until late in the 20th century. And the yellow and red–those particular colors were only used in that time frame,” he says.

Were you the auctioneer during the sale? “We sold it through iGavel, an online-only site,” he says. “Bidding comes in on iGavel every five minutes toward the end. It mimics what goes on in a sale room. With the five minute extensions, it took a long time to sell the vase–an hour, an hour and a half at least. It was fascinating to watch it go.”

Where were you as you watched the sale? “I was on the road. I expected it to do OK. A minute to close, it was at $12,000, then $15,000. I thought, ‘Eh, it’s doing OK.’ It got close to close. Then it was $30,000, and it went pretty handily up to $50,000. I called Lark [Mason, founder of iGavel] at that point. It kept going and going and going. It was wild. Bidders were taking two to three minutes to place each bid. They were taking their time, not like the high pace of an auction room, where the bids come in two or three seconds. I’m not sure if it was part of their strategy or not.”

Did the vase set an auction record? “We haven’t been able to find much [corroborating information],” Quinn says. “Lark thought it might have been in record territory for a bottle vase, but there are so few of them [reflected in auction archives] we weren’t able to find much. Rarity is not always a good thing. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable, but in this case, it was.”

What else makes this vase interesting? “Everybody wants to know how we find these treasures. You find them in the places you least expect. This vase was stuck up in a barn, in the back of the butler’s pantry,” he says, explaining he was called in to sort through the contents of a family farm to prepare it for sale.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter. You can follow iGavel auctions on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

SOLD! The Qianlong Chinese Vase Decorated in Europe Commanded More Than $224,000 at Christie’s

lot8

Update: The vase sold for £173,000, or about $224,300.

What you see: A Regency ormolu-mounted Chinese flambe-glazed vase and cover. The porcelain vase has a Qianlong incised seal mark of the period (1736-1795). The ormolu mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, circa 1806. Christie’s estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000, or $153,000 to about $229,000.

Is flambe glaze a Qianlong-era Chinese invention? Was it difficult to make a flambe-glazed vase? Yes and yes. “It was a development of the late 18th century and it was desirable almost from the moment it was developed. It must have been very experimental at the time. This is probably one of the rarer types of glazes,” says Marcus Rädecke, director and head of the department of European furniture and works of art at Christie’s, explaining that the viscous glaze slowly ran down the curving body of the vase during the firing process, and the heat of the kiln caused a chemical change that created the multi-color effect.

The lot notes say the vase has a “Qianlong incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795).” Could you explain that aspect in more detail? “The six-character reign mark identifies it as an Imperial piece,” he says. “In three rows, from right to left it gives the dynasty, the emperor, and the reign. It lets us date it precisely, and it gives the vase extra value.”

How many flambe-glazed vases managed to leave China in the 18th century? “Few made it over to Europe at that time,” Rädecke says. “They must already have been incredibly valued then. When they [the European artisans, known as bronziers, who added the ormolu] mounted it, they took great care not to damage the porcelain or pierce it. You cannot lift the vase by the handles. They’re purely decorative. They’re not attached to the vase.”

The mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, an elite British clockmaker that would have had an ormolu workshop. Why would this have been a challenging commission for them? “It must have been quite complicated to construct this without drilling holes in the porcelain to hold the bottom ends of the handles,” he says. “If you carefully pull and turn the lid, it comes off with no marks on the porcelain. The stopper [not visible in the picture] comes out completely and you can look into the mount. The handles are attached to the neck and sit loosely on it. The mounts are so precisely made. The neck fits without any gaps anywhere. It reflects the quality and precision you’d only find with a clockmaker.”

This vase was made in China and has European decorations that were added later, perhaps decades later. Does it appeal equally to Asian and European bidders? Oh gosh yes. “We sold it five years ago when it came from Harewood [House] and there was great interest at that time,” Rädecke says. “The winner and the underbidder were Chinese clients, but we had bids from English and American clients. It appealed to an incredibly wide audience.”

What else makes this vase special? “To me, as a specialist, there are items I like because they’re beautiful and items I like because they’re incredibly well-made. Sometimes it all works together. I’d love to take this vase home,” he says. “The porcelain is fantastic and enriched in Europe, but not too much. Both cultures do their bit. The harmonies are perfect, I feel.”

How to bid: The vase is lot 8 in The Exceptional Sale, scheduled at Christie’s London for July 6, 2017.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

SOLD! Christie’s Sells a Chinese Zitan Bed with Bodacious Legs for $3.6 Million

14261_zitan-luohan-bed

Update: Christie’s sold the 18th century Chinese Luohan bed for $3.6 million.

What you see: An 18th century Chinese Luohan bed, made from Zitan wood, estimated at $2 million to $3 million. (A Luohan is someone who is enlightened, but has yet to become a Buddha.) Though it’s at least three centuries old, the three-rail bed is as sleek and as modern-looking as anything you’d find in a Holly Hunt showroom.

What is Zitan wood? It’s a dense, slow-growing Chinese hardwood that was prized by the wealthy, and by scholars. It has a tight wood grain and a wine-purple color.

It’s called a “bed”, but did its 18th century Chinese owners use it like a bed? It might have had pillows on it, and owners and guests might have napped on it, but the bed served as an indoor-outdoor couch, according to Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng: “It’s so expensive, it would have been used for various activities throughout the day–sitting on it to look at antiques, discuss poetry, and contemplate scenery.” Servants would have moved the heavy bed around at the bidding of its owner.

What else made this bed a status symbol with the Chinese elite? “Zitan wood is a prestigious, luxurious material, and the carver had to waste a lot of it to get to this form,” Cheng says.

What sets the bed apart from other Chinese furnishings of the time? “It’s unusual for the dramatic curve of the legs, and their sheer chunkiness,” Cheng says. “It seems like they can’t support the bed, they’re so curved. They are bodacious legs.”

Why is the bed estimated at $2 million to $3 million? “This is a great example of the type, and the quality of the material is extremely high,” Cheng says. “And it’s a very elegant object. It’s really stunning. When you stand in front of it, you’re overcome by its subtle quietness.”

How to bid: The bed is lot 643 in The Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection of Asian Art: A Family Legacy, which takes place at Christie’s New York on March 16, 2017.

To subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

SOLD! Sotheby’s Dishes Up an Ultra-Rare Piece of Ming Dynasty Porcelain for $2.1 Million

cropped-ming-reserve-deco-plate-sothebys

Update: The Ming dynasty reserve decorated peony dish sold for $2.1 million.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and large fine blue-and-white reserve decorated peony dish, estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

When was the Xuande Period? It lasted from 1426 to 1435. Though it was brief, it was a productive and important period for Ming dynasty porcelain. “Everything came together,” says Angela McAteer, vice president and head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department. “There was widespread use of the imperial reign mark, the dragon became symbolic of the court, and the court really took control of the kiln production,” she says, explaining that it focused the Chinese porcelain works on its own needs rather than creating its greatest prizes as diplomatic gifts.

How was this Peony dish made? With skill and difficulty. “In this period, even firing something of this elegance, form, and size is challenging,” says McAteer, who notes how “well-potted” it is. “Getting a uniformity to the blue color is a challenge. Getting a realistic, crisp outline on the floral decorations is a challenge. There were various points where they could have been tripped up in making something like this.”

What makes the dish exceptionally rare? Only three others like it are known. As visually striking as its reserve decoration is–rendering in blue what would normally be in white, and vice-versa–it was technically difficult and far more expensive to make. “Cost is primarily the thing. It involved more layers of production, and more steps,” McAteer says, stating that the cobalt needed for the blue color probably was imported. “It’s a large dish, and the cobalt covers the inside and the outside. It would have required a huge amount of raw material.”

Was the dish ever used? “Absolutely, it would have been used to furnish the court, presumably for banqueting,” says McAteer, while adding that we cannot be sure of exactly how the Chinese court used it. Its most recent European owner refrained from putting it to work. “It has a wonderful, brilliant glaze that is remarkably unscuffed,” she says. “It would have had a wall mount. That’s why it’s so wonderfully well-preserved. It wasn’t used to hold keys.”

How to bid: The peony dish is lot 6 in the Ming: The Intervention of Imperial Taste auction at Sotheby’s New York on March 14, 2017.

Subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.