Collection of Chinese scholar’s objects set for Asian art auction

27/04/2017     Asian Art

A collection of Chinese scholar’s objects belonging to a Ludlow man, who collected in Hong Kong and London between the 1970s and ‘90s, is set to go under the hammer at auction in May.

The Robert Owen collection, which runs to 87 lots and is expected to realise around £20,000, forms the core of our ‘Scholar’s Table’ Asian art auction on May 11.

“Mr Owen, who held a senior position in the financial services sector in Hong Kong, assembled this eclectic mix of scholar’s objects over a period of 20 or so years, buying what caught his eye in Hong Kong, mainland China and London between the 1970s and early ’90s.

“There is a fascinating mix of traditional works, such as brush pots or bitong, Yixing stoneware and Swatow porcelain, alongside objects of pure contemplation like rock formations and natural wood roots. The connoisseurship of fantastical rocks dates as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 bc-220 ad) with monolithic stones arranged in landscapes and gardens.

“This evolved into smaller rocks and stones for the garden and interiors during the Song Dynasty (906-1279) at a time when a new terminology emerged to describe them and the feelings they created.

“They became inextricably part of Chinese culture to be admired by emperors and elite scholars who would contemplate their dynamic forms and resemblance to mountains or even animals and mythological beasts.

“Rock forms became an intrinsic part of the aesthetic language, finding their way into paintings and also the decoration on porcelain and works of art including several in the auction.

“As the collection has been packed away in the basement at Mr Owen’s home, he has decided the time has come to have a clear out.”

One of the potential top selling pieces from the collection is a Chinese mother of pearl and jade inlaid rosewood hexagonal treasure box from the Qing Dynasty, which is valued at up to £1,500.

Potentially the star of the auction is an impressive and rare pair of 19th century Chinese famille rose turquoise ground ‘lotus’ vases and covers beautifully painted with flowers, bats and symbols meaning double joy.

Consigned by a Shropshire vendor, the vases are expected to sell for in excess of £20,000 and were originally part of a collection owned by Dr Wilfred Watkins-Pitchford (1868-1952), bacteriologist and pioneer of medical research in South Africa.

Mr Clement believes they were probably made as a wedding gift in the Daoguang period (1821-1850). “This superb pair of vases has been owned by the Shropshire vendor for around 50 years and originally belonged to Dr Wilfred Watkins-Pitchford, a prominent physician who spent a lot of time in South Africa and, due to ill health, retired to Bridgnorth where he became active in local history,” said Mr Clement.

“To mark his retirement he was given an accolade by Jan Smuts, a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher.”

A vendor from the Wirral has consigned a pair of 19th century Chinese hardstone and mother-of-pearl inlaid ‘Playing Boys’ cabinets on stands valued at up to £7,000 and a pair of Japanese silver-mounted Shibayama-inlaid ivory tusk vases by Masayasu from the Meiji era at up to £6,000.

Another notable entry in the 285-lot auction is a Japanese silver mounted Shibayama-inlaid ivory koro and cover from the Meiji era, which is valued at up to £2,500.

“The Chinese market continues to be very selective but there are definite strengths in ivory, jade and blue and white porcelain,” said Mr Clement. “There are also pieces that achieve unexpectedly high prices and we are finding that some of the most exciting results have happened in regional salerooms rather than London.

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