July to August 2002 Editorial

I HAVE JUST finished reading Renzo Freschi’s publication, The Art of Gandhara (1), which I have very much enjoyed, not only for its production, but also for the Foreword, interesting articles, and useful Bibliography. The publication provides valuable insights for the Gandharan region 2nd century AD sculpture in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is the cover of this July-August 2002 magazine, and indeed for the Chinese Buddhist sculptural tradition that eventually followed.

For comparison the 5th century Northern Qi Bodhisattva that made the cover for our January-February 2001 issue with three views is illustrated alongside (2).

Our tens of thousands of readers and the many advertisers who help to make the magazine viable are reminded that Arts of Asia, which I have been publishing for more than thirty-two years is a respected and recognised brand name in the field of Asian arts and antiques with which people around the world are proud to be associated. As a “sampling”, in the Correspondence section of this number on page 10 are just a few of the letters of reaction received from a long list of appropriate recipients, who were sent the March-April 2002 Japanese edition at the request of that issue’s main contributor/compiler, Sir Hugh Cortazzi. It is good to know of Her Majesty the Empress of Japan’s interest in art, and I am delighted to have been assured, by her Lady-in-waiting, that Her Majesty will by now have enjoyed reading our “splendid publication”.

Every day I receive enthusiastic and heart-warming letters from our readers. A brief range of such cuttings from typically those who subscribe, contribute articles and/or are Asian art advertisers (in some cases all three!) are reproduced here: “Every new issue fills me with wonder and joy. It is a miracle of beauty, art and education; I can hardly believe its splendor, page after page. How do you do it? No other publication I know produces a masterpiece ‘stained glass window’ every two months.” Dr Robert H. Alexander.

“Arts of Asia continues to be a source of artistic and historical delight and we greet each new arrival with comments of appreciation. Thank you for the outstanding contribution you are making to more areas of life than space allows me to cite.” Roy and June Honeycutt.

“It continues to be a valuable source of information-Congratulations on keeping it going and improving through many years.” Patricia Salmon.

“In my opinion Arts of Asia is the premier magazine in its field. Thanks to you and your staff for providing a publication I eagerly look forward to receiving every two months. In this field Arts of Asia has no competitors who approach the quality or content of your publication.” Susan McClure.

“Received the Sept/Oct issue today and want to tell you it is one of your best. Good lay-out, interesting articles and good professional reporting about the auctions. Useful and a handsome issue.” Sam Bernstein.

“I received the March/April issue of Arts of Asia. Congratulations! I am very happy with the way my article has been published, and appreciate the high quality of the colour reproductions. In several cases I can compare the printing quality with sales catalogues or books; in all cases the illustrations in your magazine are superior. In addition, the lay-out of my paper is really attractive. Thank you for all the work!” Dr Jan Dees.

There is still time for those overseas readers who receive Arts of Asia by air to visit the sensational exhibition being held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, which has been seen in their Sackler Wing since April 26th and closes following July 14th. With the title, “Return of the Buddha-the Qingzhou Discoveries”, the exhibition in London is said to have met with astounding interest and success, though it is perhaps an exaggeration to state that it has been a “unique opportunity of showing such sacred works to a western audience”. After all, I would think a “western audience” to still be amongst the majority of our international readers, and our January-February 2001 issue features “Chinese Buddhist Sculptures-New Discoveries from Qingzhou, Shandong Province” and “Time and Cause for the Destruction of the Buddhist Statues from the Site of Longxing Monastery”. These articles were specially commissioned from China’s curators. In Hong Kong we translated them into English, as our support of the exhibition held at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from January 19th to April 15th, 2001.

Dr Stephen Markel of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose cover article heads this issue, was writing for Arts of Asia as long ago as 1993. The range of Indian art and the subjects he has covered for this magazine and others are considerable. He is seen at the entrance to the South and Southeast Asian art gallery (3) and asks me to mention the exhibition “The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art” which will premier there on October 5th, 2003. He says: “The guest curator is Professor John Huntington. He and his staff are writing the catalogue, which is still being edited.”
While still on the subject of Buddhist art, I am prompted to mention that readers will find Achinto Sen-Gupta’s article on “Portable Buddhist Shrines” unusual. I like the idea of sleeping on Buddhist shrines as headrests, following the practice of enlightened monks on their return journeys from India to China. Surely during those days some devotees were also wearing Zi beads, and I would be interested to hear from our readers of any sculpture or paintings which suggest this. It must be said, though, Zi bead wearers even today are reluctant to show their protective amulets to others. However, it is worth confirming what Achinto records: “Portable shrines owe their origin to amulets, which are of great antiquity in India and western Asia.” To illustrate the point are amulets from Bharhut (2nd century BC) taken from The Stupa of Bharhut by Alexander Cunningham, London, 1879 (4).

While absorbed in writing this Editorial I received an email from Monica Cleckler of PO Box 560, Hunt, Texas 78024, USA (cleck3@ktc.com). She asks for my advice. “I was told that Jamey D. Allen is an expert and has submitted for publication an article on dzi beads that will be presented in your May/June issue. Do you have any information about this or when to expect this publication? Have there been any previous articles about dzi beads that you could tell me about? Or if you know an expert who can help me, I certainly would appreciate it if you could let me know.” Well here it is on pages 72-91, Jamey D. Allen’s comprehensive article, beautifully illustrated and designed, for which I must give him full credit. His article should be read with utmost care to understand his classifications and recognise Himalayan so-called “pure” Zi beads from other groups. For those who want to see other examples of Zi beads I recommend the book The Gzi Beads of Tibet by Lin Tung-Kuang. I have met the Taiwanese author a few times and to my knowledge he has travelled widely through Tibet and especially Lhasa to study and buy beads. His book was first published in Chinese and it was at my suggestion that he had it translated into English.

I was present at the May 7th, 2002 sale at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong of the exquisite Yongzheng mark and period (1723-1735) famille-rose “peach” vase that made a sensational world auction record for Qing (1644-1911). This event up to the fall of the final hammer is fully reported in the Saleroom News in this issue on pages 113-117, Lot 532. After registering in my mind the astounding record price, I put aside several days to researching more intimate details for my international readers. In fact immediately after the sale I had approached the buyer, the elegant Mrs Alice Cheng (5), treasurer of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, agent for Ericsson in China for several years, and sister of the famous Hong Kong dealer Robert Chang. She has many kinds of business in China and is reputed to be an enormously rich and powerful woman on the mainland. She told me she was very happy with the purchase of the Yongzheng vase. She also said once she made up her mind to buy the piece she was therefore willing to pay a high price for it.

According to Henry Howard-Sneyd, Managing Director of Sotheby’s China and Southeast Asia, at least six people were willing to pay up to HK$30 million for the “peach” vase belonging to the Hon. Ogden R. Reid, United States Ambassador to Israel from 1959-1961. He inherited the work of art from his mother and used the vase as a lamp stand in his New York home. Hong Kong dealer William Chak bidding for his mainland Chinese client went up to HK$36 million but this was not enough. Mrs Alice Cheng paid HK$41.5 million including the buyer’s premium.

Commenting on the auction results Henry Howard-Sneyd said, “Following the dramatic price of HK$41.5 million for the ‘Reid’ vase, Sotheby’s reclaimed the world record price for any piece of Qing porcelain. This pre-eminence in Chinese porcelain is emphasised by the fact that we hold the clean sweep of world record prices in ceramics for every major dynasty from the Tang to the Qing including that for the most expensive piece of Chinese ceramic ever sold at auction, HK$44.4 million for the Jiajing, wucai ‘fish’ jar, sold in October 2000. “Although the record price for the ‘Reid’ vase was a tremendous highlight of the auction, almost every other major piece decorated in famille-rose enamels sold significantly above the pre-sale estimate. Lot 533, a basin of immaculate quality, was even unmarked, but doubled its low estimate to sell for a record price for unmarked porcelain at HK$4.54 million. This reflects the new dynamic in the market increasingly evident over the past two years, whereby the taste and collecting habits of newer collectors, many from mainland China, drives that particular area of the market strongly upwards. Arguably similar trends were seen historically as the Japanese collectors became so strong in the late 1980s and pieces of Japanese taste shot to the top of the records.

“Despite the strength of Chinese buyers, there are always other collectors in this most international of markets, who are prepared to fight hard for desirable lots, and therefore never let a piece get away cheaply.”

After the auction William Chak told me Ambassador Reid, who was in Hong Kong with his family to attend the sale, visited his gallery at 76-78 Hollywood Road and thanked him for participating at Sotheby’s. They had a picture taken together.

Richard Marchant is a world expert on Chinese ceramics and is particularly knowledgeable on Qing porcelain. When I asked him about the record sale of the Yongzheng vase he said, “It was not a surprise for me as I anticipated a high price. It is one of the most important Qing Imperial pieces coming on the market. When it was shown in New York prior to the sale I handled and studied the vase for fifteen minutes. I truly enjoyed this absolutely wonderful piece and indeed I had no doubt about the price at all. It makes good sense that Mrs Alice Cheng bought it. She has the best advice in her brother Robert.” Richard added, “She certainly has the funds as her husband is Graham Cheng of the Amoy [soy sauce] canning family.” The name of her father-in-law, Cheng Te-k’un, is very famous as an academic scholar and author.

London dealer David Priestley, a former Chinese ceramics specialist for Sotheby’s in London, also believes “the price for that piece is not out of line for Qing Imperial works of art”. He now feels, at least in the medium term, rare Chinese Imperial works of art will continue to fetch high prices.

As a snuff bottle collector myself I can hardly wait to see in print our special snuff bottle issue for the September-October 2002 magazine. This has been designed specifically to support a highly important and topical exhibition and a convention in this region, “Inkplay in Microcosm”-an exhibition of inside-painted snuff bottles opening at the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong on October 8th, 2002, and The International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society’s Singapore Convention, October 22nd-25th, 2002. Already the lead snuff bottle article, “Treasured Snuff Bottles of Mr and Mrs Denis Low” written by Robert Kleiner, is designed for the issue with fifty outstanding examples, many of the bottles seen in two or even three views and with their seals. With all the articles in full colour I can guarantee this will be a remarkable “volume” which collectors will keep in their libraries for constant reference.

Southeast Asian influence on the arts becomes more prominent. Mr Nguyen Hong Hai, Consul General of Vietnam in Hong Kong, is seen at the Sotheby’s preview with Henry Howard-Sneyd (6).

Next I illustrate Le Hamac (The Hammock) (7), a painting of Vietnamese women by Joseph Inguimberty (France, 1896-1971), which sold at the Christie’s in Hong Kong inaugural sale of Southeast Asian and 20th Century Indian Pictures on April 28th, 2002. I am posed rather appropriately into this idealised romantic setting, which painted in 1938 recalls my earliest youth. Hedda and Frank Lutz who are notable collectors in Asian art, including Chinese snuff bottles, purchased this large oil on canvas at the very reasonable price of HK$776,750.

Finally I am happy to announce that Christian Deydier (8), Secrétaire General de l’Association des Spécialistes en Art Asiatique, has recently been elected Président de Syndicat National des Antiquaires in France. Specialist in Chinese epigraphy and Chinese bronzes he is the author of many books, including Les Bronzes Chinois, Office du livre, 1980 and Archaic Chinese Bronzes-Xia & Shang, Arhis, Paris, 1995. With his friend Professor Han Wei, Deputy to the 9th National People’s Congress and a world-known specialist in Chinese gold and silverware, their latest publication Ancient Chinese Gold, was published by Les Editions d’Art et d’Histoire, Arhis in October 2001 (editionsarhis@minitel.net).

Subscribe to Arts of Asia

For Connoisseurs and Collectors of Asian Art