From a charity shop discard bag to headline news, a 17th-18th century carved Chinese vase surprises the art market by selling for £360,000, almost twenty times the estimate. Following recent landmark sales in modern art, 23 May saw a very different object capture the art world’s attention. It was neither Christie’s nor Sotheby’s that hosted this remarkable sale, but the Woolley and Wallis showroom in Salisbury, a well-respected but unlikely candidate for such a fairytale.
Experts at Woolley and Wallis determined the small bamboo bitong Kangzi to be made by Gu Jue, a renowned artist of the late 17th century. The delicately carved designs are thought to represent a poem, ‘The Agreeable Life in a Land of Transcendents,’ featuring Laozi, a philosopher, an ox, and an idyllic landscape. The cylindrical container has the signature of the artist on the base and stands on three short legs. It is believed that this object would have been used to hold calligraphy brushes. Bamboo can be a difficult medium to conserve as it is prone to cracking if dried out. The rarity of object and skill of the artist contribute to the success in auction. In its current condition, the vase was significantly damaged with cracked wood and amateur conservation attempts.
Gu Jue’s vase was deemed to be a rare example of the master artist’s work and expected to generate some interest at the sale. The valuators estimated the cost of the object to be £15-20,000. However, exceeding all expectations, dealers and collectors of Asian antiques were extremely enthusiastic about the vase bidding furiously in the sales room and over the telephone. The proud new owner of the bitong Kangzi is an anonymous resident of Hong Kong.The proceeds from the sale will go to the St. Peter’s Hospice in Bristol, the owners of the charity shop where the vase was discovered. This single sale has generated almost three times the yearly income of one of the shops demonstrating that sometimes one man’s trash really could be another man’s treasure. Words: Emily Sack Photo: Wooley & Wallis