How to navigate the Chinese art and porcelain market


The Chinese art and porcelain market has changed dramatically over the past two decades, with rare collectibles reaching millions of pounds at auction. Bonhams Chinese Art Director Benedetta Mottino explains the trend to Julie Webb, Director of Aston Lark Private Clients

“Until 20 years ago, the Chinese art and porcelain market was dominated by Western collectors, but it is now dominated by Chinese buyers who bid from mainland China, its islands and the West. .

As a result of China’s economic boom, wealthy Chinese have started buying Chinese art and account for 80% of the items auctioned.

Like any collector’s item, prices fluctuate with taste or fashion, but what remains a constant in value is Imperial art much coveted by wealthier buyers.

Marks on Chinese porcelain most often display dynasty and reign during its period of production, and buyers will spend an absolute fortune on porcelain, jade, textiles, and metalwork for consumption by the Chinese Emperor and his court. , which often have an Imperial Mark on the base or body.


At the Parry Collection of Chinese Art sale, held in London on November 2, 2021, we secured over £ 2million for an extremely rare Beijing Imperial Blue enamel melon-shaped teapot and lid with a four-character Qianlong mark from the period 1736 -1975. It had been estimated between £ 500,000 and £ 800,000.

The exquisite teapot (seen above – Image credit: Bonhams) was one of only three known examples, along with the other two in the museum’s collections: the first in the collection of the Palace Museum, Taipei, and the second in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Each section of the teapot represents a different subject in miniature with eight paintings symbolizing the seasons, peonies and butterflies; you would really need a magnifying glass to appreciate the intricate details which represent change, longevity and happiness. Symbolism is very important to Chinese buyers.

The Parry Collection was a large private English collection of imperial enamels, lacquers, porcelain and jade, incorporated from 1919 and held in the family for three generations.

In total, the sale reached £ 7,888,246 and tripled its pre-sale estimates with 100% sales. Other highlights include a rare archaic jadeite incense burner and cover with a Qianlong seal mark but made in the late Qing Dynasty, which sold for £ 1,222,750 (estimate of £ 60,000 £ to £ 80,000) and a rare pair of Zitan mounted kingfisher feathers encrusted with Qianlong period landscape screens which sold for £ 525,250 (estimate £ 120,000 – £ 180,000).


“We base our estimates on previous auction results and what’s going on around the world, understanding which categories are selling for the highest amounts, but there are always three valuation criteria, which acts of porcelain, jade, textiles, ironwork, furniture and these are: age, condition and provenance.

Age: These periods arouse the most interest: early Ming, 15th and 16th centuries, and middle Qing, including the reigns of Kangxi, the second Chinese emperor in the newly established Manchu Qing dynasty (reigned 1662-1722); Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Quianlong (1735-1796) – the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty and the fourth Qing emperor to rule China.

State: If the article is impeccable, it will receive maximum interest.

Origin: Collectors want the story and the story behind an object, so provenance is as fundamental to the object as age and quality. If it is associated with a historical figure, the higher its price will be compared to the same thing without the provenance.

Chairs that ticked all the boxes

“As an interesting example, three years ago we auctioned off a set of early 17th century travel chairs in huanghuali, one of the best Chinese woods, and they grossed almost £ 6million because they ticked all the boxes – age, condition and provenance. They came from the Marquis Taliani de Marchio (1887 – 1968), an eminent Italian diplomat who lived through the great historical upheavals of the first half of the 20th century. He was appointed Ambassador to China in 1938 and remained there until 1946.

The provenance of the chairs could be proven by invoices and they also appeared in one of Gustav Ecke’s first Chinese furniture publications. The fourth huanghuali The folding chairs are considered a masterpiece of Ming Dynasty furniture making, with no other identical set known.

The sale has been incredible as auctions started at £ 300,000 but jumped straight to £ 1million and then to £ 2million. In the UK, bidders can’t wait, they are patient, but if Chinese individuals want an item, then they will!

Image credit: Bonhams

World record

“We set a world record of £ 6.2million for porcelain in 2017 with a blue and white porcelain imperial vase from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735). It was not only a short timeframe, but the porcelain produced around this time was impeccable, including many examples produced with the finest glazes which are highly sought after and inevitably fetch high prices at auction.

The vase was also part of the collection of former First Lady Lou Henry Hoover (1874-1944), which she started while living in London in the early 1900s after returning from two years to China where her husband, Herbert, had been director general of the Chinese Bureau of Mines for the Chinese government. ‘

Benedetta Mottino’s tips for starting to collect porcelain and Chinese art

First, decide what your budget will allow you and figure out what you like the most – pottery, jade, wood, textiles or bamboo and bid for the best of the best your money can buy.

Also, keep in mind that Western and Chinese tastes are different. When appreciating works of art, Western buyers generally apply a different aesthetic approach than Chinese collectors, based on the classical canons of Greek beauty, order and symmetry. While the Chinese often paid the highest amounts for richly decorated items depicting a variety of designs for auspicious wishes.

Overall, Chinese buyers tend not to like pottery, as Confucius’ basic teaching says in 5 BC. The Chinese believe in the continuation of life after death and that ancestors could positively influence the life of their living offspring if they were provided with a continuous case, so disturbing a grave where pottery might have been left would be very wrong.

It’s a good time to collect pottery while forming your own taste category; maybe animals, landscapes and Buddhism or consider ornaments or jade bracelets. It is also worth trying to own something that is tied to a historical moment as it will add interest and value.

Whether you’re a longtime collector or new to buying porcelain or Chinese art, these examples of rising values ​​underscore the importance of regular appraisals.

Insurers recommend that you get an appraisal at least every five years, preferably three in today’s market. But check your schedule and your policy wording for specific requirements.

Insurers will require that all appraisals be for “insurance purposes” and generally for retail value. You should also think about how you would replace your collectible if it gets lost. Would you like a brand new replacement with a modern equivalent (New replacement value) or would you prefer an antique replacement (Antique replacement value)? Make sure the items are photographed, kept in good repair, and that your documentation is in a safe place to help you with any claims. It’s a good idea to send a copy of your valuations to your broker, whether or not the insurer requires it.

To tell us about your art or collections insurance, call 020 8256 4901 or email [email protected]

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