Tuesday, January 15, 2013

'World Record' Chinese vase re-sold at less than half original price

Just about everyone knew it was too good to be true. Even within the other-worldly realm of Asian art, £53 million for a Qing dynasty vase (left) was an eyebrow-raising event.

When the hammer fell in Ruislip back in 2010 (the auctioneer brought his gavel down so hard and so exuberantly that it smashed in two) you could hear the exhalations of disbelief from Hammersmith to the Himalayas. It quickly emerged that the buyer was unable, or unwilling, to pay for it, which had appraisers everywhere turning to the chapter in the auctioneers' handbook marked 'Risk'.

Now Bloomberg's seasoned art market reporter Scott Reyburn has confirmed that it was all indeed a dream, an illusion, Chinese mist, smoke and mirrors. The Qing Dynasty porcelain vase 'sold' by Bainbridges Auction Rooms in Ruislip way back in 2010 was never paid for and has now been re-sold by private treaty to a different buyer in a transaction brokered by London auctioneers Bonhams. 

This time it has been sold for a sum reported to be between £20 million and £25 million (one wonders why, if they're happy to be that specific about the price, they don't just confirm the exact sum).

The failure of the original bidder to settle his obligation sent a ripple of concern around European salerooms, with a number of auction houses thereafter demanding pre-auction deposits from Asian bidders at sales of important Chinese works of art. The news that the so-called 'Ruislip Vase' was not the epochal moment it was cracked up to be (the vase remains on Bainbridge's website, trumpeted at £53 million) will merely reinforce the ongoing need for caution in disposing of the Chinese imperial wares so craved by Asian collectors. 

China has a long way to go before its art market is fit for purpose. The Ruislip Vase outcome is a reminder that the European art market is still vulnerable to its many inconsistencies.