Thursday, March 19, 2009


A pair of ancient Chinese bronzes sold two weeks ago at a Paris auction for $40 million. The buyer was Chinese. Why should that worry the average American collector? Because the buyer has refused to pay. A French court ruling earlier in February let the auction go forward in spite of objections by a group that wants the bronzes given back to China as "national treasures." The reneged purchase may be a protest by this or another group. The botched sale means there may be more problems with sales of historic Chinese art. No one wants a piece with a clouded ownership. And the Chinese government has already tightened customs rules, making business more difficult for foreign auctions. Dealers and collectors have long thought there are warehouses in China filled with old but not fabulous Chinese ceramics, textiles, netsukes, prints, etc. gathered up during the Communist Revolution. What will happen when these collectibles hit the market?


Anonymous said...

I find it surprising that the Chinese suddenly oppose the selling of their art overseas. The reason the best Chinese art is overseas is because they destroyed their art in the cultural revolution. How can they claim that foreigners are not better custodians?

Anonymous said...

The two bronzes mentioned were actually two heads from bronze sculptures, stolen from the Forbidden City several years ago. The buyer who refused to pay for his purchase was, indeed, protesting the fact that they were on sale. As a member of a Chinese art group, he felt that the auction house should return them to the Chinese government, to be replaced in the Forbidden City.

Anonymous said...

Hello ~

These were not "stolen several years ago" from the article I read:

"The bronze heads of a rabbit and a rat - which were part of a celebrated water fountain at the Summer Palace outside Beijing - disappeared from the imperial compound at the close of the second Opium War in 1860.

They were looted along with the ten other heads, each representing an animal of the Chinese zodiac, after the palace was burned down by French and British forces."

Sotheby's had a sale October 9, 2007, of "Lost Treasures from Imperial Peking, The Last Days". Lot 1303 was a jade seal, "removed" in 1900. Sold for $2 million. Lot 1312, a painting also "removed" in 1900 brought $645,000.

So were the European soldiers fighting in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1860) or the demise of the Imperial Reign (1900) protecting treasures or stealing them?

T'ang ceramics were a very strong market until thousands came on the market from looted graves. Do they go back?

And what about those Egyptian and Greek sculptures that the British brought back around 1800? That battle is only beginning.

The issue of "stolen art" will intensify for years as countries become more aggressive about their “lost treasures”.