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editorials - November - December 2003

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I JOIN WITH Ron Ramsey, author of “Australia—A Land of Contrasts and Collections”, the introductory article of this superbly illustrated Australian museum issue, in hoping that our readers “will enjoy learning more about Asian art and the influence of Asia within Australian art museums, as well as the richness of a private Aboriginal art collection in Sydney.”  

Ron Ramsey, who is Assistant Director of the National Gallery of Australia, came first to visit me in my Hong Kong office on November 20th, 2002. This is when I expressed my wish for a special number on the four leading museums in Australia that carry Asian art. Since many years I have been approached by Australian officials and ambassadors to project such an issue and, at that meeting, Ron Ramsey and I were able to discuss the possibilities in outline.
Surely Australian readers will have their own special priorities and preferences. Arts of Asia, founded thirty-three years ago, is continually rejuvenated through your recommendations and suggestions. If sent by letter or by email, but with your postal address, they will be warmly appreciated and responded to. Should you have useful and timely suggestions for future Australian Asian articles, do be sure to contact me.

The inspiring November-December 2003 magazine will increase the knowledge of our world readers of this vast Australian continent and its enormous potential for future development and exploration. In additional the wider interests of collectors and art dealers are most surely amply covered as well in the supplementary articles: “The Development of the Sri Lankan Buddha Image”, “The National Museum of Myanmar”, “Loving the Stone”, “Chinese Filigree Gold Jewellery” and “Tran Nguyen Dan and his Woodblocks”. There is no other Asian art magazine that covers such a wide spectrum internationally.

I start the photographs for my Editorial with Robin Markbreiter’s coverage of the official local first evening of the John and Berthe Ford Collection of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan art. Held at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, this was scheduled to run in Hong Kong from August 22nd–November 2nd, 2003. A travelling exhibition, following extensive showing in the United States, Hong Kong was the final chance to see and enjoy this outstanding collection, before its return to Baltimore and its permanent home at the Walters Art Museum. This collection is justifiably of worldwide international fame, and the Fords deserve credit for the generosity of their presentation to their home museum.

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As an example of the respect the collection has long generated, I note that the distinguished author/curator, Dr Pratapaditya Pal, wrote an early article on the Tibetan part of the collection, titled “Tibetan Art in the John Gilmore Ford Collection”, for our November-December 1975 issue.

For a resumé of the most recent show, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, published an excellent catalogue, backed in Hong Kong by an eight-page large format promotional brochure with text in English and Chinese. To follow here I show a line-up in front of the stage, at the opening of the exhibition (1); curators with friends from Singapore and Hong Kong (2); and attendees with Berthe at John Ford’s lecture at Hong Kong’s prestigious Min Chiu Society (3). Usefully, for a lucky few members and their numerous guests, this preceded the exhibition.

Collectors should appreciate the importance of provenance. In previewing for my Editorial a selective group of examples which will be seen at the current Asian Art in London activities, which will run from November 6th–14th, 2003, I have taken this aspect very much to heart. Provenance is possibly the next best thing to actually seeing or taking the advice of a respected longtime dealer and/or expert. For instance, of the Chinese ceramics that will be shown by S. Marchant & Son (120 Kensington Church Street, London W8 4BH) seen here is their early Ming Chinese porcelain underglaze copper-red pear-shaped bottle vase, yuhuchunping, that has at least six famous collections and exhibitions to its credit, including the collections of Lord Trevelyan and the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, and loan to the British Museum in 1958-1973 (4).
Roger Keverne Ltd (2nd Floor, 16 Clifford Street, London, W1S 3RG) will be showing from November 6th a “Winter Exhibition of Fine and Rare Chinese Works of Art and Ceramics”. Also included will be a fine group of lacquer (such as a pair of two-colour lacquer bowls and covers, 18th century, heights 22.6 cm) (5), glass, enamels and cloisonné. With Roger Keverne’s long expertise and authorship in the ceramics, jades, scholar’s desk and lacquer fields, several of his pieces are accompanied by records of distinguished previous ownership. He pin-points, as of particular merit, “a superb pierced jade censer with extravagant bat handles, of the Qianlong period, that was exhibited in the Oriental Ceramics Society’s exhibition, The Arts of the Ch’ing Dynasty(6). Also impeccably provenanced, as formerly in the collection of the sinologist Osvald Sirén and exhibited in a National Museum of Stockholm’s exhibition in 1933, are two Northern Zhou limestone figures of Guanyin, dated AD 571.

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Eskenazi Ltd (10 Clifford Street, London W1S 2LJ) will be showing some thirty-five Song Chinese ceramics dating from the 10th to 13th century, from Thursday, November 6th–Saturday, November 29th. One of three of these important ceramics is a large Northern Song glazed stoneware baluster vase dating from the 11th/12th century, height 27.8 cm, covered with a glossy black brown glaze. This was formerly in the collection of Alfred Schoenlicht of New York and The Hague. It has been on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and widely exhibited. The accompanying imposing Northern Song period, 11th/12th century, Cizhou-type cut slip-ware vase height 32.5 cm with a design of oval cartouches, was formerly in the collection of Victor Hauge, Virginia, USA. These two Northern Song pieces are seen for comparison with Eskenazi’s also offered Southern Song period glazed stoneware censer, 12th/13th century, from the Longquan kilns, height 11.5 cm (7).

Theresa McCullough Ltd (35 Dover Street, 1st Floor, London W1S 4NQ) supporting her exhibition of Indian and Southeast Asian sculpture, 6th-28th November, will be hosting an opening evening and champagne reception on Monday, November 10th, from 3 pm-9 pm. As a collector myself of Southeast Asian jewellery, I am interested to see that she will be showing a gold jewellery collection, as well as stone, bronze and terracotta sculpture from India and Southeast Asia. I have chosen to show as exemplifying the wider aspects of her exhibits, a Thailand, Mon period, Dvaravati-style Buddha, bronze, 8th/9th century, height 26 cm (8).
James Hennessy, one of three partners of Oriental Arts (UK) Ltd (1 Princess Place, Duke Street, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6DE), has sent me two pictures of his fantastic Ming Xuande mark and period (1426-1435) blue and white tankard which will be seen in their exhibition, 6th-14th November, in their London gallery (9). James says, “Given the current appetite for Ming blue and white it is nice to have a rare piece like this. My colleague Richard Littleton and I attended the Doyle sale in New York. There was a wonderful turnout for the sale with dealers and collectors from London, Taiwan, Beijing, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles engaging in strong competition to acquire pieces from the Morrill Collection.

“We were successful in buying three pieces namely Lots 9, 82 and 108. The beautiful Yongle dish, Lot 82, is of particular note having been exhibited in the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition of Ming blue and white in 1949. This bears special significance for Richard, being a native of Philadelphia. The sale was a huge success for Doyle and one must compliment the specialist staff and viewing assistants who managed to keep all the pieces moving safely during an extremely busy view and allow all time to inspect some wonderful porcelains.”

According to news from Doyle immediately after their auction released on September 17th, “the collection fetched a staggering US$12,046,699, a very rare Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain pilgrim flask from the mid-1300s sold for US$5,831,500, setting a new world auction record for a piece of Chinese porcelain (10). The piece sold to a prominent collector based in London.

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The previous world record for Chinese porcelain was set in Hong Kong in October 2000 for a 16th century wucai fish bowl and cover that sold for US$5,657,640.

“Prior to the exhibition and auction at Doyle New York, there was a highly successful exhibition of highlights from the Morrill Collection in Hong Kong in August. The exhibition took place at prominent entrepreneur David Tang’s exclusive China Club.” Of course I was one of many Hong Kong collectors who enjoyed previewing it and meeting Doyle experts Martin Barnes Lorber (11), Consultant, and Andrea Blunk Frost, Senior Vice President.

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Grace Wu Bruce (701 Universal Trade Centre, 3 Arbuthnot Road, Hong Kong and 12A Balfour Mews, London W1K 2BJ), who I have known as a friend before she became a famous Chinese furniture dealer, is also now recognised for works of art from the scholar’s studio. She will have two exhibitions to coincide with Asian Art in London: “Ming, the Golden Age of Chinese Furniture” which will show twelve recent acquisitions (12), and “Treasures from the Song Scholar’s Table” including inkstones, Qingbai water droppers, paperweights and thirty incense burners. This collection has taken several years to put together.

I was pleased to hear from Anwer Islam of Chine Gallery (G/F., 42A Hollywood Road, Hong Kong) that his exhibition “Woven Treasures—Chinese antique rugs” will run until November 9th. He is currently showing more than five hundred old and antique hand-woven rugs from Ningxia, Tibet, Mongolia and Xinjiang (East Turkestan). He notes that “old” means up to one hundred years old and “antique” is older than that. He says that as Chinese rugs age they become very mellow and soft. They are also well-suited to modern interiors. To represent his exhibition he has suggested several choices: a pair of dragon pillar rugs, 18th century, wool on wool, Ningxia, 109 x 315 cm; temple runner, late 19th century, wool on wool, Tibet, 59 x 313 cm; vases rug, early 20th century, wool on cotton, East Turkestan, 200 x 141 cm; and Communist pagoda rug, 1950s, wool on cotton, Baotou, Inner Mongolia, 97 x 163 cm (13). I have selected the most recent for its rare and usual subject.

Lynette of Lynette Cunnington Chinese Art (80 Queen Street, Woollahra, Sydney, NSW 2025, Australia) is no stranger to Hong Kong, where I am happy to welcome her. She is best known in Sydney for her late Ming and Qing furniture and Chinese antiques. Her adventurous taste was more recently seen in a September exhibition of bold traditional Turkmenistan jewellery and crowns from the 1880s to 1920s. Her amulet panels of gold and silver, pierced and engraved with floral patterns and studded with large oval carnelians, make fashionable necklaces today (14).
I had been looking forward to carrying a review of Michael Yamashita’s handsome 503-page definitely coffee-table book, Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey weighing close to 3 kg (15). With Preface and Epilogue by Yamashita, and “Historical Introductions” by Gianni Guadalupi, the book was sent to us by White Star Publishers (www.whitestar.it), Vercelli, Italy, earlier this year. It says in the acknowledgements that the book had been made possible by the publication of an 80-page three-part series in the May, June and July 2001 National Geographic Magazine.

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However, Renzo Freschi (Via Gesù 17, Milan 20121, Italy) has forestalled me with his latest gallery exhibition which he has entitled “The Art Journey of Marco Polo”, October 15th-November 29th. This includes fifty sculptures and paintings from the 2nd to the 16th century, from Afghanistan, Central Asia, Tibet, China and India. Fifteen pieces are presented alongside brilliant photographs by Michael Yamashita. Renzo Freschi’s own exhibition catalogue (US$50, order on www.renzofreschi.com) contains an introduction by Michael Henss, a scholar of Tibetan art and of Marco Polo, and the descriptions of twenty-five works including a Ming dynasty clay, wood and stucco Meditating Bodhisattva, height 82 cm (16). The English title, I may add, reflects the general theme of the exhibition, and of Renzo’s many past trips to the regions from which he has brought back a wealth of Oriental art and experience. Renzo contributed two articles to Arts of Asia in 1987.
Ritual jade of the Shang, lacquerware from the Song and Yuan, and sancai ceramic pillows of the Jin dynasty, as well as a jade water dropper from the collection of famous collector, R.H.R. Palmer will all be found with many other charming antiquities in the gallery of Anthony Carter (91B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JB) during Asian Art in London, November 6th-14th, 2003. An usual red lacquer tray is carved with densely cut and rounded tixi patterns of the Yuan dynasty, as also are a large black lacquer box and cover of the same period. The red lacquer tray has been exhibited in the Honolulu Academy of Arts (17). It appears at the head of this final page of my Editorial as the information was late.

Marc Maertens is Vice President, Lotus Fine Arts Logistics, a member of the Maertens Group, Marc Maertens’ family business which dates back to 1919 was founded by his great-grandfather, a Belgian farmer. When the farm was destroyed in the Great War, he took two horses to Brussels and bought a cart. That was the start of the transportation business. This fascinating background came to light when Marc (far right) visited my office on August 1st, 2003 with senior members of the company, including (from the left) Sales Manager Agnes Chong, Director Keith Brumberg, Managing Director Erik Lim and Director Allen Fan (18).

I jumped at the chance to learn more about the “behind the scenes” logistics business; and the formation of the new company some nine months ago has given me the opportunity. Marc could have opened the subsidiary company nine months earlier, but he wanted to make sure all systems were in place so they could properly serve their customers. Lotus Fine Arts Logistics is operational in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam. They have done exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam and Bangkok, but these have been coordinated through their Singapore office (6 Lok Yang Way, Singapore 628625).

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In Vietnam they packed over 250 pieces to deliver to an exhibition in Brussels, which is travelling around Europe. The value of pieces are getting higher and higher and often need very delicate treatment and packing. The most important thing is to sit down with clients and come up with a right solution, with each object an individual case. Some pieces are so fragile (such as old tapestry on silk) museum conservators are asked to review the packing work before delivery. Lotus also deal with a lot of hand-carry pieces, which can be safer and cheaper if the volume is not large.
I am always willing to learn! Among the five pieces that Christie’s Paris (9 Avenue Matignon, 75009 Paris) has sent me illustrations for their November 19th, 2003 auction of the Dr Jochen May collection of Vietnamese ceramics is a Tran dynasty, 13th century ceramic, length 51.1 cm, which they describe as a brown-glazed sgraffiato “megaphone” (estimate Euro6000-8000). I will be interested to see the references as nothing similar is shown in either Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition by John Stevenson and John Guy, Art Media Resources with Avery Press, Chicago, 1997; or Vietnamese Blue & White Ceramics by Bui Minh Tri and Kerry Nguyen-Long, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001. Cham figures and Dong Son bronzes will also appear in the November Christie’s Paris sale.

Dr May, a chemist who worked in pharmaceutical research, made several visits to Vietnam while building his collection which is reputed to be one of the most representative and complete on Vietnamese ceramics from early periods to late 17th century.

Finally, I have further news of Drs Feng-Chun Ma whose father, readers of my Editorials may remember from our November-December 2002 issue, was a friend of the famous painter Qi Baishi. Feng-Chun says in a letter from Beijing that during the past years, when the market in Chinese art was vibrant and growing enormously, she had reasons to reflect about her own future. She felt her best option would be to work as an independent expert (especially as under pressure a few years ago she had a very serious illness from which she has now fully recovered). Since leaving Sotheby’s Amsterdam at the end of June 2003 of which she was formerly a Director, she works under her own company name, Feng-Chun Ma Chinese & Japanese Art (Plantage Kerklaan 57, 1018 CW Amsterdam, The Netherlands). She can now visit China regularly, attending major auctions in Beijing and closely follow her customers’ needs. This advantage was confirmed to her when attending the July 2003 China Guardian Beijing auctions.

I take pleasure in sending to all our supporters—subscribers, advertisers, writers and contributors in many forms—my very best wishes for the coming 2004 year.


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