In November 2010 the world record price for a Chinese work of art was shattered when a 16 in high double-walled porcelain vase “sold” for a premium-inclusive total of £52 million.
The unlikely setting for the sale was Bainbridges, a small, provincial firm of auctioneers in North London into whose warehouse the vase had arrived, initially unrecognised, as part of a house clearance following the death of a client.
The priceless object was subsequently spotted, catalogued and valued at £800,000 – £1,200,000 by Bainbridges’ consultant valuer, Luan Grocholski and was then specially exhibited (and much admired) in central London during Asian Art Week.
Prior to the auction speculative chatter amongst the trade pushed the likely price up to £15 million, but nobody was prepared for the bidding battle that ensued.
And that should be that: a happy conclusion to a marvellous story. The reality is, sadly, somewhat different.
The purchaser is reputed in antiques circles to be Chinese property magnate Wang Jianlin, who has a fortune estimated at £2.9 billion, and is believed to have one of the largest private collections of art in his country.
Sixteen months on Mr. Jianlin has yet to stump up for his purchase because, it is understood, he is “reluctant to pay” the flat rate 20 per cent buyer’s premium of £8.6 million levied on the sale by Bainbridges, despite the fact that the conditions of sale were openly available to him in advance of the auction.
Ongoing negotiations between auction house owner Peter Bainbridge, his client and representatives of the Chinese purchaser have yet to resolve the situation. Meanwhile Mr. Jianlin has been banned from bidding at a number of high profile sales in Europe.
Whilst the recent surge of interest in Chinese antiques from Far Eastern collectors has been welcomed by all in the antiques trade, it does appear that the traditional auction code respected by all in the West does not appear to be quite as highly regarded elsewhere.