NEW YORK—On July 12, Christie’s London sold a rare Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) jar for £15.6 million ($26.7 million), setting a record for the most expensive Asian work of art ever at auction. Christie’s notes the total is also the highest price paid for any artwork sold at Christie’s this year. In terms of British pounds, the total outstripped the record £14.5 million ($27.5 million) paid for Constantin Brancusi’s 1922-23 sculpture Oiseau dans l’espace, at the New York Impressionist and modern auctions in May.
Christie’s reports that the work ignited fierce competition among six clients, some bidding via phone and others in the auction room. The blue-and-white jar, depicting scenes from contemporary literature, went to dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, director of Eskenazi Ltd., London, who was bidding on behalf of a private buyer. Eskenazi told ARTnewsletter the buyer is “not Chinese; the jar is not going to Asia.”
Describing the sale, Eskenazi said the bidding started “surprisingly low,” around £2 million, but escalated very quickly. “There were at least five bidders still in the action at £10 million—we jumped in at £12.5 million,” says Eskenazi, adding that the estimate undervalued the work: “I personally expected it to fetch over £10 million because of its rarity and because it is the finest example,” of its kind.
The 14th-century jar is thought to be one of only eight examples that have survived to the present day. According to Christie’s it was acquired in China by Capt. Baro van Hemert, an art collector who was in the Dutch Marine Corps, stationed in Beijing from 1913-23.