Rare Hoover Chinese blue and white vase leads stellar $12.5 million auction of Asian Art at Bonhams in San Francisco

Fine Asian Works of Art
10 Dec 2012
San Francisco

San Francisco — A rare Chinese blue and white porcelain vase, formerly in the collection of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, sold at Bonhams in San Francisco on December 10 for $5.9 million, the top lot in a salesroom packed with international buyers who came to compete for a wealth of choice Asian works of art in the 400-lot auction.

The vase, sold on behalf of a California Institution, was of tianshouping shape and made during the short reign of the Emperor Yongzheng (1723-35). It was decorated with finely painted foliage meanders under a classic wave band at the shoulder and border of the cylindrical neck. Estimated conservatively at $500,000-700,000, the bidding began slowly among multiple telephone bidders and built to a crescendo, with the ultimate buyer entering the competition at the $3 million mark. This buyer was Richard Littleton of Littleton and Hennessy, an Asian Art advisory group based in the US, London and Hong Kong. From then on, the bidding escalated quickly as a battle between the room and the telephone, with the floor bidder, Mr. Littleton, victorious.

Dessa Goddard, Director of Asian Art for Bonhams North America, stated, "We are thrilled to have had the privilege of bringing this magnificent piece to the market from the collection of a great public servant and humanitarian who loved Chinese blue and white porcelain. Blue and white porcelain tianshouping from the Yongzheng period are so very rare: this particular example may be the only one extant with the classic wave pattern on the shoulder and mouth rim."

The vase was one of six lots formerly in the Hoover collection offered for sale at Bonhams, with a massive yen-yen vase rendered with four clawed dragons achieving $158,500 (est. $50,000-100,000).

The room was full from the beginning of the morning until the end of the sale. Textiles and jades from the Tacoma Museum of Art, Washington, were hotly contested among the predominantly Mainland Chinese bidders in the room and on the phones, with lot after lot bringing multiples of their estimates. A two section jadeite belt buckle and two reticulated white jade pendants soared to five and 20 times their presale estimates, achieving $40,000 and $43,750, respectively. Other jades, textiles and works of art on offer achieved high levels, selling quickly to eager bidders. Devotional bronzes and other metalwork drew multiple telephone bidders and strong support from the room, with a large cast bronze seated figure of the Amitabha Buddha, Ming dynasty, selling for $314,500 (est. $125,000-200,000).

Furniture from the Estate of Elinor Majors Carlisle continued its exciting run, with a small pair of zitan, mixed wood and lacquer curio cabinets, Late Qing dynasty, achieving a stunning $80,500, and an eight panel cinnabar lacquer and hardstone overlay screen selling for $62,500.

Chinese ceramics were very buoyant, with a fine sancai glazed pottery horse, Tang dynasty, standing 29 inches high, and powerfully modelled with an elaborately tasselled harness and saddle, selling for $98,500, after spirited bidding on the phone and in the room (est. $50,000-70,000), and a rare group of three longquan celadon and biscuit Buddhist figures, Ming dynasty, amazed the crowd as the price raced to $74,500, over nine times its pre-sale estimate.

Fine Chinese and Southeast Asian paintings brought steady prices, with a painting of mandarin ducks by Huang Huanwu selling for $74,500, more than 10 times its estimate. Works by Fernando Amorsolo Y Cueto (1892-1972) were highly sought after, with all selling for at least three times their estimate, lead by a portrait of a Young Woman holding a Jar which achieved $80,500. A rare painting by the famed Korean artist Park Sookeun (1914-1965) entitled Two Figures, and dated to 1964, brought $242,500.

The afternoon concluded with a group of Indian and Southeast Asian sculptures formerly in the collection of the late Doris Weiner. A sandstone relief panel of Mithuna, North India 2nd century AD, sold for $20,000 and a black stone stele of Buddha, Pala period, circa 10th century, sold over its high estimate at $20,000, both to private collectors. The auction achieved a 79 percent sell-through rate.

This sale was followed on December 11 by an auction of Asian Decorative art. Again, the strength of the auction was in Chinese porcelain and works of art. A pair of famille rose enamelled porcelain vase, Qianlong mark, Republic Period, brought $74,500, against a presale estimate of $8,000-12,000. A good blue and white glazed porcelain bottle vase, Late Qing dynasty, more than tripled its estimate, selling for $56,250. A rare polychrome lacquer circular box and cover, 18th century, sold for 10 times its estimate at $53,750. Also, Japanese paintings and prints performed respectably, with a group of Chiura Obata watercolours selling for strong prices to private buyers at the end of the sale.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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