THE DIVINE DOZEN!
To celebrate its golden jubilee, Eskenazi London has surreptitiously gathered 12 exceptional Chinese masterpieces over the years and kept them aside for this momentous occasion! One great rarity for each month of the year! Don't you just love the thought of Mr Eskenazi hoarding the most precious objects so he could celebrate his company's 50th birthday in the grandest of style and maximising the fattest of profits?
This is the star of the show, the most divine of the dozen! And the most expensive!
This Falangcai porcelain pear-shaped vase was so favoured by Emperor Yongzhen it was listed in his personal list of 'Masterpieces', an immense honour as he owned tens of thousands of works of art! This piece was recorded as being painted in the imperial workshops in Beijing after it was delivered from the kiln in southern China.Part of the reason it is so precious is its unusual purplish/ magenta colour which was so seldom used it must have been a personal request from the emperor wishing to perhaps complete a range of similar vases in different colours!
To buy something from an illustrious company celebrating its 50th anniversary is a premium by itself. Not only is the item special and rare and frightfully expensive in its own right, it is so cool to be able to say casually, "Oh, I bought that during Eskenazi's 50th bash."
Archaic bronze wine vessel, Western Zhou dynasty, 10th to 9th century BC.
Gold kneeling figure. Han dynasty, 206 BC to 220 AD.
Gilt silver bowl made even rarer as it has original cover! And it is the finest example of only 14 in existence today and all are in museums except this! Found in Balin, Mongolia in 1930.
The celebrated glazed stone-paste Ear Cup with strange handles resembling ears! No one knows the significance of such ears or were they just whimsy on the part of a bored potter!
Limestone carving of a smiling apsara or Buddhist angel. Northern Wei, 6th century AD, from Longmen Caves, China.
This sumptuous and exquisite famille rose bowl is supposed to have been a birthday present to Emperor Yongzhen who personally passed it on to Emperor Qianlong! The 5 bats represent the 5 blessings and peaches signify long life so this must have been a specially commissioned birthday present.
The ultimate teapot! The eggyolk exterior contrasts with white interior. This was last seen in public in 1986 at Kubosu Museum of Arts in Japan.
Blue and white porcelain dish. One of 16 panels has Arabic inscription so this must have been commissioned by a Sultan or Middle Eastern ruler or nobleman. Mid 14th century and one of the finest to come into the market. The lion holds a brocade ball with auspicious symbols.
Blue and white porcelain bowl from Ming dynasty. Only 9 exist and 7 are in museums! Made for Emperor Chenghua. What a glorious way to drink your morning tea or soup in a bowl painted with morning glory flowers!
Marble carving of a Boddhisattva, Tang dynasty, 8th century. The fine, sculptural realism of this era is seen in full, fleshy face and draped body. Imagine the price if the arms are intact!
This bowl appears dull and simplistic, the sort we expect to find in any Petaling Street porcelain shop but this is glazed stoneware dish is from Song dynasty with dragon chasing flaming pearl. Only two others exist, in Forbidden City,Beijing and Shanghai Museum.
Those who are not art collectors with bottomless pockets may not have heard of Eskenazi but for serious buyers of antiques and museums with massive endowments, Eskenazi is the place to go when your shelves are looking rather empty and need filling up. Or some space on your shelf or cabinet seems like it could do with a statuette, bowl, vase, figurine or something rare and a major topic of conversation.
Eskenazi Limited, considered one of the world’s top three Chinese art dealers, hosted an exhibition of 12 fabulously precious and unusual works of Chinese art.To say they are priceless is not accurate as this implies money is irrelevant and is not for sale or beyond any price. But Eskenazi is a business and a moneymaking one at that since the rent must be paid and staff salaries looked after. I am unaware of the prices since all prices are listed as 'upon request' which sounds ridiculous if they are for sale. To an executive earning RM 70,000 a year, a RM 80,000 antique is beyond reach. To someone earning RM 36,000 a year, such thoughts would never occur to him! To a millionaire, a million is an unnecessary expenditure so you really need to have RM 20 million in liquid assets to buy one of these. I assume each must cost at least a few million ringgit.
Such sales are called 'private treaties' the same way countries sign and conduct treaties! So pretentious but as such items sell for RM 10 million or more (which is 'only' 2 million pounds) the word 'treaty' may be accurate.
Eskenazi the company started life in 1960 when Giuseppe Eskenazi, now 71, opened a London branch with his father to service their main Milan family business. The initial objective was to supply works of art to the Eskenazi gallery in Milan ran by his uncle Vittorio. Giuseppe was considered the ideal candidate to run the London branch as he studied in England in 1952 and had been involved in the family business since he was 17.
After his father’s death in 1967, Giuseppe took control of the London office and was joined two years later by Luigi Bandini who specialised in Japanese art. In 1996, Bandini passed away and the Japanese department was downsized in 1999 to handle only important screens and porcelain. Of course Milan’s fine arts market is nowhere near London’s which is the world’s biggest and most important so Giuseppe wisely stayed put in the British capital.
From the start, his expertise was recognised and by 1972 he raked in enough money to move from the unglam sixth floor of Foxglove House in Piccadilly down to the pricier and most prestigious first floor. The elegant and spacious new gallery was designed by John Prizeman, past president pf Architectural Association of UK. The same year, Philip Constantinidi joined Eskenazi as assistant to Guiseppe. His invaluable knowledge of Chinese art was to prove pivotal to the development of Eskenazi’s Chinese department which has become the bread and butter of Eskenazi Limited. More so when Chinese mainlanders are buying back their heritage spirited to the West in the dying days of China’s last dynasty and during the communist regime of the first half of the 20th century.
In 1975 the firm expanded again, taking over the first floor of an adjacent building to create a 3,000 sq ft showroom. In 1993 it moved to its current magnificent premises at 10 Clifford Street, just off famous Bond Street where Guiseppe and his son Daniel hold court in princely surroundings afforded by their own six floor building.
Eskenazi now flaunts two floors of exhibition space with the rest devoted to storage, offices and extensive research library. Within the last 50 years, Giuseppe Eskenazi has built a formidable clientele that is a veritable Who’s Who in the art world. He has sold over 5,000 objects and stunned London when his company did a Hard Rock Cafe. In the early days, connoisseurs and collectors used to camp and sleep overnight at Eskenazi’s doorsteps so they would be the first in queue when an exhibition opened! This phenomenon has never been repeated as no other art dealer commands the same awe and respect.
Indeed even Eskenazi’s glossy catalogues and scholarly publications that accompany every exhibition are now treated as collector’s items in their own right!
Over 80 museums and galleries have bought from this august firm and include the likes of British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum , Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Musee Guimet Paris, Tokyo’s National Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington’s Sackler Gallery, Chicago’s Art Institute and Los Angeles County Museum. Giuseppe Eskenazi does not reveal the names of important private collectors who bought or sold their collections through him but we can safely assume they are from the uppermost echelons.
Eskenazi occupies the apex of the art business and deals only in the finest and rarest works which effectively pedestalised the firm as he offers only the best and most exquisite examples. Only established collectors with bottomless pockets and museums with huge endowments need apply!
In 2005, Guiseppe Eskenazi paid Christie’s US$ 27.7 million for a 14th century, Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain jar, setting a world record for an Asian work of art which stands today. In 2007 he repeated the feat by paying US$ 28.6 million for a Greek/Roman imperial bronze figure of ‘Artemis and the Stag’ at Sotheby’s New York, at that time a world record for an antiquity and sculpture from any culture. In 2009 he paid L 3.4 million for the Qianlong imperial jade water buffalo at Woolley & Wallis, establishing a record for a Chinese artwork at provincial auction in England.
Each of the 12 outstanding works in his 50th anniversary collection is outstanding. A few might seem almost ordinary and bland at first glance but every item will send the adrenalin flowing from the discerning collector.
The most prized is the Qing dynasty porcelain pear-shaped vase bearing Emperor Yongzheng’s reign mark 1723-1735. This highly individual vase features a pair of dragons chasing the flaming pearl and made to order by Emperor Yongzhen as reference is made to it in the records of Forbidden City. Only one comparable piece existed in a private collection in Japan and classified as ‘Important Art Object’ in 1931 but was almost certainly destroyed in World War 2, making the Eskenazi piece unique.
The earliest piece is an archaic bronze wine vessel and cover from Western Chou dynasty (10th to 9th BC) that testifies the incredibly high artistry and advanced technology which existed in China over 3,000 years ago. The vessel bears an important inscription ‘Duke of Rui respectfully made this ritual vessel for Lord Li’ and has appeared in a wide range of publications. In the 19th century, it belonged to Viceroy Duan Fang who served Emperor Gunagxu and his even more important mother the Empress Dowager.
A wonderful gold kneeling figure of a shaman or magician proffering a shallow dish dates from Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) and is unique as only four others exist but in bronze; one in Paris, one in Osaka Museum and two in China. The man wears a caped feathered tunic, a traditional garment worn by immortals.
Of great rarity is the glazed, so-called ‘ear cup’ as its handles are quixotically shaped as elongated human ears. Dating from the third century BC Zhou period, its weird raised dots raise questions as almost nothing is known about this cup.
The Tang dynasty gilt and silver bowl is the finest of only 14 examples. Each of the 12 treasures has its own interesting story and is a major work of art. To own one is fortunate but to have all twelve means divine intervention!
Get ready loose cash of under RM 20 to RM 40 million if you plan to snag all twelve. All may be gone by the time you read this so give them a call; +44 20 74 93 31 36