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Auctions: Chinese art a big-ticket draw at Freeman's

The auction market for Chinese art has been booming for the better part of a decade, fueled by Chinese buyers. Freeman's will take advantage of that boom next weekend with a sale of more than 800 lots.

Among 90 lots of ivory is this imposing 20th-century Bodhisattva figure, 44 inches high with a presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.
Among 90 lots of ivory is this imposing 20th-century Bodhisattva figure, 44 inches high with a presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.Read more

The auction market for Chinese art has been booming for the better part of a decade, fueled by Chinese buyers. Freeman's will take advantage of that boom next weekend with a sale of more than 800 lots of fine and decorative Asian arts.

Almost all of the items are of Chinese origin, with dozens of lots expected to bring five figures and more. A large blue-and-white Ming-style vase from the Qianlong Emperor's reign is expected to bring such a high price that the $30 auction catalog (accessible online at www.freemansauction.com) simply says "estimate upon request."

In the spring edition of Freeman's International View, Roland Arkell, deputy editor of the Antiques Trade Gazette, calls the changes in the Chinese market "seismic." Arkell notes that for generations the finest pieces of Chinese art were most prized by Western connoisseurs, but now the merchandise is moving east.

The recent record for a Chinese work of art was set by a Qianlong piece, which brought $68.8 million in November at an auction house near Ruislip, England.

Three Qianlong vases. That brings us back to next weekend's sale here. The Ming- style vase is one of three vases from the Qianlong Emperor's workshop in the auction, which begins at 10 a.m. March 19 at the gallery at 1808 Chestnut St.

The Qianlong Emperor's reign (1736-95) was part of the 250-year Qing Dynasty that ended with the establishment in 1912 of the Republic of China.

The property of a Boston collector and standing 19¼ inches tall, the vase has auspicious Buddhist emblems and other decorations that recall pieces centuries older.

Although Freeman's declined to supply a presale estimate, marketing manager Zoe Hillenmeyer noted that a comparable vase sold in May 2008 at Sotheby's in London for 288,500 pounds, about $467,000 at today's exchange rate.

The second Qianlong vase, 11½ inches high, is made from jade and has a presale estimate of $100,000 to $200,000. One of 150 lots of jade in the auction, it too employs archaic motifs, including taotie masks of wild and mythical animals that were a decorative theme dating back to the Shang Dynasty, China's first.

The third Qianlong vase is 12½ inches high but less adorned with a gold-flake surface. It has a presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.

Furniture, textiles, ivory. Five-figure presale estimates are also given for a half-dozen of the 70 lots of furniture. They include a carved 19th-century altar table ($25,000 to $30,000); two lots of Huangli cabinets (each lot $30,000 to $50,000); and a pair of late-17th-century mixed hardwood cabinets with red-lacquered interiors ($60,000 to $80,000).

Following the furniture are 18 lots of textiles, including four displaying the decorative kesi technique developed during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618 to 906) and expanded in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.

Presale estimates for the auction's 90 lots of ivory range from $30,000 to $40,000 for a 19th-century carved case, topped with a pagoda and also from the Qianlong period, to $300 to $500 for a diminutive ivory, seed pearl, tortoiseshell, and coral mounted boxwood elephant. One of the most imposing pieces is a forbidding 20th-century Bodhisattva figure 44 inches high with 11 heads and 24 arms ($15,000 to $20,000).

There are also three dozen bronzes with presale estimates ranging from $15,000 to $20,000 for a Qing Dynasty inlaid figure of Quanyin (a Buddhist goddess of mercy) down to $500 to $800 for a Ming figure of a monk.

Previews are from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through next Friday. For further information call 215-563-9275.

Pirate books in Audubon. Two books on pirates from around 1700 will be among the 450 lots to be offered in New Jersey by the Auction House Inc. (formerly Audubon's Auctioneers) at a sale beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at the auction house at 100 W. Merchant St. One, the 1724 Johnson History of the Pyrates, is expected to sell for $800 to $1,200, according to an online catalog accessible at www.aauctioneers.com; the other, the 1699 History of the Bucaniers of America, could bring $2,000 to $4,000.

Other top auction items are a U.S. Navy World War II Schrader Mark V diver's helmet with a presale estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 and a Jenny Lind silk scarf ($125 to $150).

Preview is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday. For further information, call 856-546-7755.

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