In Search of the Real Thing: China’s Quest to Buy Back Its Lost Heritage
Last month, at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, a Chinese 18th-century Imperial porcelain “poppy” bowl sold for $21.6 million. At the same auction, an elaborately decorated “fish” vase, also thought to be of Imperial provenance from the Qianlong era, raised $19 million.
Buoyed by a surging economy, Chinese dealers and collectors have since the mid 2000s been bidding formidable sums for the finest artworks from their country’s past. But in recent years, as China’s economic growth has slowed, the market for its antiques has become less frothy.
Chinese buyers have recently found an appreciation of the rarefied field of Buddhist sculpture, an example of which reached an auction high of $30 million in 2014. The enthusiasm might be viewed as a sign of what Ms. Hunt, the Christie’s specialist, identified as maturity in the market.
Repatriated Chinese antiques generally don’t come back. Those pieces that do arrive in Britain from China are often not what they seem, according to John Axford, an Asian art specialist at Woolley & Wallis, a British auction house.