‘Crazy story’: why a €2,000 Chinese vase sold for €8m | Paris

Over the 41 years of using the gavel in his auction house a stone’s throw from the royal palace at Fontainebleau, Jean-Pierre Ossenat has never seen anything quite like it.

“This is a crazy story,” he said. “Very unusual.”

The story cost a seller’s expert his job, after a Chinese vase advertised as an ordinary decorative piece worth €2,000 (£1,750) at most. Sold for around 8 million eurosnearly 4,000 times the estimate.

“The expert got it wrong. One person alone for 300 interested Chinese buyers could not be right,” Osenat said. “He was working for us. It no longer works for us. It was, after all, a huge mistake.”

The unusual story began earlier this year when a French woman living abroad decided to sell furniture and various items from her late mother’s home in Brittany. have been trusted osinate With the sale, the vase – which had belonged to her grandmother – was filled up, sent to Paris and put to auction as a “furniture and artwork” of 200 pieces, none of which was valued at more than 8,000 euros.

Last Saturday, the vase, Chinese tianqiuping – meaning “heavenly globe” and referring to the round base and long neck – was standing on a display in the auction hall at Osenat. Description of the catalog Example: Lot 36 “Large Tianqiuping Porcelain and Multicolored Enamel Vase in a Blue-White Style with Spherical Body and Long Cylindrical Neck, Decorated with Nine Fierce Dragons and Clouds (Mark Below Base)”. The 54cm x 40cm vase is noted to be in ‘good condition’.

The estimated price, which ranges from €1,500 to €2,000, reflects the expert’s view that it is a decorative piece from the 20th century rather than a rare antique.

Osinat said his suspicions that this might not be the case were raised when the catalog was posted online and the pre-auction showroom packed with 300 to 400 interested buyers 15 days before the sale.

“They brought lamps and magnifying glasses to look at it. They obviously saw something,” he said. “There were a lot of recordings. [to take part in the auction online] We had to stop them. At that point, we realized something was going on.”

At first, the auction house staff put this unexpected interest in due to the French Chinese community’s passion for China’s art and history.

In the face of great interest, auctioneers decided not to allow online bidding and were limited to 30-half buyers in the other auction room by phone, with each required to pay a €10,000 deposit to participate.

The tianqiuping-style vase attracted hundreds of interested buyers to the pre-auction exhibition.
The tianqiuping-style vase attracted hundreds of interested buyers to the pre-auction exhibition. Photo: Maison Ossenat

As soon as Lot 36 appeared, frantic bids erupted. Ossenat was selling rapidly increasing bids – €100,000, €200,000, €500,000 – when someone shouted “2 million”. By the time bids reached €5 million, 10 buyers were still competing; By 7 million euros, there are only two left.

When the gavel was finally brought down, to applause from the room, the final bid came to 7.7 million euros. With the fee, the anonymous Chinese buyer will pay €9.12 million.

Osinat told the seller, who moved abroad 15 years ago, that the windfall came with problems and it would be hard for them to handle the amount.

“The vase has been in her family for generations. She said they used to put flowers in it. She’s lived with it for 30 years and never thought it was worth so much.” “It’s completely unstable. If it sold for 150,000 euros that would be one thing, but 7.7 million euros is another. She’s afraid to be in the press and she’s so shocked by it.”

Buyer bid over the phone and lives in China. It is suggested that in addition to the vase depicting the dragon and the cloud, a coveted motif among East Asian collectors, some may have discovered the stamp of Qianlong, an 18th-century Chinese emperor, a sacred figure.

Reportedly, the expert, who was fired and has not been named, stands by his original assessment.

Cedric Laborde, director of the auction house’s Asian arts department, is still not entirely convinced that the expert was wrong. “We don’t know if that [the vase] Old or not or why are they sold at such a price. “We’ll probably never know,” Laborde said.

“The appraisal is consistent with what the expert thinks. In China, copying something, like an 18th century vase, is also art. In this case I don’t have an answer. Over the past few years there have been some surprises in auctions of Asian things.”

Osenat, whose previous record sale was €4.8 million was paid in 2007 for the sword that Napoleon Bonaparte carried at the Battle of Marengo In 1800, he said he believed in the seller’s hammer.

“The expert thought it was a 20th century copy, a decoration, so we didn’t change the estimate. In the end the market decided it was the 18th century.” “I have confidence in the market. An expert said what he said…but the real price is what the buyers decide.”

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