Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What Were Bonham's Thinking?

London auction house Bonhams was all set two days ago to sell 360 items in its scheduled Chinese Fine Art auction n Nov. 8. It was said that one of the two rare lots named "A rare Imperial very pale green jade archaistic hanging vase and cover, you Qianlong" and "Imperial white jade archaistic disc of the Jiaqing years" were looted by a British captain [Arthur Forbes-Robertson (1834-1863), 67th Regiment of Foot] from the Old Summer Palace in 1860. They knew that, that was what they wrote in the catalogue. Not surprisingly, the Chinese press reacted with indignation.

So, it's notable that the auction house retracted the items from sale the moment there was the hint of a fuss:
Bonhams issued an apology as it confirmed the two jade carvings would not be sold after the owner withdrew them from a planned auction on Thursday to “avoid any possible offence”. The planned sale had sparked a furious reaction from Tan Ping, an official at China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, who labelled it “against the spirit of international conventions”. “Bonhams is very sorry to read reports in the Chinese press that offence has been caused in China by the proposed sale of two jade carvings,” Bonhams said in a statement received by AFP on Monday. “There was never in any way an intention to cause offence, and Bonhams regrets that this interpretation has been published.” 
Bonhams "never intended"? Or Bomhams knew jolly well what would happen if the pieces were noticed, and put them in their catalogue anyway, hoping either that nobody would notice, or the fuss would lead to some good publicity? What were they thinking?

English People's daily, 'Bonhams to auction two cultural relics stolen from the Old Summer Palace', November 6, 2012

Straits Times, 'Looted' Chinese antiques pulled from UK auction', Nov 05, 2012.

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