The small town of Durrow in Co Laois has become an unlikely pivotal link in Ireland's relations with China. Sheppard's auction house has developed a flourishing business there selling Asian art and antiques and is attracting a growing Chinese clientele, in person and online.
During the past decade, China has become one of the world’s biggest markets for art and antiques, and auctioneers worldwide have benefitted from the phenomenon as newly-rich Chinese collectors and investors buy items from their imperial past including porcelain, jade and bronze decorative art items.
Asian art sales at Sheppard’s have produced some spectacular results, most notably in November 2012 when a matchbox-size white jade seal, used to stamp documents in imperial China, and which had a top pre-sale estimate of €6,000, sold for €630,000 to an online bidder in China. The price was a record for an item of decorative art sold at auction in Ireland.
Sheppard’s auction next week will include the now-traditional Asian art day which will take place on Thursday. Last Sunday, a 38-strong Chinese delegation led by Madam Qiao Li, wife of Mr Luo Linquan, the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, visited Sheppard’s for a sneak preview. The delegation, including Chinese diplomats, academics, medical professionals and businesspeople living in Ireland, was given a preview of the auction and also visited some historic houses in the area. The visit concluded with a visit to a traditional Irish pub, the Wheel Inn, in the village of Ballyouskill just across the county border in Co Kilkenny. There the Chinese were greeted, appropriately in this year of the horse, by a mounted group from the local hunt and they were introduced to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. Auctioneer Philip Sheppard said the visit was arranged to “strengthen an already strong relationship with the Chinese community in Ireland” and that Sheppard’s growth strategy involved further investment in online sales “to build on our position as Ireland’s leading auction house for Asian art”.
Next week’s auction features some 220 Asian lots including a Qing-period imperial gilt bronze urn with raised five-claw dragon decoration and with an estimate of €20,000-€30,000. It attracted considerable interest from the Chinese delegation.
Asian art aside, there's a big range of period furniture, fine art, silver, clocks, mirrors, rugs, jewellery and a selection of wacky collectibles including a racing pigeon clock; a 19th-century hat press; a piece of scrimshaw (an engraved whale's tooth); and an ebony and ivory model of the Atomium in Brussels.
The highlights include a pair of French Empire-period bronze and gilded figural candelabra (€15,000-€25,000); a late 18th or early 19th-century Russian carved gilt-wood pier mirror (€3,000-€5,000); and an Art Deco gilt bronze and ivory sculpture of a lady playing a harp by TH Somms (€3,000-€5,000).
An Irish silver tray, made in Dublin in 1786 by Robert Breading, was a gift from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to "John Trail Esq, Engineer and conductor of the works of the Grand Canal" and the estimate is €8,000-€12,000. A 110-piece Meissen dinner service has an estimate of €4,000-€5,000. The auction includes 30 lots of wine including a case (12 bottles) of 2006 Grand Vin de Lafite Rothschild estimated at €4,500-€5,500.
Viewing begins at 10am today and continues tomorrow and Monday. The three-day sale gets underway at 10.30am on Tuesday, February 25th