The biggest surprise in Saturdays Fine Art & Antiques auction was this Chinese stoneware enamel plaque which sold for £42,000 to an online bidder. A modest starting bid of £800 was left far behind when two online bidders began battling it out, leaving our telephone and room bidders standing idly by!
Catalogued as 'in the manner of Xu Zhongnan' and with script and seal mark alongside the delicately painted bamboo and rocky outcrop image, we were unable to provenance the lot any further. Even my Chinese native tutor was unable to fully decipher the beautiful but complex traditional script! However, the amazing price lends credence to it being by Xu Zhongnan (1872-1953) who was a member of the famous Chinese porcelain art group 'The Eight Friends of Zhushan'.
The group were active from the late 19th century with the last member dying in the 1960s, and were responsible for revitalizing the Chinese porcelain industry in the wake of political, economic and social turmoil after the Taiping rebellion/civil war (1850-1864) and hardship in China during the protracted fall of the Qing dynasty. They are reputed to have met every full moon at Zhushan (Pearl Hill), which was the former location of the Imperial Porcelain Factory in Jingdezhen, to discuss and practice art. Although apparently active from the 6th century, Jingdezhen porcelain became internationally renowned from the early Qing period (17th century) for producing wares "as thin as paper, as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, and as sound as a bell".
Each member of the Eight Friends had a different artistic style in porcelain painting, with Xu Zhongnan being especially known for painting bamboo. The other main members and their specialities included Wang Yi and Wang Dafan (figures); Deng Bishan (fish and seaweed); Tian Hexian (fruit): Wang Yeting (landscapes), and Cheng Yiting and Liu Yuchen (flowers and birds).
Although we do not know the provenance for certain, it is obvious that the plaque is a beautiful work of art, and as such quite deservedly achieved our third highest ever price for a Chinese artwork.