Independent Art Voice

Chinese Vase £51m Sale Faces Collapse

The Most Expensive Chinese Work Of Art Still Unclaimed After Four Months

We reported on 7 March, the record-breaking £51m sale of an 18th century Qianlong-dynasty Chinese vase from a suburban London auction house had collapsed. Well the plot thickens. Intrigue and sabotage has been blamed for the sale falling through, but Bainbridge’s Auctioneers of Ruislip now categorically denies this. If the sale were to go ahead it would be the highest price realized for a work of Chinese art. The fact of the matter remains, that the buyer has never paid for it and it looks like the sale was either a severe case of buyers remorse or a buyers misunderstanding of the terms and conditions of the sale.

The buyer who is said to be a prominent Chinese industrialist is reportedly arguing over the 20% commission, which amounts to £8.6m. Most major auction houses charge commission on a sliding scale, which would amount to 14%. Ivan Macquisten, editor of the Antiques Trade Gazette, the industry’s weekly newspaper, was quoted in the Guardian, “Bainbridge’s was in a difficult position. If Bainbridge’s reduces the buyer’s commission, they could face legal action from any failed underbidder arguing that he could have bid higher with a lower premium. Reducing the buyer’s premium after the sale would put the underbidder at a disadvantage. This effectively means that Bainbridge’s has no discretion in the matter. “Milton Silverman, a specialist art lawyer and the Gazette’s legal columnist, said: “In these circumstances, the vendor may well have difficulty in just pulling the lot from the auction. “He has acted for other vendors who had been unable to pull Chinese artifacts from auction after Chinese buyers failed to pay. “The major auction houses’ terms and conditions are drafted with a view to giving them total control,” This leaves the situation at a stalemate. So what would happen if the buyer walks away from the deal? Even if Bainbridge’s were to take the case to court it would have to be fought in China, with a very different legal system. A successful outcome would be unlikely. Speaking to local paper the Ruislip Uxbridge Gazette Peter Bainbridge stated, speculation has been rife in the last few weeks about whether the deal would actually be going through, about whether the buyer was genuine, and even about the authenticity of the vase itself. Asked if there were problems with the sale to an anonymous Chinese art collector, Mr Bainbridge said: “That is categorically incorrect.”The buyer is completely legitimate, with no ulterior motives. The sale is going through and is completely within the time-frame we are comfortable with.”