Scotland/China news

Asian Art Day at Lyon & Turnbull

by Website Editor, 3 October 2014

On 28 September, auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull presented an event titled ‘China insight – appraising the market and your antiques’. Around fifty people attended, including several SCA members, to listen to four speakers discuss several areas of the current market for Chinese, and other Asian, antiques. Valuations were also available from the Lyon & Turnbull experts.

The historical scene was set by former British diplomat Claire Smith, who served in Beijing in the early 1980s. She highlighted the longstanding links between Scotland and China, including merchant seamen, botanists, explorers, civil servants, soldiers and, of course, employees of the East India Company. The latter allowed its employees to trade on their own account and engaged a disproportionately high number of Scots – the most famous being William Jardine, who went on, with his friend James Matheson, to found the greatest China trading company of them all, Jardine Matheson - still one of Hong Kong's leading businesses. These connections, stretching back into the 18th century, mean that Scotland is a disproportionately rich source for Chinese antiques (for more background, see this article on our site and this timeline on The Blackford Trust site).

Lee Young, Head of Lyon & Turnbull's Asian Art Department, reported on some of the human stories behind the auction house's most successful Chinese sales in recent years. These included a large blue and white Ming style dragon charger, from a private collection in Dumfriesshire, which sold at their last Asian Arts sale on 4 June 2014 for a staggering £427,750 against an estimate of £3,000-5,000 (see here for details). This set a new Scottish record for a Chinese ceramic lot at auction.

Another highlight of the same sale was an Imperial festive summer robe dating to the mid Qing period, which had come from the collection of Leonard Gow, a Glasgow shipping magnate and “arch rival” of Sir William Burrell. This was offered by a seller after seeing a similar, but less expensive, robe at an earlier sale – they had been using the robe as a dressing gown ! It sold for £73,250 against an estimate of £15,000-25,000 (for details, see here).

Answering questions from the audience, Lee confirmed that most of the Chinese items from their sales do tend to go to buyers from mainland China and Hong Kong. He also explained that the next Lyon & Turnbull Asian Arts sale is on 2 December 2014, at Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire – details will be available on their website shortly. The move of the venue from Edinburgh on this occasion is in response to the fact that most potential buyers are based in London and the south of England – or as Lee put it, “we need to move the mountain to Mohammed”.

Meanwhile, James Robinson, Keeper of Art & Design at The National Museums of Scotland, reflected on the success of the recent exhibition 'Ming - The Golden Empire'. He also outlined the renovation plans for the NMS in Chambers Street, Edinburgh - Asian Gallery is currently closed and will reopen in a more modern style sometime between 2016 and 2018, with precise dates “dependent on funding”.

The last speaker was Douglas Strang Stewart, a Scottish-based expert in ceramic conservation (see his website here). He explained how to deal with damaged or poorly restored objects, and outlined some of the treatments available to modern coservators.

Amongst the audience was former journalist and publisher Paul Harris, whom your editor knew in Shanghai around 2003-2004 when Paul was working as an English editor on the Shanghai Daily. Paul has now returned to Scotland and runs an interesting website on Chinese art in the UK,, as well as a gallery in Coldingham in the Borders, Readers who are collectors of Chinese antiques may find his sites of interest.

We look forward to more stories of exciting finds of Chinese antiques in Scotland !

Note that this week Lyon & Turnbull have also revamped their website with a fresh new look - see here.