Are we about to enter Auction Relics Drama: The Sequel? This time around, French auction house Beaussant-Lefevre put up a jade Chinese imperial seal on the block. The piece, also originally from the Summer Palace, is said to be worth between 300,000 to 400,000 euros (2.7 million RMB to 3.6 million RMB).
And once again, the winning bidder – who locked it in for a much higher price of 1.6 million euros – is CHINESE (and anonymous for now!). While we don’t know if this is going to turn into another Cai Mingchao story, all the ingredients are there.
According to People’s Daily, the authorities that manage the Summer Palace had already issued a statement condemning the auction:
The authorities that manage Beijing’s Summer Palace said the seal was looted when British and French forces burned down the Old Summer Palace toward the end of the Second Opium War in 1860.
“We once again express strong indignation at this sort of repeated action that hurts the Chinese people’s feelings, harms their cultural interests, and violates international pacts,” the palace authority said in a statement.
But Thierry Portier, the man in charge of the sale at Beaussant-Lefevre, told the AFP that the palace authority’s complaints were misplaced.
Mounted with two carved dragons back to back, the white jade seal comes from the personal collection of a descendant of Elie Jean de Vassoigne, a French general who commanded some of the invading troops.
But Portier said General Vassoigne was not mentioned in records of the pillage of the Summer Palace, pointing out that he was in charge of Takov fort in Tiensin, 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Beijing, in 1860.
“We know he was in Takov at the time,” he said, adding that it was not known how the seal came to be in his possession.
He also argued that about a dozen Chinese imperial seals are sold across the world each year. Last year, one 17th-century piece got an asking price of 5.6 million euros… and the Chinese had made nary a peep.
Of course, that was way before the contentious Yves Saint Laurent auction (which the French fashion house probably only made more contentious when they decided to try and rebut China’s claims with politics). Now, if you’re French and you’ve got Chinese relics for sale, it’s probably a good idea to make sure everyone at your auction’s actually willing to pay.