An 18th-century Chinese vase whose buyer reneged on the £43m bid for the work at auction has been sold by auction house Bonhams for a price believed to be between £20m and £25m.
The fairy-tale sale of the 16-inch Qing dynasty vase from 1740, which was found in a northwest London attic and was sold by the suburban auction house Bainbridges in November 2010, turned sour when the Chinese buyer was reported to be unwilling to pay the agreed price for it.
The original price – a staggering £53m, including the 20 per cent commission levied by the auction house and tax – was a record for Chinese art. Bainbridges had given the piece an estimated value of £1.2m.
“Bonhams is pleased to confirm the sale of the vase for an undisclosed sum, in a private treaty deal,” Bonhams said in a statement.
Giuseppe Eskenazi, a London-based dealer who examined the vase closely before the Bainbridges auction, said the original price for the vase had been “quite unbelievable”.
“If the price of around £20m is true this is far more in keeping with some of the very high prices that have been paid in the last two years,” he said.
The Bainbridges debacle, which capped a year of incidents in which Chinese buyers either sabotaged auctions or refused to pay the price they had bid, prompted auction houses to insist on deposits from unknown buyers.
Roger Keverne, a Mayfair dealer and former chairman of Asian Art in London, said the problem had been growing over the previous decade. “In auctions of Chinese ceramics one often felt that things got out of hand. People would bid and change their mind, they can’t get money out of their country, and they have a different set of business ethics and practices.”
From 2011, international and Chinese auction houses insisted on deposits, typically about 20 per cent of the value of the objects bidders said they were interested in, if they did not have a credit history with the auction house.
Mr Eskenazi added he was relieved to hear the Bainbridges vase had been sold. “I’m glad the saga is over because it has been hanging over the Chinese art market like Damocles’ sword.”
Colin Sheaf, chairman of Bonhams Asia, told the Financial Times that the latest boom in Chinese art reflected the emergence of a new generation of wealthy businessmen on the mainland, but also intense interest from Chinese buyers elsewhere.
He said: “Chinese art is probably now more widely collected than any single class of world art by virtue of the fact the Chinese have such a big diaspora from California through continental Europe and, of course, all over Asia.”
Bainbridges did not return calls for comment.