Within the auction landscape, there are few events more satisfying than the introduction of a collection accumulated after decades of hard work, scholarship and evident passion. Beginning on March 22, Sotheby’s will unfurl treasures accumulated by Wou Kiuan, a dedicated lover of Chinese art whose wide-ranging interest in all mediums dovetailed perfectly with the rich auction atmosphere of mid-20th century London. Wou Kiuan’s over 1,000-work strong collection could function as a comprehensive history of China in object form: everything from Neolithic storage vessels to lacquered hibiscus dishes are represented here. It’s also an auspicious time for a Chinese art auction, as China now accounts for a full fifth of the global art market.
With the aid of his friend, Cambridge Chinese art Professor Cheng Te-K’un, Kiuan combed through the accumulations of other collectors in order to secure the most precious items for himself. This diligence resulted in a spectrum of ancient art that Sotheby’s posits will earn over $40 million. Highlights include a bronze Shang dynasty vessel, a Qing dynasty jade boulder inscribed with the carving of the Sixteen Luohan (Buddhist holy men) and a spectacular Ming Dynasty cinnabar lacquer dish. Kiuan also assembled a gallery in his own home, calling it the Wou Lien-Pai Museum.
In 2021, Christie’s Asian Art spring auctions pulled a total of $805 million, so it stands to reason that Sotheby’s is excited about the fruits their upcoming auction could potentially bear. “Among the most comprehensive collections of Chinese Art ever assembled, the 130 works emerging in the New York auction from this extraordinary collection represent the finest examples of virtually every category of Chinese art, ranging from pottery to porcelains, jades, bronzes and more,” Angela McAteer, New York’s Head of Sotheby’s Chinese Works of Art Department, said in a statement. “From utilitarian storage vessels to Imperial treasures, each work of art is a story of Chinese history to be discovered.”