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The World’s Most Expensive Archaic Chinese


Bronze for sale at TEFAF Maastricht

Helvoirt, 12th February 2007 - A rare 2,500 year-old bronze figure of a tapir that miraculously survived a turbulent period of ancient Chinese history will be offered for sale at TEFAF Maastricht, one of the world’s most prestigious art fairs, for $12 million (= 9,23 million euros).The tapir, inlaid with gold and turquoise, was acquired recently by Littleton & Hennessy, the London and New York based specialist dealers in Asian art, after many years in a Swiss private collection. When it goes on sale at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in the Dutch city of Maastricht on 9th March, it will be the most expensive ancient Chinese bronze ever to come onto the market.

The bronze figure of the tapir, a pig-like mammal now classified as an endangered species, is just 10ins tall and 17ins long and was made in about the 4th century BC as a wine vessel. A lid with a ring on its back can be removed to fill the interior with wine that is then poured out through the mouth.

The figure was produced for a wealthy and powerful man. It is inlaid with spiral motifs of gold and turquoise, which would have been extremely expensive, and is also portrays a creature which became extinct in China about 10,000 years ago, long before the zun or wine pourer was made. It is known that Chinese rulers collected rare animals from overseas and the endearingly rotund and gentle tapir, which then, as now, came from Malaysia, would have been the perfect addition to a private zoo. This one appears to be wearing a decorative collar and may have been a royal pet.

The figure’s survival is miraculous. It was made during the Warring States period in China, which lasted from the 5th century BC until the unification of the country by the Qin Dynasty in 221BC. It was an era of chaos and brutality when regional warlords annexed smaller states around them and competed for supremacy with one another. The tapir is one of only two bronzes with such extensive and beautiful inlay known to exist, the other being in a museum in Taiwan.

All that is known about the tapir’s history is that it was in a European private collection by the 1920’s and was exhibited in Berlin in 1929. Now it is to go on public display for the first time in 78 years at TEFAF Maastricht, where it will be one of the highlights of the fair.

TEFAF will take place at the MECC (Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre) from 9th to 18th March 2007 when 219 of the world’s leading dealers will exhibit art and antiques worth over $1 billion.

AXA Art, principal sponsor of TEFAF
AXA Art and TEFAF will offer a limited edition service card to visitors enabling them to check the provenance of artworks on international databases. AXA Art will also stage an exhibition entitled Thrill of Collecting II: Plastic, showing rare design and art objects made of plastic from collections around the world.

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  • The World’s Most Expensive Archaic Chinese
    The European Fine Art Foundation