Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost and...


After all the controversy about ‘who’ took ‘what’ and ‘where’ should ‘what’ be, I’m happy to tell you that I know 'where' is 'what' (?!!) because I found the 2 heads, the rabbit and the rat, at the PanJiaYuan market, aka the “antique” market.

Mystery solved!

Last week, a couple of bronze animal heads, a rabbit and a rat, which were part of a celebrated water fountain at the Summer Palace outside Beijing, were sold for more than $36 millions at an auction in Paris. The pieces were part of the art collection of the late fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, French industrialist. However, the Chinese government condemned the sale of the sculptures and argued the relics should be returned as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

A Chinese man's assertion that he sabotaged the auction of two Qing dynasty bronzes at Christie's in Paris last week handed Beijing a wry public-relations coup after it battled for months to block the sale. The man, Cai Mingchao, a collector and auctioneer, said in Beijing that he had submitted the two winning US$18 million bids (US$40 million for both heads when commissions are included) for the bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit last Wednesday, but that he had no intention of paying for them. He described himself as a consultant for a non-governmental group that seeks to bring looted artifacts back to China, and said he had acted out of patriotic duty.

Beijing had vigorously protested the sale of the heads, saying they were looted from an imperial palace outside Beijing in the 19th century and should be returned to China. A group of Chinese lawyers tried to block the auction, but a French court allowed it to proceed. Several Western experts said that whatever moral arguments might favour Beijing, it had no legal claim to the bronzes.[…]

Months earlier, Edward Dolman, chief executive of Christie's International, pointed out, Christie's privately offered the heads to the Chinese government at a price significantly less than the under bidder was willing to pay during the auction. They rejected the offer because they thought the price was too high, he said.

The two bronzes, which date from 1750, were part of a 12-animal water-clock fountain configured around the Chinese zodiac in the imperial gardens of the Summer Palace outside Beijing. In 1860 the palace was sacked by British and French forces during the Opium Wars. Around that time, the heads disappeared.

Of the 12 original bronze fountain pieces taken from the Summer Palace gardens, 7 have been located; the whereabouts of the other 5 are unknown.

The China Poly Group, an arms dealer with ties to the People's Liberation Army, bought the tiger, ox and monkey heads in 2000.

In 2003, the National Treasures Fund of China, a quasi-governmental group, brokered a deal that brought another of the bronze fountain pieces, a pig's head, back to China. With about US$1 million donated by Stanley Ho, the real estate and casino billionaire from Macao, the head was bought from an American collector, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

Ho bought another, a horse's head for US$8.84 million at an auction by Sotheby's in 2007. He gave it to China Poly, which owns a museum where it displays the Qing bronzes.