Art Market: Bronze piece is star turn as Chinese prices soar

CHINESE art prices have soared into seven figures this week, with Japanese and Hong Kong dealers pouring into London, along with top American and European connoisseurs.

The most expensive deals have been struck at Eskenazi's new Oriental gallery in Clifford Street, Mayfair, whose summer exhibition opened yesterday. Five pieces on show were valued at over pounds 1m, and he has already sold four of them.

The star turn - an intricately carved marble stele, or altar, dating from around AD 550 and priced at pounds 1.3m - has gone to the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio. Another of the pounds 1m-plus items, a four-inch bronze figure of an ox, patterned with silver inlay and dating from the fourth to third century BC, has gone to an unnamed Japanese museum. Eskenazi has sold 28 of his 48 pieces on show for a total of pounds 9.8m.

In the auction rooms, the fiercest battle centred on a bronze ritual food vessel, patterned with stylised birds and beasts, dating from the Western Zhou Dynasty (circa 1050-975 BC). Sotheby's had estimated it at pounds 600,000-pounds 800,000 and there were still five in the bidding over the pounds 600,000 mark - including T T Tsui, the Hong Kong millionaire, a French connoisseur, and a Japanese dealer. It was bought by the American dealers E & J Frankel for pounds 925,500.

It is only in the upper reaches of the market that there is still intense competition. A third of the lots in Sotheby's sale were unsold, as were 26 per cent at Christie's the day before. Christie's top price was pounds 177,500 for a 15th-century Ming blue and white vase they had estimated at pounds 250,000.

Chinese paintings have never made as much as ceramics and sculpture in the West but Christie's sale of paintings in New York last week set four price records, including the dollars 530,500 (pounds 344,481) paid for a 10ft hanging scroll 'Fantastic Mountains', painted by Gong Xian in 1655.

At a Villa Grisebach auction in Berlin on 4 June, the collection of Max Klinger prints and drawings formed by the Leipzig publisher Georg Hirzel was a virtual sell-out. The collection was recently reclaimed from the Leipzig Museum where it had been left on deposit in 1943; the communist regime had previously refused to return it. The collection sold for a total of 920,000 marks (pounds 383,000).