You never know what catches a collector’s fancy. And proof of that is the recent sale of a four-inch-tall soapstone seal that came to the table from the possession of a deceased Chinese ambassador. It fetched a whopping $18 million at auction, thus becoming one of the most lucrative sales of its kind.
Belonging to Dr. Wou Kiuan, the seal is part of a collection of over 1,000 items that he collected during the 1950s and 1960s while working in the Chinese Embassy in London before retiring to the UK. He purchased the soapstone wonder in 1965.
Carved to depict a lion-like mythical beast, the seal further bears a Chinese inscription saying, ‘Treasure admired by his Majesty the Qianlong Emperor.’ It was apparently used to stamp paintings as a sign of the emperor’s approval and has fetched three times its estimated price.
Commenting on it, Nicolas Chow of auctioneer Sotheby’s (who received ‘an electric shock’ on first witnessing the seal) said, “I had seen the ghost of that seal so many times on so many of the most important paintings in the world. It was a privilege to find a new home for this exceptionally important historical object.’
While the name of the buyer is unknown, it may not be surprising to know that it was procured by the Chinese, given their recent interest in historic items originating from the country.