Guidelines for Collecting Ancient Chinese Art

Who would've thought that a gilded blue porcelain vase kept in the kitchen would sell for $1.8 million at an auction? The hype behind this rare ancient Chinese art dating from the 18th century lies in its seal mark.

Along its base is a six-character seal mark of the Qianlong era. This mark indicates that the vase was once owned by the sixth emperor of the Qing dynasty. It is a remarkable feat for enthusiastic ancient Chinese art collectors indeed.

Are you also looking to complete your art collection with a rare find like these? You're more than welcome to read on. Learn more about finding and collecting ancient Chinese art today!

Start By Setting a Budget

Before setting out to look for ancient Chinese art, establish a reasonable budget. If you've done your homework, you should be able to grasp how much a typical Chinese artwork might cost you. You should also be able to compute how high rare pieces can go. 

Budgeting is essential in ensuring you're not bullying your finances. It helps you decide what artifact you can afford and where to get one. A budget of $1,000 might be a great starting point, depending on your monthly income.

When budgeting, consider your purchasing pattern. Do you prefer to buy only one artwork a month so long as it's original? Or do you like to buy in bulks or set?

If you're still torn about how much to set aside, check out previous selling prices of your chosen subject. Then, visit auction sites and take a look at the winning bids. It also helps to go around and peep at ancient Chinese artifacts' prices in antique shops.

Keep Studying About Chinese Art History

The history of Chinese art traces its roots to the Neolithic period. This is further enriched by the numerous dynasties that shaped Chinese art culture. During the different periods, significant developments in China gave birth to philosophies that became the foundation of Chinese art.

The period of the division after the Han Dynasty, for instance, is when Buddhism spread in China. This led to the creation of Buddhist temples and artworks reflecting Buddhism's principles.

The Tang Dynasty also resulted in significant changes in ancient Chinese art. For example, the Silk Road allowed the exchange of various goods like metals and glass. This encouraged the creation of Chinese ceramics and paintings.

Ancient Chinese art is one of the most sought-after collections worldwide. Thus, it's the subject of forgeries that can go unnoticed among untrained eyes. Enriching your knowledge of China's history helps you speculate whether the item is original.

For instance, ancient Chinese bronzes from the Shang dynasty should feature classic vessels. The same is valid for bronze artifacts from the Western Zhou dynasty. In contrast, those from the Han dynasty should feature elaborate shapes and decorations. 

Meanwhile, advanced metalwork using metals indicates that the artifact is from later periods. Complex designs like interlocking animals also pertain to later Chinese imperial periods.

Further, such knowledge will also help you analyze the value of the said artifact. The more affluent and likely linked to a known person or dynasty an artifact is, the higher the market value.

Dig Deeper into the Characteristics of Ancient Chinese Art

It's equally important to familiarize yourself with the traits of ancient Chinese art. The sustaining characteristics of Chinese art are primarily built on cultural, philosophical, and religious beliefs.

Hence, when checking out artifacts, examine for natural elements. This includes landscape depictions, foliage and plants like bamboo, and animal life-like birds.

Chinese artwork also reflects the moral character of the artists. During ancient China, the majority of Chinese artists are Buddhist and Confucianists. Hence, paintings claimed to be from the said period should echo the moral standpoints of these religious groups. 

Moreover, common Chinese artworks feature intricate details that make them appear extravagant. Yet, some ancient Chinese artworks are more straightforward.

Another aspect of Chinese artwork is court art. This means that the artists often commission the artworks. 

Either by the Imperial court or patron. Court artworks serve as decorations for the interior of buildings and even tombs.

Familiarize Yourself with the Forms of Ancient Chinese Art and Antiques

One of the most collected objects in the realm of Chinese sculptures is the vessels. These artworks are often made to furnish the tombs of China's upper-class men. Chinese archaic bronzes were also used to hold rituals made for Chinese ancestors.

These artifacts were widely produced, sporting a range of shapes. When collecting art, especially China's ancient bronzes, look to build a diverse collection. Thus, familiarize oneself with the features of the different forms of ancient bronzes.

Some popular archaic bronze forms include ritual wine vessels like Gong, You, Zun, Gu, and Jue. Gong has a cover and is often characterized as a metamorphic form of an animal. You have a stout oval body and an overhead handle.

Zun is a flared wine vessel with a bulbous mid-section, while Gu features a slender silhouette. Finally, Jue has a protruding spout, flared tail, whorl-capped posts, and long legs.

Other ritual wine vessels worthy of your attention include Pou, He, Hu, Gui, and square forms. Square vessels are one of the most significant belongings of the elites of Ancient China. Hence, these are much rarer and more extraordinary finds.

Jade Carving

It's hard not to associate sculptures with ancient Chinese art. Chinese sculptures range from animals, Buddhas, people, and mythical creatures. These are often made of stone, clay, bronze, or glass. Yet hand-carved jade objects are the most sought-after artifacts among collectors.

For one, jade is notoriously known for being a complex material to work with. However, jade is also a stunning material, prominent for its color and honied finish. These traits make ancient Chinese jade carvings one of the most coveted collections.

Do note that Chinese jade can refer to two different materials: jadeite and nephrite. Deep green or jade-coloring objects are jadeite artifacts. Meanwhile, colorless, light green, beige, brown, or yellow jade objects used nephrite. 

Chinese Paintings

Contrary to Western paintings, Chinese paintings exist on rice or silk paper. These paintings depict intricate visions of nature, people, animals, and more. The most well-known examples of Chinese painting are often fashioned with water-based inks.

Works in this category are usually small to medium in size. They follow a horizontal, vertical scroll, fan shape, or flat sheet format. Compared to Chinese sculptures, Chinese paintings fall in the lower price range.

Ancient Chinese artworks are a broad scope to cover, especially among professionals. Thus, it's recommended that collectors start small and specific. 

Decide what type of artwork you want to collect the most from a specific period. From there, build your collection and gradually expand to other periods or art styles. 

For instance, you can start by collecting small ancient Chinese paintings first. Then, when you think you're ready, you can expand your collection to ornaments and so on. This way, you can focus on one art form at a time and avoid overspending.

Visit as Many Art Events as You Can

Your eagerness to start your art collection may prompt you to buy the first artifact you find. Yet, it's an excellent practice first to roam around and visit many art events related to your subject of interest.

This way, you'll be rigorously exposed to various artifacts. It will also allow you to observe and get atoned with the inner workings of the world of collecting art. Moreover, you'll be able to network with like-minded collectors, curators, and auctioneers.

There are many places to discover ancient Chinese art that you love. A traditional method is visiting galleries, antique shops, and auctions. It also helps to attend art fairs and go to exhibition openings.

If you prefer virtual interactions, browse through reputable websites. Weisbrod Collection, for instance, consistently hosts exhibitions featuring Chinese works of art.

Understand the Terms and Conditions of Art Events

As with regular households, each art events have its own rules and procedures. Auction houses, for instance, differ in registration requirements and bidding procedures. Besides, some auction houses may handle taxes, while some leave this up to the customers.

Even the shipping process and communication systems of each event vary. As such, consistently acquaint yourself with the design before transacting with them.

Beware of Archaistic: Consider an Art Advisor

Archaism is when artworks in the later periods resemble artworks from older periods. This results from the latter artists imitating and emphasizing the most observable art traits of a particular period in their art pieces.

For instance, artists from the Ming dynasty follow the traits of the arts from the Qing dynasty. As a result, artworks from the Ming dynasty are often mistaken as a work of the Qing dynasty. This confusion can cause issues with categorizing and estimating an artifact's value.

To avoid the negative consequences of archaism, consider hiring an art advisor. Art advisors have the necessary knowledge, experience, and connections. In addition, they can help you connect with curators, scholars, and even investors. 

Inscriptions are Vital in Chinese Art Collections

Inscriptions are observable on some Chinese bronze vessels dating from the latter part of the Shang dynasty. In some cases, inscriptions indicate who the object belonged to. A few even contain descriptions of the purpose of the item.

Aside from basic information, an inscription can pinpoint the exact period the artifact came from. For example, vessels made during the late Shang dynasty have simpler inscriptions. 

In contrast, vessels from the Western Zhou-dynasty vessels are longer and more complex. Thus by looking at the length of the inscription, one can tell where the item likely dates from. Moreover, inscriptions make a Chinese artifact rarer, adding to its value.

Always Examine Condition & Provenance

Before finalizing a purchase, be very diligent in inquiring about the artifact's condition. This is necessary considering that the condition issues of artworks aren't always obvious. 

Inspect your object to double-check for hidden damages concealed using restoration techniques. Provenance research also adds value and credibility to artworks. 

It's good practice to ask a lot of questions. Almost all auction houses and exhibits allow customers to inspect items personally. Take advantage of this privilege to speculate on the item you're interested in. 

This is important since more and more counterfeits are appearing on the market. By learning everything there is to know about the object, you're not only your doubts but also that of your future clients should you wish to resell it.

Think Ahead! Where and How Will You Store Your Collection?

As you grow your ancient Chinese art collection, you must be more practical in storage. For example, if you're collecting bronze vessels, you'd have to allocate a vast space in your house for them.

You must also have the necessary storage or display equipment for your collection. Chinese paintings, for instance, are best stored in picture frames made of glass.

Whereas jewelry and ornaments would require locked cabinet displays, if not a safe. As for large sculptures, safety hinges and harnesses may be necessary.

It would be best to consider your storage area's room temperature and humidity level. This is especially true if you're collecting paintings and calligraphies. Too humid and moisture might form on their surfaces, damaging them.

Note you're not only storing your item to keep them safe. After all, an essential part of storage is preservation. Hence, you must ensure that the temporal element affecting your items' condition is well-adjusted.

Starting and Growing Your Ancient Chinese Art Collection

Collecting ancient Chinese art goes beyond monetary responsibilities. It also requires rigorous research on China's history, art characteristics, and traits. Not to mention the daunting need to socialize and connect with like-minded people.

Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. Professional, knowledgeable, and reputable dealers are ready to lend you a hand.

Ready to buy your first artifact? Are you interested in learning about ancient Chinese art?

Please give us a heads-up or browse our collection. We have countless museum-worthy pieces, and we'd love to talk to you about them.