18th century Qianlong vase originally sold at auction for £43million in 2010
But Chinese buyer refused to pay the 20% fees of Bainbridge auction house
Sale of the vase – which was inherited by solicitor Tony Johnson – was stuck in two year legal battle
New bidder has now purchased the antique – but for just £25million
A former solicitor who put an antique Chinese vase up for auction two years ago has only just managed to sell the piece after a lengthy legal row over the auctioneers’ fees.
Tony Johnson and his mother Gene believed they had sold the rare piece, which they had inherited from an relative, for the ‘stratospheric’ sum of £43million in 2010.
But the Chinese billionaire buyer is believed to have balked at paying an extra 20 per cent in auctioneers fees on top of his winning bid.
Peter Bainbridge, who owns the Bainbridge auction house that ‘sold’ the exquisite vase, spent months trying to save the deal by negotiating with the buyer but with no success.
After a two year stalemate, a new unidentified buyer from the Far East put in a new offer through Bonhams auction house and is now believed to have paid up to £25million for the 18th century Qianlong vase.
It is thought the bulk of the money has gone to the Johnson family although Mr Bainbridge would have been ‘significantly’ compensated.
Julian Roup, a spokesman for Bonhams, said: ‘We are pleased to confirm the sale of the vase for an undisclosed sum, in a private treaty deal.’
The 16ins porcelain vase was made for the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who ruled between 1736 to 1795.
It was looted from the Imperial Summer Palace during the infamous raids by the British and the French in 1860.
Mr Johnson, 56, from the Isle of Wight, and his elderly mother inherited it from her late sister, Patricia Newman, in January 2010.
It had once belonged to Mrs Newman’s late husband who had in turn inherited it from an uncle who brought it back from China.
Mr Johnson believed it could be valuable and contacted Bainbridges auctioneers in Ruislip, Middlesex.
The object attracted massive interest from Chinese bidders at the auction in November 2010 and it sold for 40 times its estimate before the dispute erupted.
Ivan Macquisten, editor of the Antiques Trades Gazette, said the deal that has now been reached was the best result for everybody concerned.
He said: ‘From what I understand Peter Bainbridge did everything possible to try and negotiate with the original buyer.
‘But he could not have budged on the 20 per cent buyer’s premium otherwise he could have been exposed to a legal case by the under-bidder.
‘If an item fails to sale at auction, under contract the auctioneer normally reserves the right to offer it for sale again.
‘But Mr Bainbridge couldn’t re-sell it as the piece had been spoilt and tainted by what had happened.
‘The private deal that has now been struck is as good an outcome as the vendor and Mr Bainbridge could have hoped for.
‘The private treaty was brokered through Bonhams in Hong Kong and Colin Sheaf, their head of Asian art, is the biggest cheese there is in the world at Asian art.
‘From what I can gather Peter Bainbridge has been compensated. It must have been a significant amount of money for him to release the vase to Bonhams.
‘The price of between £20million to £25million is a fair price. The vendor would have walked away with a good chunk of that and Bonhams would have got a decent fee out of it as well.’
Mr Macquisten said the vase was one of the finest pieces ever made in China.
He added: ‘Last year there was an exhibition in Beijing of great historical Chinese objects and a similar vase was listed as being in the top dozen items in Chinese art history and that wasn’t as good as this one.’