Chinese seal fetches $4.4 mln, set to return home

Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:13am EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A white jade dragon seal which belonged to the Chinese Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799), sold for 2.7 million pounds ($4.4 million) at auction house Bonhams Thursday.

The four-centimeter (1.6 inch) square seal, which was expected to fetch between 1.5-2.0 million pounds, was bought by an unnamed Chinese buyer from Beijing. The sale attracted wide interest from European as well as Asian buyers.

The sale is further evidence of the growing influence of Chinese buyers on the global art market, particularly for Asian works.

In October, auction house Sotheby's sold a Chinese Qing dynasty vase for $32.4 million and their Asian auction series of art, jewelry, wine and watches in Hong Kong raised $400 million.

The seal, engraved with the inscription "Zi Qiang Bu Xi" (Self-Strengthening Never Ceases), was crafted in 1793 around the time of the Chinese Emperor's 80th birthday.

A symbol of "imperial China at its zenith," in the words of Bonhams senior specialist Asaph Hyman, it was originally part of a set of three used to mark the corners of calligraphy works.

It is unknown how the piece left China, although it may have been taken from the Forbidden City during the Boxer rebellion around 1900.

The seal would have originally been housed in the Yanchun pavilion in the Forbidden City, Beijing.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan, editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato)