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Melplash Court house sale nets over £3m

DORCHESTER auctioneers Duke’s sale of the contents of Melplash Court, near Bridport, became one of the highest grossing sales ever conducted by a provincial auctioneer thanks to the phenomenal strength of the Chinese market.

Mid-way through the third and final day of the mammoth onsite sale from September 22-24, Duke's sale total was already over £3m (plus 19.5% premium). And undoubtedly what set this sale apart from others was the large quantity of Asian works of art collected by the Canadian Timothy Lewis (1937-2004) and his wife Fran, who purchased the picturesque Dorset manor house in 1984.

Sandwiched between two days selling typical country house chattels was a separate hardback catalogue sale titled Reflections of the Orient on Thursday, September 23. This 426-lot catalogue of jades, wood carvings, ceramics and works of art reflected the Lewis' connections throughout the Far East: Tim Lewis supplied aircraft engines and helicopters to South East Asia and made many purchases in the region.

Predictably, bidding was dominated by a handful of determined Chinese phone bidders - one of whom booked a phone line for the entire sale and spent nearly £1m - and a dozen Chinese agents in the room.

Slowly, but consistently, they pushed prices well over estimate. The gruelling sale did not finish until 7pm (with 94 lots sold in the first three hours) but £2.5m was the reward.

The front cover lot, a Chinese Qianlong period hardwood carving of a lohan seated on a lion, sold for £320,000 (estimate £30,000-50,000) but there were also multiple estimate prices for jade carvings including a crouching Buddhistic lion, for which a Yuan or early Ming date has been proposed, sold over a £2000-4000 estimate for £180,000.

This was also the first time that Duke's had used live online bidding via www.the-saleroom.com and Guy Schwinge, director and auctioneer, was pleased with the "fantastic" results including a pair of Yongzheng or early Qianlong period blue and white candlesticks sold for £86,000 (estimate £5000-10,000).

Wednesday's 'warm up' sale of glass, ceramics, clocks, Russian icons, silver and other general chattels realised £350,000, while the final day's sale of Modern, Impressionist and Old Master paintings, furniture and outside effects was well underway at the time ATG went to press.

An oil on panel of a wedding by the Flemish Baroque painter Abel Grimmer (c.1570-c.1619), acquired by the Lewis family in 1977, had made £75,000.

Although the largest sale conducted by a regional auctioneer will stay firmly with Woolley & Wallis (who posted just shy of £7.4m for their two-day sale of Asian art in May), Melplash Court could prove the highest-grossing 'on the premises' sale held by a provincial saleroom.

Anna Brady: 27th Sep 2010 11:16:00