The Directors of The Canterbury Auction Galleries are proud to announce that an exceptionally rare Chinese bronze water vessel made between 2,000 and 3,500 years ago has returned to China and is now in the National Museum of China (NMC) in Beijing. It is believed to be the first time this has occurred involving a UK regional auction house.


Known as a Tiger Ying because its spout and cover are each cast with models of the creature, the vessel sold for in April this year for £410,000.Only six similar archaic vessels dating from the Western Zhou dynasty (1027-771 BC), exist, five of which are already in museums.


It was discovered when specialists from the Kent fine art and antiques auction house were called to a bungalow in a seaside town in the east of the county. It had been brought back from China by Royal Marines Captain Harry Lewis Evans (1831-1883) who was present when the emperor’s Summer Palace in Pekin (Beijing) fell to British and French forces in 1860.


Its anonymous Chinese purchaser subsequently gifted the vessel to the NMC and at the end of September, it was handed over to representatives from China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) in a ceremony attended by the Chinese Ambassador in London, Mr Liu Xiaoming; members of SACH and NMC, who flew from Beijing for the ceremony; auction house Directors, Cliona Kilroy and Tony Pratt and the saleroom’s Asian Art Consultant Alastair Gibson.


“We are proud and delighted to have played our part in this historic occasion,” said Cliona Kilroy, who conducted the auction to sell the object and who assisted in arranging for the vessel’s return. “Ambassador Liu said this was the first time this has happened involving a UK auctioneer.”


An export licence was granted last month and the Tiger Ying was unveiled in a ceremony at the Beijing museum yesterday (Tuesday December 11).


The picture shows the handover ceremony at the Chinese Embassy in London, attended by, left to right, Mr Wen Dayan (Director of Foreign Affairs SACH). Alastair Gibson (Asian Art Consultant to The Canterbury Auction Galleries), Mr Chen Chengjun (Deputy Director of NMC), Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, Counsellor Xiang Xiaowei (Minister Counsellor, Chinese Embassy), Tony Pratt (Managing Director of The Canterbury Auction Galleries), Cliona Kilroy (Director of The Canterbury Auction Galleries) and Ms Wu Min (Director of Private Collections SACH)


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