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Chinese collectors snap up star lot in New York’s Asia Week

The Min Fanglei bronze vessel, bought in a private sale, is expected to be donated to the Hunan Provincial Museum

The Min Fanglei, a celebrated bronze vessel, was due to be auctioned at Christie’s New York today

A group of private collectors from China’s Hunan province privately purchased the “Min Fanglei”, a celebrated bronze vessel that was due to be auctioned at Christie’s New York today. The group plans to donate the ritual vessel dating from the 12th-11th century BC, to the Hunan Provincial Museum in China, where it will be reunited with its lid already in the museum’s collection.

One of the Hunan collectors behind the private sale is Tan Guobin, who told our sister paper The Art Newspaper China that he and his collector friends decided together to donate the bronze. On 19 March, Tan released a statement saying: “Our group came from Hunan and negotiated with Christie’s New York and the current owner. As published, the scheduled auction of the ‘Min Fanglei’ is cancelled, and we agreed on a private sale. Details will be announced when the Fanglei goes back to Hunan.” Tan said that he plans to arrange a press conference in Hunan to discuss the details of the purchase.

Last month, the Taiwan-based collector Cao Xingcheng announced that he would not bid on the Min Fanglei and encouraged others to refrain so that the work could return to a Chinese museum. “I suggest that all Chinese collectors not bid on the Fanglei so that the Hunan Provincial Museum [can] purchase it at the estimate price of $10m,” he said.

The highly publicised sale was expected to set a new record for an archaic Chinese bronze at auction, although Christie’s did not publish an estimate for the work. In 2001, the same bronze sold for $9m and set a world record for any Asian work of art. Christie’s said in a statement that the recent decision to sell the work privately came after “close consultation with the current owner over the last several days”.

“As always, it is our duty to be a responsible steward of the important cultural objects that are entrusted to our care,” said Steven Murphy, Christie’s chief executive. “Christie’s feels privileged to have acted as custodian of the Min Fanglei and to have facilitated its transfer.”

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