To celebrate Asian Art in London’s 25th Anniversary Edition, we invited AAL’s past chairs to share some words
and their favourite memories and artworks from their time as Chairs of Asian Art in London.
Giuseppe Eskenazi has been described as the world’s most important dealer in Chinese works of art. His company, Eskenazi Ltd, has sold to more than eighty of the world’s major museums, as well as to numerous private collectors. In 1993, Giuseppe formed part of the steering committee that established Asian Art in London, later acting as Chairman for the event in 2002 and 2003. In 2006 he was awarded appointed a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur for services to the arts and in particular for supplying remarkable works of art to the great museums of the world.
‘I am pleased to have been part of the steering committee that brought about the first ‘Asian Art in London’ in 1998. The idea was to restore London to its former position as a hub of Asian art, both commercially and academically. The event was a great success, showcasing events and exhibitions at auction houses, dealers and museums and over the last 25 years, AAL has evolved and gone from strength to strength.‘
‘In 1992, soon after we’d established AAL, the British Museum opened the Chinese and South Asian galleries sponsored by Sir Joseph Hotung, and this was a landmark moment for London becoming a global hub for Asian art. Rather than being a poor relation to the wonderful displays of Greek, Assyrian and Egyptian art, suddenly Chinese art was at the top table in the museum. The galleries were refurbished in 2017 and they are now one of the great destinations in the world to see Chinese art; not least the ceramics from the Sir Percival David Collection. During my career, I have been fortunate to have placed many objects in outstanding museums around the world and over the years, we have sold a number of objects to the British Museum including a pair of magnificent 10th-12th century wood bodhisattvas which may be viewed in Gallery 33 there. I am always extremely proud to see them whenever I visit.‘
By the time I was invited to Chair the Organising Committee of Asian Art in London in 2003, much of the groundwork had been established and a successful formula cast in ever-morphing stone. Sundays in the galleries, auction showrooms of St James; Mondays in Mayfair and Tuesdays in Kensington; topped and tailed by museum lectures, exhibitions, auctions and of course the wonderful celebratory parties.
We’d achieved what we set out to do, to put London on the map – in its rightful place – at the heart of the world of Asian Art expertise, dealership, academia, specialisation and connoisseurship. With several hundred years of auction house and dealer specialisation and the Asian departments of our magnificent museums to draw upon, the only question was why we hadn’t done it years earlier, just as New York had done with Asia Week.
My task as the new Chairman was somewhat easier than my predecessor Michael Spink, who had chaired the first challenging few years with his innate charm, expertise and quiet professionalism. So, with absolutely no background in the corporate world or in the chairing of formal meetings (and as a specialist in the niche world of Chinese Snuff Bottles), I know there were raised eyebrows when the crown was passed to me, but I like to think my unorthodox approach to my term in office brought some fun and creativity to the table and helped AAL on its continued journey to success. It was certainly one of the greatest honours of my professional life to have been chosen by my peers to lead the way in those formative years and to be reflecting now – in our 25th Anniversary year – on its continued success, reminding me of a very happy time of which I am so proud to have been part of.
Perhaps that was also the beauty of AAL – that it was so inclusive in its inception. Where the commercial world of art dealing collided with the high-brow and somewhat separate world of academia forcing us to acknowledge and support each other in our shared aim to enhance the study, appreciation and love of Asian Art. Everyone with something different to bring to the table.
Some dealers were hugely sceptical at the outset of AAL, but when they realised that the week and its wonderful programme had in turn acted as a magnet for international collectors and new buyers, they quickly came on board and made the AAL week an annual focus for exhibitions and catalogues. It also created opportunities for lesser-known dealers to join the destination map for curious and enthusiastic collectors, keen also to widen their knowledge and exposure to London’s rich talent and pot of treasures and knowledge, that they might otherwise not have known or had the chance to experience.
There’s no doubt, an early draw on the programme of our inaugural week in 1988 was the magnificent fundraising Gala Dinner in the Dome of the V&A raising funds for Great Ormond Street’s project in Bangladesh and organised by a Fundraising Committee headed by my wife Lindsey together with Annie Sheaf together with other dealers, their partners and a wider group of interested supporters that included interior designers, arts journalists and collectors – all also keen to develop the philanthropic side of AAL, which in turn broadened its social appeal.
Some of our collector clients travelled from Hong Kong specially to support Lindsey & Annie’s charitable efforts and subsequently went shopping around St James, making several new (and possibly sceptical) dealers very happy indeed! The fundraising efforts continued in 1999 with an even-grander dinner amongst the Elgin Marbles in aid of the BM’s Education Programme and culminated in 2000 with a spectacular dinner at Kensington Palace organised by the wonderful Kyle Verwers, who remains a close friend to this day.
After the grandeur of these events, the Organising Committee settled on Drinks Receptions as their preferred means to celebrate and entertain clients, which varied each subsequent year between the V&A and the BM’s Hotung Gallery and the Great Court.
Perhaps my most challenging memory was attempting to deliver my witty and commanding Chairman’s speech from the Podium of the Hotung Gallery – I recall in celebration of our 10th Anniversary – to thank the curators, museum staff, dealers and collectors and failing dismally against the echoes of that magnificent chamber and the champagne-fuelled din of hundreds of people having a wonderful time.
There’s no question that the hardest thing has been to keep the energy and organisational effort going over all these years, so I thank those who carried on and who have pulled together again so brilliantly for this important anniversary celebration and landmark in the history of AAL. All of us who have given time and energy to supporting AAL can be proud of what we have collectively achieved as we pass the mantle onto the next generation of those whose lives are dedicated and bound to the beautiful world of Asian Art.
Congratulations Asian Art in London!
30 September 2022
Leila de Vos Van Steenwijk
For 25 years AAL has been a unique moment in the Autumn, when galleries, auction houses, institutions, and collectors from all over the world convene in London to celebrate their passion for Asian Art, and more recently Indian & Islamic Art. It is a great time to meet old friends and make new ones.
My favourite Chinese Work of Art must be the Exceptionally Rare and Important Yuan blue and white jar from the Yuan dynasty, which we discovered in the Netherlands when I was based there as a specialist in Chinese Art. I believe it is the most beautiful blue and white jar ever painted by an extremely talented artist in the finest cobalt blue. It depicts a narrative scene after contemporary woodblock printed illustrations inspired by the Zhanguoce (History of the Warring States).
It fetched a World Record price at Christie’s, London on 12 July 2005, making GBP 15,688,000.
Roger Keverne was a Director of Spink & Son Ltd, in charge of the Oriental Departments, and, together with his wife, Miranda Clarke, ran Roger Keverne Ltd for over 20 years. He is now retired but continues to have a deep interest in and love for Chinese art.
‘I have the honour of being the only person to have held the Chair twice, a double privilege. On its 25th Anniversary, I am delighted that Asian Art in London is going from strength to strength and is in such capable hands.‘
‘I was fortunate to have known Sir Peter Moores and was asked by him to be a Governor of Compton Verney, the Museum founded by Sir Peter’s Foundation. Sir Peter began collecting bronzes in the 1990s and the collection is one of the most important in Europe. The highlight of the collection is the magnificent late Shang dynasty bronze wine vessel, fangjia, bearing a striking design of owl heads. It came from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, and I purchased it at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 on behalf of the Museum for US$8.1 million. The collection is beautifully displayed in a sensitively restored Robert Adam building in the heart of the English countryside.‘
Asian Art in London is an incredible initiative for collectors uniting experts from auction houses, galleries and museums and high quality Asian art across the centuries, the very reason I was drawn to this extraordinary organisation. Happy 25th Anniversary – well deserved