Certainly, there’ll be many eyes on the Ru washer once October rolls around – and to give this auction some context, the Ru guanyao washer that was auctioned in 2012 fetched nearly HK$208 million (US$26.6 million). Does Chow think that this brush washer has the potential to outperform its estimate and smash the existing record? “In my view, it could certainly be possible. There are today in the market a couple more collectors chasing highly important Chinese works of art – and let’s remember that were are at least four bidders who were unsuccessful back in 2012.
“I do not want to be too optimistic but I can certainly see this Ru washer fetch an amount in excess of the last one,” is his measured response. “Most of the collectors who bid on the last Ru washer were madly in love with it. My experience so far, having shown the present piece to a few potential buyers, is that it is an object capable of drawing the most powerful aesthetic emotions. It is the greatest treat for someone in my role to offer such an aesthetic experience to my clients.” Nevertheless, the eventual winner will have to be careful with their prized brush washer, once the excitement of winning such a lot has subsided – particularly if they’re considering the prospect of selling it in the future.
“The piece should stay in the same state of preservation if the future owner respects a number of simple handling principles. Always handle the piece over a table lined with a bit of padding, hold it with two hands, never wear gloves when handling porcelain (they can be very slippery), avoid holding a torchlight, camera or phone right above the piece in case it slips, and keep it safe in either a box or in a locked showcase. Also, avoid keeping it out if you live in an earthquake-prone country.”
As for the likelihood of this brush washer – or anything like it, for that matter – appearing on the auction block again, Chow seems to suggest that now is the time to bid, unless you’re willing to wait for a substantial amount of time. “The very rarest and most beautiful objects that we offer for sale tend to appreciate over time. The market prices depend on offer and demand, and there is no question that objects are getting scarcer over time. Plus, with the continued rise of super-collectors, there is an increasing demand for the very finest objects,” he says.
“It is hard to say whether this very piece will ever come to the market in the years to come, but my hunch is that it may not be available on the market for at least the next 15 to 20 years, if not longer, which is historically the average holding time for pieces of this importance and value.” Time, it seems, waits for no man – and neither do Ru guanyao brush washers.