The Longest-Running Auctions

Bamfords’ James Lewis aims for Guinness Book of Records with marathon charity auction

Two Guinness World Record officials will attend and validate the auction to be held at two Derbyshire venues, starting on Friday, June 21 – the longest day of the year.

The auction begins at 6.30pm on June 21 and ends at 8pm on Saturday, June 22, with Lewis continuously on the rostrum, aside from comfort breaks.

Proceeds from the sale of some 1000 donated lots will go to wildlife charities the Born Free Foundation and International Gorilla Foundation, of which Lewis is a patron, and to elephant charity Tusk. 

“We’ve had a lot of bad press over ivory recently, but hopefully this event will show that the auction world cares about endangered species,” Lewis told ATG.

He added: “The world of antiques is the most environmentally-friendly in terms of recycling and we need to shout about that.”

Lewis is planning a global version for next year, hoping to recruit auctioneers in different countries to host an auction for their chosen environmental charities on a single day in 2020.

Second run

It is the second time James Lewis has mounted a marathon charity auction.

In 2013, he raised nearly £60,000 by selling 2000 donated lots over 26 hours in aid of ten local and national charities. It was acknowledged as a world record for continuous auctioneering.

In four parts

The auction on June 21 will have four main sections, starting with Bamfords’ own jewellery sale from which the commission will be donated, followed at 10.30pm by a general sale of donated items estimated at less than £100.

The event moves to Holme Hall in Bakewell for the final section, an African-themed evening at which 60-80 key lots, including holidays and experiences donated by celebrities such as Martin Clunes, will be auctioned.

Pupils at the S Anselm’s prep school in Bakewell will help raise money by acting as porters and taking bids.

The Longest Bidding War of 2020

After 75 minutes and over 100 bids, a handscroll by Ren Renfa, a prominent artist during the Yuan dynasty, finally sold in Hong Kong. The scroll, Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback, was on offer as part of Sotheby’s Fine Classical Chinese Paintings sale on October 8th. It inspired the longest bidding war of 2020 and recent auction history.

100+ bids were more than enough for the Ren Renfa scroll to beat its pre-sale estimate of HKD 80 million to $120 million or USD 10.3 million to $15.5 million. It eventually crossed the auction block for HKD 306.6 million or USD 39.6 million, more than double the high estimate. Ridley Cheung of Sotheby’s tells Auction Daily that the bids were split between collectors there in person and those over the phone. Notably absent from the year’s longest bidding war were online bids, which defined most of the year’s major sales. 

While the 75-minute back-and-forth was largely unprecedented, the lot’s popularity did not come as a surprise to category experts. Only 21 works by Ren Renfa are known to exist, most of which belong to museums. This particular piece spent centuries in the collections of Chinese aristocrats and was once stored in China’s Palace of Heavenly Purity. 

“I knew that bringing this masterpiece to auction was set to be one of the most exciting moments of my career at Sotheby’s,” said Steven Zuo of Sotheby’s Asia after the sale. “Its rapturous reception at our pre-sale exhibition was a harbinger for the flurry of bids we received today.”

When the dust settled, the new owner of Ren’s Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback was the Long Museum in Shanghai. The museum’s founder, art collector Liu Yiqian, previously tried to acquire the scroll in Beijing four years ago.

Liu is no stranger to marquee sales. Outlets such as The New Yorker have noted the collector’s often controversial behavior at other major events. For example, in 2014, he acquired a Qing-dynasty cup once owned by Emperor Qianlong at auction for USD 36 million. Not one to remain anonymous, he posed drinking out of the cup shortly after the sale, angering some in the industry.

Even by Liu’s standards, Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback was a major acquisition. Selling at nearly USD 40 million, it not only caused 2020’s longest bidding war but was also among the year’s top-selling lots worldwide. 

The scroll pays homage to Li Longji, the eventual emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Li Longji was known to host his brothers for nights of drinking and poetry reading. Ren’s scroll depicts Li Longji, his brothers, and their servants riding their horses after one such night. The future emperor fares the best of the brothers, maintaining control of his black horse. Meanwhile, others struggle to keep their heads up, and some have to stop from sickness.

Of particular note in Ren’s work is the detail paid to horses. Much of the artist’s time was spent poring over the depictions of horses in Tang and Song dynasty paintings. In his own work, Ren chose to preserve the earlier Tang dynasty style. He believed Han Gan, an artist who lived 500 years before Ren, was the last great horse painter.

Previous owners of Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback include artist Liang Qingbiao and connoisseur-collector Geng Zhaozhong, both during the 17th century. Eventually, the Qing government acquired the scroll, calling it an imperial treasure. The scroll would remain in government hands until the fall of the dynasty. Puyi, the last Emperor of China, gave it away as a reward in 1922, shortly before losing his title and leaving the Forbidden City.

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