• Fine Chinese Ceramics and Work auction at Christies

    Sale 7762

    Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

    3 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 167



    Price Realised  


    The generously-sized rounded fruit formed from a single boulder, carved to the exterior of the box and cover in openwork with two leafy branches extending around the sides and linked with a large ring, the cover and base further carved in relief with smaller peaches and bats amongst leafy tendrils, the stone of an even celadon tone with some russet areas highlighting the smaller fruit and leaves
    10 in. (25.3 cm.) wide

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    Purchased from Spink & Son Ltd. in 1957.
    The Plesch Collections (Hh26L).

    Pre-Lot Text

    The Plesch Collections of Asian Art.

    Peter and Traudi Plesch both came to Britain as refugees from Nazi persecution. Peter Plesch left Berlin with his family in 1933, and Traudi left Vienna with her family in 1938. Both came from homes where art was appreciated, and Peter Plesch has explained that he and Traudi did not collect European pictures and furniture because both families had succeeded in bringing the bulk of their possessions to England, which they eventually inherited.

    Indeed a significant number of items from Peter's family were lent to the Jewish Museum of Berlin in 2004 for an exhibition illustrating the life of the professional Jewish bourgeoisie in Berlin between circa 1830 and 1933, one room of which was dedicated to the Plesch family.
    Amongst these pieces was a 1928 painting of the Plesch family, including Peter, by the German post-impressionist artist Max Slevogt, which is now part of the JMB's permanent collection.

    Peter Plesch's father, Janos Plesch, was a doctor, amongst whose patients were some very well known people, such as John Maynard Keyns, but the most famous of them was Albert Einstein. From 1928 to 1933 Einstein spent time in the gardener's cottage of the Plesch family's country house, the villa Lemm on the river Havel at Gatow. Here he could avoid all kinds of unwelcome attention and sail his much-loved boat.
    Einstein also seems to have enjoyed the company of young Peter and encouraged the latter's interest in science - gently explaining the practical difficulties of Peter's ingenious design for a perpetual motion machine. It would no doubt have pleased Einstein to see Peter become an internationally renowned scientist and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Keele.
    A picture of Einstein with Peter and his siblings is in the catalogue for the sale of the Plesch's Antique Glass at Christies on 28th April, 2009.
    Although Peter Plesch was already a collector of Euopean glass and
    Chinese and Japanese artefacts before he and Traudi married, it was
    she who, on their honeymoon in Israel became entranced by Roman glass, which opened up a further field of collecting for the couple. Not many years later Traudi gave her first lecture, and it was on Collecting Antiques on a Budget, and thereafter she found herself in great demand as a speaker, usually in connection with her voluntary fund-raising for many charitable organisations. This resulted in her being granted the Dignity of M.B.E. in 1988 and in 2000 the O.B.E., for services to the County of Staffordshire. In 2004 she was awarded an Honorary Master's degree of the University of Keele. At the degree ceremony the Pro-Chancellor of the University noted that "Traudi had given freely of her time over the last thirty something years to raise funds which have made a great difference to the community which she has adopted as her own". In addition to these many activities Traudi and Peter have made time for collecting art, and found that it provided stimulation and enjoyment, so that collecting ranked high on their list of interests.
    It may be significant that the first antique purchased by Peter, whilst he was a student at Cambridge, was a Chinese silver hip flask, which he used for its proper purpose throughout World War II, only been made by a Hong Kong silver-smith in the 19th Century. However, his career as a real collector started much later, when in 1957 he inherited the very varied Chinese artifacts of his parents, and he realised that he knew very little about them. Ever the inquisitive scholar, Peter sought knowledgeable advice and found it at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair of 1958 where he met Adrian Maynard of Spink's Chinese Department, who became a trusted adviser and friend.
    On that occasion Peter purchased a Yongzheng "mark and period" saucer dish, which although its glaze had been intended to be copper red, had mis-fired to a beautiful browny-grey, described by Peter as "Persian cat". It was the first of Peter's acquisitions made from love at first sight, but also with almost total lack of knowledge; that always came later.
    Peter established himself as a serious collector of Chinese ceramics when, in 1959, he acquired at Sotheby's for 2,200 the only piece of the extremely rare Ju ware that had been seen in the market for years. It is a "narcissus" bowl, oval, 22cm long, with a low rim on four low cabriole legs, covered with a unique purply-blue glaze. He entered the Guiness book of Records with the highest price ever paid anywhere for any kind of ceramic. When that piece was sold in 1970 for 46,000, it went into that publication a second time and for the same reasons, and that sale started the boom in Chinese ceramics.

    Peter's first purchase of Chinese jade was made in 1958, also from Spink, and it is a truly spectacular piece - a large skilfully-carved, box in the form of a large peach with base and cover linked by a ring, showing that they had all been carved from a single boulder (Lot 167).
    After Peter and Traudi's marriage in 1963 jade was to become one of her favourite collecting areas. The Plesch collection of Asian art has, over the years, encompassed a wide range of materials, from Song dynasty ceramics to Japanese sword-fittings, netsuke and wood-block prints, and from Korean celadons to Qing dynasty glass. In that field Peter's researches led to several discoveries, which he presented in a lecture jointly to members of the Oriental Ceramic Society and the Glass Circle.

    Very early in his collecting career Peter was perplexed by the problem of keeping track of his acquisitions. He therefore devised a new cataloguing system that has proved itself adaptable to the needs of collectors who, like he, are liable to fall for beautiful works made from almost any material. It is described elsewhere. The Lot description of each Plesch piece carries its Plesch code number.

    It is clear that Traudi and Peter have thoroughly enjoyed collecting together. The fact that Peter has been frequently invited to attend international conferences and to give lectures on his specialist areas of research, has provided the couple with splendid opportunities to search out treasures in antique shops in many parts of the world. Traudi has said to many a shop-keeper:- "Please keep open till my husband has finished doing chemistry".
    Peter has claimed that Traudi is less adventurous than he, but that this has resulted in their making fewer mistakes among their purchases. Their final requirement before making any purchase was that they should both wish to possess the object, although not necessarily to the same extent or for the same reasons. Traudi and Peter have also been very generous in providing access to their collections for students, scholars and fellow collectors.

    A Cataloguing System for the Perplexed Collector
    by Peter Plesch

    I want to offer help to perplexed collectors by explaining the cataloguing system which I devised in the late 1950s when I started my collection.

    Each piece in the collection is given an unambiguous code mark which is put on the collector's name-label attached to each piece. Each object is classified in one of a few categories by type of material which is denoted by a capital letter, for instance A for animal materials, AG for ancient glass, H for hardstones and all other minerals, W for wood and all other plant materials. The shape of the piece is denoted by a lower case letter, as with h for hollow-ware such as bowls, v for vases, s for statuary. The third element of the code number is the largest dimension of the piece in centimetres or, if smaller, in millimetres. Pieces with the same code number are distinguished by capital letters. NOT to be incorporated in the code number are the following: structural features, alleged geographical, cultural or ethnic origin, alleged age, subdivision of any material category, eg. gold, lead, brass, bronze, copper are all M for Metal, and earthenware, china, porcelain are all C for Ceramics.

    To make the method effective, every object must have its card or computer equivalent, detailing a description, measurement and photograph, when, where, from whom and for how much it was bought, the insurance value updated every two or three years, presumed country of origin, region and date of production, and all exhibition details. The reason for attaching a label to each piece is that it establishes provenance and pedigree and, therefore, enhances the value of the piece. This is an informative, very useful and convenient system for identifying objects, not only for the collector, but for insurance schedules and for testamentary dispositions. In the following catalogue entries, each lot includes its Plesch code mark.


    Works of Art from the Plesch Collections, Manchester City Art Gallery, 1964.
    Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, organised by The Arts Council of Great Britain and The Oriental Ceramic Society, 1 May - 22 June 1975, no. 358 (where it was dated Ming dynasty).