By Janet Y. Chang
It appears that one major art fund is looking to find out. You might have heard that in 2014 a Shanghai-based art collector Liu Yiqian spent $36.3 million on a tiny porcelain Ming Dynasty cup. That news made the art reporters buzz for the whole year, bringing fame and fortune to Mr. Yiqian, and making it clear to the whole world that Chinese heritage has value, a lot of value!
What you may not know is that since then, the Chinese elites went into overdrive, spending billions to promote the greatness of Chinese culture, especially within the international art market. And while other spectacular sales of the Chinese artifacts did happen prior to 2014, a $69 million vase comes to mind, some experts believe that 2014-2015 were the years when China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, decided to make its cultural heritage the most valuable in the world.
The Tamoikin Art Fund (TAF) is clearly looking to test this theory, because recently it unveiled two ancient Chinese statuettes that have been attributed to the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644. It is believed that these statues were carved from an elephant bone in the 15th century and remained in the possession of the Chinese royal family up until the every end of World War II.
When commenting on their provenance, prof. Mikhail Tamoikin, Ph.D., vice president of the TAF, disclosed that these statuettes, along with other possessions, were taken from Puyi (1906 – 1967), the last Emperor of China, by the Soviet army when they captured him in 1945. He further states that it is possible that at one point they belonged to Chenghua (1447-1487), the ninth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, due to the fact that his name is clearly inscribed on the bottom of these artifacts.
The modern provenance of these statuettes begins in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, in the year 2000, when prof. Tamoikin purchased them for $14 thousand from the family of an officer who was involved in the capture of Emperor Puyi. Since then, they remained in Mikhail’s personal possession and are currently located in central Europe. The Tamoikin Art Fund does not own these artifacts, but has been tasked with their management, curation, and security.
When Mikhail acquired these statuettes, he knew they were special but didn’t realize until quite recently how valuable they truly are. Over the course of the 22 years that prof. Tamoikin owned these ancient Chinese carvings, he frequently showed them to multiple experts that examined the bone structure, inscribed characters, the artistic style, and other parameters. Their reports led him to conclude that these statuettes are priceless ancient Chinese artifacts, which he hopes one day will find their way back to China.
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