During the 17th and 18th centuries, an unprecedented seaborne trade developed between the aggressive mercantile nations of Western Europe, and the exotic lands of the ‘Far East’, especially China. This trade was undertaken and financed almost entirely by the State-monopolist Companies chartered by Western countries. One effect of the growing trade through this ‘Maritime Silk Road’, was the export from China of Chinese art, suitable to decorate the interiors of grand Western mansions, as well as the comfortable homes of the growing middle class in post- Restoration Britain.
On 25th March 2019 Colin Sheaf explored for The Chelsea Society these decorative ‘chinoiserie’ imports like paintings, porcelain, lacquer and wall papers which introduced a whimsical rococo character into the heavier Baroque interiors of 17th century Europe.
Colin Sheaf is Deputy Chairman of the Bonhams Group; and Global Head of Bonhams International’s Asian Department. After reading Modern History as an Exhibitioner at Worcester College, Oxford, he joined London art auctioneers, Christies, in 1974, and began to specialise in Chinese ceramic and works of art. During four decades of continuous expansion in the global auction market for Asian art, he has organised major auctions in London, Hong Kong, New York, Singapore and Amsterdam.
In 2000 he joined London auctioneers Phillips, and after their European business was merged with Bonhams, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the newly-global Bonhams Group in 2005. In 2007 he opened Bonhams Asia as an auction business, holding sales in Hong Kong and supported by regional offices in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and Singapore. (He is likely to remain the only Western auctioneer to have successfully opened two global art-auction businesses in Hong Kong, having undertaken the same project for Christies in the mid-1980s!)
He is co-author of a definitive study of salvaged Chinese porcelain – The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes, the Complete Record (1988); and he has published over 120 articles and book chapters, mostly on the subjects of Chinese art and the art market. He has lectured on aspects of Chinese art at many of the world’s leading Asian art societies and museums.
In 2017 he was elected Chairman of the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, the world’s greatest private collection of Imperial Chinese Porcelain, currently on loan at the British Museum. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he relaxes by chairing the Board of an award-winning 19th century central London garden-square in Cubitt’s Pimlico.