Bonham’s arrives in Portugal “in search of hidden treasures”

After selling a collection of Asiatic art belonging to a Portuguese collector for more than €12 million two years ago, Bonham’s fine art auctioneers have decided to put Portugal on its map. The British multinational says it expects to find more collectors here ready to sell “hidden treasures” than to buy them.

Explained CEO Matthew Girling: “At certain times, some countries are more focused on selling rather than buying and from the experience that we have at the moment, that is the case here … Portugal is a place where we are finding people who have things to sell”.

Using customary British tact, he added: “There are lots of things that five, 10 years ago – particularly if we look at the Chinese market – were worth a lot less than they are worth now. Thus people are re-evaluating their collections. If we have a thing that was worth €10,000 and we now discover it is worth €50,000 to €100,000, the perspective of maintaining this article, or selling it, could change.”

So too could the financial position of collectors.

Thus Bonham’s – which has had representation in Portugal since 2011 and which described the country then as “one of the great storehouses of art and antiques in Europe” – has decided to open a permanent base to show, says Girling, that it is here to stay.

The Belém offices will give clients “confidence”, he told DN. And now the hunt is on for collectors whose items could have international interest, particularly for the Asian market.

“Everything that is Chinese these days is being bought,” he explained. “In our salesrooms in New York, London and San Francisco … everything that is Chinese is going back to China.”

Bonham’s affirmation that Portugal has “hidden treasures” stems from the 25 lots sold in Hong Kong in 2012 for a total of €12.3 million.

The items, belonging to a “national family”, included various works by Chinese 20th century painters Za wu Ki and Chuh Teh Chun and a “nucleus of imperial pieces”, including a large incense burner, which sold for €1.5 million.

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Photo: CEO Matthew Girling