A Specialist’s Insight

Carl Wantrup, Asian Art Specialist

Chiara Curcio, Leonard Joel’s Head of Decorative Arts, sits down with Asian Art Specialist Carl Wantrup to explore the world of collecting, appreciating, and understanding Asian antiques and works of art.

Where did your passion for Asian antiques and design begin?
My grandfather was a collector of old European paintings and decorative arts, but also had a few Ming and Qing Dynasty Chinese Buddhist bronzes in his collection. When I look back, I realise that being around these mysterious Eastern devotional sculptures as a child was a strong experience in forming my love of Asian art. But the point where it really took off was in my art practice in my teens and twenties, being influenced by New York school abstract expressionism and gestural abstraction, and that led me to the simple, gestural black ink brushwork of Song Dynasty Chinese Ch’an painters, and later Japanese Zen Buddhist painters of the 16th to 18th Centuries. From there, it was only a short jump to the decorative arts like ceramics and sculpture.

During your time at Leonard Joel which item that you have handled has left the biggest impression?
I have handled some wonderful and rare pieces whilst working with Leonard Joel, but by far the biggest impression was left by the inscribed Qianlong Imperial zitan box from the de Voogd Collection sold by us in June 2020, amid the strangest and most poignant year in my memory. As I was walking through the de Voogd household on my first visit, a small box caught my eye, the quality and elegance striking me instantly. This box was not part of the group of works we had initially talked about for the consignment, and it took a while for the vendor to be willing to sell it, but it eventually hammered for $125,000. As far as I am aware, this was an Australian record for a Chinese scholar’s object. But more than this, it was one of the finest, most beautiful and culturally rich objects I have ever handled.

What item are you most looking forward to offering in the forthcoming March Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Auction?
My personal favourite in our auction this March is a small Chinese Longquan celadon flower vase of the Ming Dynasty, with incised decoration of scrolling flowers around the sides, accompanied by an early fitted Japanese wooden box. This piece is of excellent colour for its period, with wonderful incised decoration, and being a Japanese heirloom ceramic, is in really fantastic condition, and is quite special in being accompanied by such an early box.

What piece of advice would you give to an Asian art collector?
Simply put, to see and handle as many genuine pieces as possible. This involves visiting fine public and private collecting institutions in Australia like the National Gallery in Canberra, the NGV in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of NSW, and if possible, international institutions like the MET in New York, The British Museum, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Tokyo National Museum, and many others. I also recommend viewing as many well curated auctions as possible, both in Australia and around the world, where one can handle a significant number of vetted pieces. Lastly, dealing with great specialist dealers, one can glean some very subtle information on artworks and specialist points of understanding that are the sum of their decades of scholarship and connoisseurship in their chosen field.

CARL WANTRUP / Asian Art Specialist
CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts

February 2021