Trade Talks – Asaph Hyman of Bonhams

Asaph Hyman, global head of Bonhams Chinese ceramics and works of art department Asaph Hyman is the newly-appointed global head of Bonhams’ Chinese ceramics and works of art and the director of Asian Art in London

What was the first antique that you ever acquired?
During my childhood in Jerusalem, I discovered Roman coins, bits of pottery figurines and shards of Herodian
pottery in a valley outside the Old City walls. When I came across the bronze seal of a Palestinian mukhtar (head of a village), dating from the late Ottoman period, in the same valley it inspired me to search out more among the Old City’s antique dealers. At the time, because no one seemed interested in them, they were cheap enough for me to buy with my pocket money.

Why, and when did you start in the business?
I studied law at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and the New York University School of Law before starting a
career in law. I also have an MA in fine and decorative art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London where my thesis catalogued close to two million pieces imported by the English East India Companies during the Kangxi period, 1685 to 1722. I joined Bonhams’ Chinese art department in 2007 and was appointed director of Asian Art in London three years later.

My love of Chinese art came from the person who introduced it to me in 2004. I have always loved objects,
history and collecting, and China combines it all in being almost unique in its combination of geographical,
historical and cultural continuity, immense cultural productivity and innovation over the ages and great appreciation of its own history and the arts. Being trained as a lawyer allowed me to approach objects analytically, with attention to detail.

Who influenced you most when you started?
That would have to be Gordon Lang, one of the world’s foremost authorities of European and Asian ceramics,
who I met in 2004. Gordon, who sadly passed away in 2010, shared with me his wonderful enthusiasm for Chinese art, expertise and eye for detail. I have also been very fortunate to have learnt from colleagues, as

Qianlong vase in Bonhams sale
The famille rose vase with a Qianlong seal mark that sold for £9m in 2011

well as distinguished dealers, including Roger Keverne, Giuseppe Eskenazi, Jules Speelman and Richard Marchant as well as many others to whom I am indebted for sharing their knowledge. I am also indebted to the many collectors and museums who opened their doors and shared their prized objects. And last, but not least, my wife Rachel, who was a senior specialist when I was a mere junior one.

What piece would you most like to find?
I have always been fascinated by objects which have direct connection not only to the Imperial Court but, personally, to the emperor. This, combined with great artistic beauty, superb craftsmanship and an unbroken provenance, would be a wonderful thing.

Best sale you have had at Bonhams?
The highest total we achieved to date is the November 2011 sale in London, with a record of over £24m, which
also included a single vase which was sold for about £9m.

What do you like most about today’s auction business?
Perhaps the best thing is the growing transparency and exposure due to the internet and social media.

What is the reference book you couldn’t live without?
There isn’t just one. I love books and the piles are growing.

What is your favourite non-antiques activity?
Hiking with my friends, visiting National Trust properties with my family, seeing new places and visiting  historical sites.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
More sun, please.

Bonhams’ next Asian art sale takes place at Knightsbridge on November 5-6, followed by Chinese Art on November 8. Asian Art in London runs from November 1-10.

This article is taken from the latest issue of Antique Collecting magazine – subscribe here to get Antique Collecting delivered to your door each month.

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