Published: 11:17, 11 April 2018
| Updated: 11:32, 11 April 2018
A Chinese vase found in an “unassuming house” in a Kent seaside town has today sold at auction for £410,000.
The rare bronze water vessel fetched more than double its guide price as it went under the hammer at the Canterbury Auction Galleries this morning.
But global controversy surrounds its sale following claims by Chinese state heritage collectors that it should never have been sold at all.
The relic, which dates back to the Western Zhou dynasty more than 3,000 years ago, is believed to have been looted from an Emperor's summer palace in Beijing by British troops in 1860.
It was discovered recently by the salesroom’s Chinese art specialist Alastair Gibson in a seaside town, but the exact location remains strictly under wraps.
He told the Telegraph: “When I was asked to view a small collection of Chinese bronzes in this unassuming house, I didn’t imagine the door would open to an 1860s time capsule. The last thing I expected to find was this remarkable bronze.”
The Summer Palace in Beijing was looted and destroyed by British and French troops during the Second Opium War (1856-1860).
The Chinese government estimate that 1.5 million items were taken – including the vase found in Kent.
Its sale was opposed by China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, which claims it is an "illegally-discharged cultural relic."
Wen Xuan, from the administration, said: “We have consistently opposed and condemned the sale of illegally-discharged cultural relics.
“We hope the relevant agencies will abide by the spirit of the international conventions , respect the feelings of the people of the country of origin of the cultural relics, do not buy or sell illegally-run cultural relics, or conduct commercial hype in the name of such cultural relics.”
Only six similar archaic vessels, known as Ying, are said to exist, and five of them are in museums.
None of the others are modelled with what in Chinese art is considered the king among beasts and the most powerful animal for warding off evil.
The lot sparked keen bidding, especially from Chinese buyers, and it quickly soared past its £120,000-200,000 estimate to become one of the auction house's biggest ever successes.
The hammer finally came down at £410,000, to which fees will be added.
The auction house has defended the legitimacy of the sale of the vase.
Ahead of the auction, managing director Tony Pratt said: "We are confident the owner had good title of the vase, which came into the country in 1860, and we have satisfied due diligence and have every right to sell it."