Talk about a bad day at the office. A French auction house has fired one of its art experts after their valuation of a vase massively missed the mark.
Last week, Osenat auctioned off a Chinese tianquiping vase for more than 7.7 million euros ($7.5 million) — 9.1 million euros ($8.8 million) after fees. The problem is that the art expert who appraised it for the French auction house expected it to fetch less than 2,000 euros ($1,940). After a bidding war ensued between Chinese buyers to drive up the price, the vase didn’t appear to be “quite ordinary” as the auction house initially judged.
The seller herself also did not expect it to be so valuable. The Frenchwoman living abroad was selling items from her mother’s house in Brittany, France and entrusted the curiosity to Jean-Pierre Osenat’s auction house in addition to other miscellaneous items. The blue and white porcelain vase decorated with clouds and nine dragons was originally purchased by the seller’s grandmother and then passed on, spending decades holding flowers in the family home.
The expert considered the vase to be from the 20th century and did not distinguish it from the other 200 lots. But when Osenat listed the object online and showed it in a pre-auction exhibit, the house was flooded with potential buyers.
“They came with lamps and magnifying glasses to look at it. Obviously they saw something,” Osenat said. The Guardian. “There were so many registrations [to take part in the auction online] we had to stop them. At that moment, we understood that something was going on.
Unlike the expert, potential buyers thought this vase was a rare artifact from the 18th century, which bore a stamp of Qianlong, who was an ancient Chinese emperor and sacred figure.
Over 300 people showed interest and that group was narrowed down to 30 serious bidders before the auction. Bids were placed over the phone with a deposit of 10,000 euros ($9,704). As the sale drew to a close, the calls grew more frantic. In the end, the item sold for nearly 4,000 times the original estimate, to an anonymous buyer in China.
“The expert was wrong. One person against 300 interested Chinese buyers cannot be right. He was working for us,” Osenat said. The Guardian. “He no longer works for us. It was, after all, a big mistake.
However, even the director of the auction house’s Asian arts department is not completely convinced that the expert was wrong. Cédric Laborde says it may be a cleverly crafted copy. “We don’t know if it’s old or not or why it sold for such a high price,” Laborde said. “Maybe we’ll never know.”