Three early modern Imperial Chinese porcelains gather US$7.9m in Hong Kong

Bonhams Hong Kong’s Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale saw decent results on 29 May. Amongst 61 lots offered, 38 were sold – which garnered a 62.2 per cent sale rate and a HK$78.9 million dollars sale total.

An 18th century vase and two 15th century candlesticks performed the most brilliantly. The vase is adorned with poems by the Qianlong Emperor and landscape panels, while both candlesticks were the last pair of 15th century candlesticks to remain in private collection. All three porcelains sold for a combined HK$62.6 million (around US$7.9 million) dollars.  

Lot 133 | Yangcai Painted Imperial Poems and Landscapes Incised Celadon Ground Lobed Oval Vase

Seal mark and of the Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 35.5 cm

  • An European private collection

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 – 8,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$26,500,000
Sold: HK$32,253,000 (around US$4.1 million)

The 18th century Chinese vase was hammered at HK$26.5 million dollars

Joey Cheng with the winning bid

The auctioneer, Malcolm Barber, started the bidding at HK$5 million dollars. After more than 40 bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$26.5 million dollars – more than 4 times its low estimate. The winning bid was by Joey Cheng, Specialist of Jewellery Department; for her client with paddle number 6076. In the end, it garnered HK$32.2 million (around US$4.1 million dollars) with buyer’s premium.

It is rare to find a famille rose and celadon-glazed vase of this shape and design. This present lot is striking in its lustrous glaze – exquisitely painted panels and combination of carved and moulded decorative motifs. This vase displays the exquisite quality achieved by craftsmen working at the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1736-1795).

Tang Ying, the famed superintendent at Jingdezhen during the Qianlong Emperor's rule, strove for technical and artistic perfection. Wares made under his supervision are renowned for their stylistic variety and exceptional quality. The sophistication and deliberate employment during the 18th century of carefully varied types of celadon glaze to achieve different aesthetic results appear to reflect the Emperor's interest in this glaze colour. This celadon glaze used for vases of this type is a bright sea-green, which Chinese connoisseurs designate as douqing – achieving a distinct contrast between the ground and relief designs.

Spring landscape at the vase's front section

Summer landscape at the vase's back section

Autumn landscape at the vase's left section

Winter landscape at the vase's right section

Exquisitely potted of lobed pear shape rising from a spreading foot moulded with key-fret band and upright lappets, the celadon-glazed body incised with ruyi-head clouds around four lobed enclosing panels famille rose mountainous landscape scenes with various trees and pavilions, and poetic inscriptions, all beneath a pendent ruyi-head band and upright lappets on the flaring neck flanked by a pair of gilt elephant-head handles.

The paintings found in the four medallions depicting four landscapes – each associated with one of the four seasons and with a short poem by the Qianlong Emperor. The four poems are all included in the Leshan tang quanji (The Complete Works of Leshan Hall) – collected poems of the Qianlong Emperor. 

There are similar examples of Qianlong Emperor’s Imperial poem inscribed vase which are also kept in prestigious art institutions – including Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Manchester City Art Gallery and the National Museum of China, Beijing. In another category, there is a similar vase in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London – with panels of four seasons flowers, and a gold-painted line is found at its mouth and foot. 

Left: A similar example from Victoria & Albert Museum, London | Right: A similar example of the National Museum of China, Beijing

Two similar vases from the Qianlong period | Manchester City Art Gallery

A similar example at Victoria & Albert Museum with floral decorated panels

Lot 123 | Pair of Blue and White Octagonal Candlesticks

Created during the Yongle period (1402-1424)
Height: 29 cm, Mouth Diameter: 8.5 cm x Base Diameter: 24 cm 

  • Richard J. Livingston (1910-1988) and Jane (née Steinfeld) Livingston (1912-1993), Oak Park, Illinois, acquired by the 1930's
  • Ann Florence Thomas (née Livingston), daughter of the above, circa 1961
  • An American private collection, purchased directly from Ann Florence Thomas in 1981

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$25,000,000
Sold: HK$30,453,000 (around US$3.8 million)

Spring Lee with the winning bid 

The bidding started at HK$6 million dollars. After more than 30 bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$25 million dollars. The winning bid was by Spring Lee, Specialist of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department; for her client with paddle number 6106. In the end, it realised HK$30.4 million (around US$3.8 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

This pair of blue-and-white eight-sided candlesticks are rare wares from the Chinese Imperial kiln of Jingdezhen during early 15th century, and it was the only pair to remain in private collection. There are seven other similar examples in public collections –  three in the Palace Museum, Beijing; one in Guangdong Museum, two are in the Shanghai Museum and another is in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.

During the 1930s, the candlesticks were acquired by American couple, Jane and Richard Livingston. He ran his family pastry business, and was an active member of the United World Federalist Society, while Jane was a debutante in 1928. The couple gifted the candlestick to their newly married daughter, Ann. After her first husband died, Ann later gave it to a Professor she met at University. In 1981, when she moved to Florida, she sold household items to the Professor – including this present pair of candlesticks.

A young Ann and her parents

This photo was taken at the former owner's residence, who is a family friend and whom used these candlesticks 

The candlesticks’ distinctive style was inspired by early Islamic metalwork of the 13th and 14th century, but the octagonal form is an invention of the Chinese potter. Each of them are eight-square – divided into upper, middle and lower layers. The upper layer is the candle holder, the middle layer is the neck, and the lower layer is the pedestal with a hollow bottom.

The trade and diplomatic contacts with courts across Eurasia might have stimulated a desire, especially for the Yongle and Xuande Emperors, to include new foreign shapes and designs using traditional Chinese materials including the remarkable octagonal candlesticks as the present lot. Distinctive porcelains in the form of Egyptian, Syrian and Central Asian metalwork and glass, which were commissioned by the two Emperors and made in the Imperial kilns. 

There is no sign of reproduction of candlesticks with the same form and design after the two Emperors’ reigns – even during the revival of 14th and 15th century-style prototypes during the 17th and 18th centuries – highlighting the technical difficulties in recreating such masterpieces.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 126 | Large Carved Lacquer Circular Box and Cover

Incised six-character seal mark and of the Jiaqing period (1796-1820)
Diameter: 44.8 cm
Estimate: HK$2,500,000 – 3,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$2,900,000
Sold: HK$3,657,000 (around US$460,000)

Lot 137 | Cloisonne Enamel Dragon Vase, Tianquiping

Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 46 cm 

  • A French private collection, prior to 2009

Estimate: HK$1,800,000 – 2,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,800,000
Sold: HK$2,271,000 (around US$280,000)

Lot 140 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Amitayus | Mongolia

Created during 18th century
Height: 25 cm

  • S. Mochin collection

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 – 1,200,000
Hammer Price: HK$900,000
Sold: HK$1,137,000 (around US$140,000)

Lot 116 | Archaic Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Gu

Created during late Shang dynasty (12th-11th century BCE)
Height: 31 cm

  • J.J. Lally & Co., New York
  • Meiyingtang Collection, Rapperswil
  • Galerie Christian Deydier
  • An Asian private collection, acquired from the above on 19 June 2015

Estimate: HK$850,000 – 950,000
Hammer Price: HK$800,000
Sold: HK$1,011,000 (around US$130,000)

Auction Details:

Auction House: Bonhams Hong Kong
Sale: Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Date: 29 May 2022
Number of lots: 61
Sold: 38
Unsold: 23
Sale Rate: 62.2%
Sale Total: HK$78,903,075 (around US$10 million)