The provenance of Chinese antiques is very important. In addition to helping judge each object’s authenticity, it allows the audience to understand the tastes of different prominent collectors.
In this Autumn Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong brings a variety of antiques from distinguished collections – the Zuellig Brothers, an American Brigadier General and the Canton Collection.
Amongst them, The Value chose four Chinese antiques and will be talked about below. They are expected to fetch a combined HK$93 million (around US$11.9 million) dollars at the auctions.
These objects will be sold as premium lots, alongside the sale's leading lot – a ruyi sceptre from the Qianlong period (1735-1796).
This article is divided into two sections – the next article (Part 2) can be found here.
Enamelled and famille-rose ‘peach’ box and cover
Mark and period of Yongzheng Emperor (1722-1735)
Diameter: 19.2 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):
- Collection of Frederick J. and Antoinette H. Van Slyke
- Sotheby's New York, 31st May 1989, Lot 211.
- The Meiyintang Collection
- Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th April 2013, Lot 3036 (Sold at HK$43.8 million, around US$5.6 million)
Estimated Price: HK$35,000,000 – 45,000,000 (around US$4.5-5.7 million)
The Zuellig brothers - Gilbert (left) and Stephen (right)
Zuellig Pharma sells pharmaceutical products to Asian countries
The Meiyintang Collection is well-known in the antique world. The collection’s owners are the Zuellig brothers – Stephen (1917-2017) and Gilbert (1918-2009). Together, the two siblings operate a multi-billion-dollar Swiss family business called Zuellig Pharma – selling products to Asia for European and American pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Bayer.
Both brothers were born in Manila and were exposed to Asian culture. They later became collectors of Chinese antiques. Stephen preferred ceramics and archaic bronzes, whilst Gilbert was fond of ancient ceramics.
It is believed that the name Meiyintang is a homophony of the Zuellig brothers’ Swiss hometown of Meienberg. In Chinese, Meiyintang means Hall among Rose Beds.
This ‘peach’ box and cover first appeared at Sotheby’s Hong Kong auctions in 2013. Its estimated price was HK$35 to 45 million (around US$4.4 to 5.7 million) dollars – eventually sold for HK$43.8 million (around US$5.6 million) dollars.
Eight years later, this antique now returns to Sotheby’s Hong Kong – with the same estimated price – HK$35 to 45 million (around US$4.4 to 5.7 million) dollars.
In Chinese culture, peaches have been a sign of auspiciousness and longevity.
The Yongzheng Emperor (reigned 1723-35), fourth son of Kangxi Emperor, conspired against his brothers. His legitimacy of succession to the Chinese throne was frequently questioned, due to widespread rumours that he seized power. Yongzheng was therefore very receptive to auspicious symbols – especially the peach – bringing good fortune to him.
This Chinese porcelain’s glaze colours derived from the influence of European art. This type of famille rose and peach porcelain is a masterpiece – combining Chinese and Western art during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Imperial green jade seal 'Wufu wudai tang Guxi tianzi bao' seal
Created in Qianlong period (1735-1796)
Width: 13.1 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):
- Collection of a United States Brigadier General, who held various senior-level positions across Europe before, during, and immediately after Second World War, and thence by descent to his grandson resided in the state of Washington
- Sotheby's New York, 19th March 2013, Lot 402 (Sold at US$3.4 million)
Estimated Price: HK$25,000,000 – 35,000,000 (around US$3.2-4.5 million)
An unknown American army brigadier general from the Second World War once owned the jade seal
This Qianlong jade seal’s provenance traces is not commonly found for Chinese antiques.
It traces back to unnamed American army brigadier general who held important positions in Europe during the Second World War. In the American military system, the rank of brigadier general is located between colonel and major-general. His grandchildren later settled in Washington state. Although this historical figure’s name and method of obtaining the object are unclear, there are photos to prove that this person exists.
The relic was auctioned at Sotheby's New York with an estimate of US$1 million to 1.5 million dollars in 2013. It was sold at US$3.41 million dollars, more than triple of the original estimated price. In this auction at Sotheby's Hong Kong, the estimated price is between HK$25 and 35 million (around US$3.2 to 4.4 million) dollars.
The seal face is carved with the characters Wufu Wudai Tang guxi Tianzi bao (Seal of the 70-year-old Son of Heaven of The Hall of Five Happinesses and Five Generations).
The Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1735-1796) celebrated two main things – first, the birth of a great-great grandson. Having a son to continue the family lineage is important in Chinese traditions. Secondly, five happinesses including longevity, wealth, health and peacefulness, benevolence and the ability to predict one’s passing.
A pair of dragons intertwine across the imperial seal, carved with bulging eyes with flaring nostrils and long whiskers. The mouth is open, revealing its curled tongue between sharp fangs.
Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Art including Imperial Jades from the De An Tang Collection
Date and Time: 13 October 2021 | 10am (Hong Kong local time)
Number of lots: 95