Emperor Qianlong's celadon-glazed vase fetches US$10.4m at Christie's HK

Yesterday, Christie's Hong Kong presented an Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale, featuring an impressive array of artworks from private collections across the globe, all with significant provenance.

The most notable of which was a magnificent celadon-glazed carved ‘Dragon’ meiping vase dating to the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Coming from the collection of the esteemed Hong Kong antique connoisseur Dr. Tsin-Tong Tsui, it drew multiple bidders to sell for HK$81 million (around US$10.4 million), a big jump over its last auction result of HK$3.5 million in 1996.

Lot 2994 | A carved 'dragon' celadon-glazed meiping
Qianlong six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795)
Height: 33 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Collection of Albert Keller
  • Sold at Sotheby’s New York, 4 June 1982, lot 219 (Sold: US$60,500)
  • The Jingguantang Collection
  • Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, The Jingguantang Collection: Magnificent Chinese Works of Art, 3 November 1996, lot 572 (Sold: HK$3,540,000)

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 80,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$68,000,000
Sold: HK$81,060,000 (around US$10.4 million)

The present celadon-glazed meiping was first owned by American collector Albert Keller. In 1982, it went under the hammer for US$60,500 at Sotheby's New York. It subsequently became part of the Jingguantang Collection, the personal collection of the Hong Kong entrepreneur, philanthropist and Chinese antiques connoisseur Dr. Tsin-Tong Tsui. In 1996, when the collection was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, the vase achieved HK$3.5 million (around US$449,000). 

After 26 years, it was offered once again in the same saleroom. Opening on a bid of HK$38 million, it attracted eight bids to be hammered for HK$68 million, achieving a final price of HK$81.1 million (around US$10.4 million) with fees. It was sold to the telephone bidder with paddle number 8017, represented by Chi-Fan Tsang, International Director of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art.

From HK$3.54 million in 1996 to HK$81.06 million in 2022, the value of this vase has increased by 22 times in 26 years.

Dr. Tsin-Tong Tsui (left) and Sir David Tang Wing-cheung (right)

The sale of the present lot was led by auctioneer Liang-Lin Chen 

Chi Fan Tsang won the lot for her client 

Vase of this shape is known as meiping, or plum vessel, characterized by a mellow profile, which curved in a fluid line from the narrow waisted neck over the well-rounded shoulder, tapering down in a gentle curve before flaring again slightly towards a small base. 

In traditional Chinese culture, this elegant silhouette was regarded as a reflection of a man’s physique and a symbol of gentleman – small mouth means minding one’s language; broad shoulder represents taking responsibility.

Originated in the Song dynasty (960 - 1279), plum vessel was initially used to store plum wine. As it gained popularity in the following dynasties, it became a vessel for displaying flowers, often a single branch of plum blossom. 

Dragon is a symbol of the beneficent emperor in Chinese cultural imagery, frequently depicted emerging from crested waves and flying among the clouds when it awakens from winter hibernation at the spring equinox and brings rain to water the crops.

Here, crisply rendered in relief, the delicate carvings show a three-clawed front-facing dragon stands upright above two lively but slightly subordinate five-clawed dargons, representing the Chinese tradition of a respected elder passing on his wisdom and classical values to the next generation.

According to the house, the high quality of the vase suggests it was made during the first 20 years of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1736 - 1795), under the supervision of the legendary ceramicist Tang Ying.

Without other known examples, the present plum vessel is probably one of its kind. The closest comparision to it is a large 58.9-cm-high tianqiuping, or globular vase, in the Beijing Palace Museum; while vase of similar quality on the open market can be compared to a celadon-glazed 'dragon' jar sold at Poly Auction Hong Kong for HK$52.8 million (around US$6.8 million) last year. 

A 'dragon' celadon-glazed tianqiuping | Beijing Palace Museum

A celadon-glazed 'dragon' jar | Sold: HK$52.8 million, Poly Auction Hong Kong

Lot 2994 | A pair of doucai water pots
Yongzheng six-character marks in underglaze blue within double circles and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Diameter: 6 cm

  • C.T. Loo (private collection), Paris, no. 100
  • Paul Bernat (1902-1998) and Helen Bernat (1908-1993)
  • Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain, 15 November 1988, lot 9
  • Eskenazi, London
  • The Shimentang Collection

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$9,000,000
Sold: HK$11,250,000


Doucai water pots of this design are rare, where only four other examples appear to be recorded: a single one in the Nanjing Museum, another in the Palace Museum in Beijing, and a pair formerly in the collections of Dr. Tsin-Tong Tsui and Gerald M. Greenwald. The pair was sold HK$12.6 million at Bonhams Hong Kong in 2016.

Previously handled by pre-eminent art dealers C.T. Loo and Giuseppe Eskenazi, the stong provenance of the present pair of water pots speaks for itself. Highly respected by collectors and connoisseurs, Eskenazi is dubbed ‘the Godfather of Chinese Antiques’ and one of the world’s most esteemed dealers of Chinese Art.  His company – Eskenazi, based in London – has sold to more than eighty of the world’s major museums.

The pair had also been in the collection of Paul and Helen Bernat, who were philanthropists, benefactors and collectors. Their collection included the renowned Qianlong falangcai pouch-shaped glass vase, which sold for a staggering HK$207 million (US$26.4 million) at Sotheby's Hong Kong in 2019.

Giuseppe Eskenazi is dubbed ‘the Godfather of Chinese Antiques’

A pair of imperial doucai waterpots, Yongzheng period | Sold: HK$12,640,000, Bonhams Hong Kong, 2016

A lover of the arts from a young age, the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723 - 1735) supported the imperial kilns with great resources, and consequently ceramics production peaked during his reign. His porcelains are highly acclaimed for their delicacy and timeless elegance. 

While the zenith of doucai ceramics came during the reign of Chenghua (1465-1487), which makes its name with the world-renowned ‘chicken cup’, it was further developed and matured in the Yongzheng period, and its production was not less impressive than its predecessors.

Translated as contrasted colours, doucai is a porcelain enamelling technique combining underglaze cobalt blue and overglaze polychrome decoration. The ceramics would be fired twice: first time with an outlined design in cobalt at a higher temperature; second with coloured enamels which filled the left-in space at a lower temperature – meaning its semi-product was a blue-and-white porcelain.

Lot 2970 | A rare copper-red-decorated 'dragon' vase
Kangxi period (1662 - 1722)
Height: 43.1 cm

  • The Butler Family Collection, UK

Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,200,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,800,000
Sold: HK$6,048,000

Ceramics decorated in copper-red had long been fascinated by many emperors throughout imperial China. Since its first appearance in the Yuan dynasty (1271 - 1368), the use of copper to produce red in high-fired ceramics had proved a challenge to the potter as the colourant was volatile in the firing, which led to an unpredictable range of shades produced, from rich red to brownish-grey. 

The present lot, finely rendered in copper-red, demonstrates the high level of craftsmanship achieved during the Kangxi period (1662 - 1722). It was exquisitely decorated with the motif of nine dragons, which boldly symbolizes the Emperor's supreme power. 

Across many dynasties in imperial China, dragon – usually with five claws – had been a symbol for the Emperor. As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907), dragon was embroidered on the Emperor’s robe to signify his ultimate status. Up to the present, the robe Emperor wears in ceremonial circumstances is still referred to as ‘the dragon robe’; while the imperial throne is ‘the dragon throne’.

The present vase appears to be unique, as no other extant examples could be found. 

Sir Michael Butler was a british diplomat and a collector of 17th century Chinese porcelains

This vase came from the Butler Family Collection in Britain. A British diplomat, Sir Michael Butler began collecting in the 1960s. His career allowed him to travel abroad and hunt for high-quality Chinese antiques across Europe. 

Until his death in 2013, his collection of 17th-century Chinese porcelain grew to over 600 pieces, some of which with exceptional quality had been exhibited in various renowned museums around the globe, including the Shanghai Museum in China and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 2997 | A ru-type glazed oval jardinière
Qianlong four-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736 - 1795)
Width: 23.1 cm

  • Formerly in an Important Private Japanese collection, amassed in the early 20th century

Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,200,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,500,000
Sold: HK$5,670,000

Lot 2976 | A blue and white 'grapes' dish
Yongle period (1403 - 1425)
Diameter: 37.8 cm

  • Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 26 November 1980, lot 225

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,000,000
Sold: HK$5,040,000

Lot 3073 | An imperial Tianhuang rectangular seal
Qianlong period (1736 - 1795)
Height: 4.4 cm
The impression of the current seal is included in:

  • Qingdai dihou xiyin pu [An Album of Impressions of the Qing-dynasty Emperors and Empresses’ Seals], no. 5, Qianlong juan 1, Beijing, 2005, p. 47 
  • Qingdai dihou xiyin pu [An Album of Impressions of the Qing-dynasty Emperors and Empresses’ Seals], no. 8, Jiaqing juan 1, Beijing, 2005, p. 78
  • Qingdai dihou xiyin pu [An Album of Impressions of the Qing-dynasty Emperors and Empresses’ Seals], no. 10, Daoguang juan, Beijing, 2005, p. 50

Estimate: HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,800,000
Sold: HK$4,788,000

Lot 3053 | A jadeite tripod censer and cover
Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911)
19.6 cm
Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,200,000
Sold: HK$4,032,000

Lot 3032 | An imperial yellow glass butter tea bowl
Yongzheng incised fanggu mark and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Diameter: 12.8 cm

  • An Oxford private collection, by repute
  • The Wilcox Collection, circa 1995
  • A & J. Speelman Ltd., London, April 2005
  • Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, 2005

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$2,600,000
Sold: HK$3,276,000

Lot 3007 | A yangcai ruby-ground sgraffito 'lotus' vase
Qianlong six-character seal mark in iron red within a square and of the period (1736 - 1795)
Height: 25.8 cm
Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,300,000
Sold: HK$1,638,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Date: 28 November 2022
Number of Lots: 190
Sold: 123
Unsold: 66
Sale Rate: 65%
Sale Total: HK$182,619,240 (US$23.4 million)