HK$17.2m Qianlong celadon-glazed dragon vase tops Christie's Wang Xing Lou collection sale

As Christie’s Hong Kong spring sale week heading towards the end, the spotlight is now on Chinese works of art auctions, which kicked off with a sale dedicated to the Wang Xing Lou collection of imperial Qing dynasty porcelain. 

The top three lots of the sale were all from the Qianlong period – all of which were sold for above HK$10 million (around US$1.2 million). Among them was a celadon-glazed ‘dragon’ bottle vase from the former collection of Stephen Junkunc III – one of the most well-known collectors of the 20th century – which eventually sold for HK$17.2 million, crowning it the top lot of the sale. 

The sale realized a sell-through rate of 57%, selling 16 of 28 lots offered. Two lots carrying a pre-sale low estimate of over HK$15 million, including a lotus double-gourd vase and a ruby red wine cup both from the Yongzheng period, failed to find new buyers. In the end, the sale brought in a total of HK$83.1 million (around US$10.5 million). 

The owner of Wang Xing Lou is a collector and art dealer in Hong Kong. He embarked on his collection in the early 1990s. At the time, what dominated the Chinese market were Song dynasty monochromes and early Ming dynasty blue-and-whites.

He, however, was drawn to the imperial ceramics produced during the three generations of Qing under the Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. In his quest for pieces of beauty, exceptional quality and rarity, he often took inspiration from specialists including James J. Lally, Julian Thompson and Richard Marchant.

By 2004, Wang Xing Lou's collection was of such quality that it was exhibited as Imperial Perfection: The Palace Porcelain of Three Emperors  at the Minneapolis Museum of Art, where it remained on loan for the next two decades.

Lot 2722 | Celadon-glazed ‘dragon’ bottle vase
Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)
Height: 28.3 cm

  • Collection of Arthur Rothwell, no. 39
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc III (1904-1978)
  • Sold at Christie's New York, 21 September 1995, lot 241
  • S. Marchant & Son, London

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$14,000,000
Sold: HK$17,250,000 (around US$2.1 million)

This top lot opened at HK$8.5 million and attracted four telephone bidders.

The price climbed up steadily in HK$500,000 increments, with each representatives bidding in turn. In the end, it was Pola Antebi, International Director, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Christie's Hong Kong, who beat off several rivals and won the lot for her client at HK$14 million. After fees, the work realized HK$17.2 million (around US$2.1 million).

Once owned by Stephen Junkunc III, this work of art proves itself an exceptional Chinese treasure.

Pola Antebi (holding the paddle) win the lot for her client

Stephen Junkunc III was born in Budapest and emigrated to Chicago as a child, where his father founded General Machinery & Manufacturing Company in America in 1918. Outside his time working at his father’s company, his passion for Chinese culture led him to form an extraordinary collection of Chinese ceramics.

His collection included some of the most highly sought-after examples of porcelain bought directly from leading dealers around the world such as C.T. Loo, Bluett & Sons, W. Dickinson & Sons and John Sparks. The collection included two examples of the fabled Ru ware dishes, of which only eighty-seven examples in the world are known. 

After Junkunc, the work was kept by S. Marchant & Son, a distinguished art dealer specialising in fine antique Chinese works of art.

The collection of Stephen Junkunc III often achieves remarkable auction results

The vase is carved in high relief with a large imperial five-clawed dragon, accompanied by a smaller dragon to the shoulder, all set amongst ruyi-shaped clouds (an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture) – a scene known as the proverb Canglong jiaozi, which translates literally as “an old dragon teaches his son”.

For the Qianlong Emperor, Canglong jiaozi embodied his high hopes for the flourish of Qing dynasty – which much depended on his discerning eyes for a promising heir.  

In 1773, the Emperor discreetly decided to pass his throne to his 15th son, Yongyan – who later became the Jiaqing Emperor in 1796. Throughout the years, the Qianlong Emperor had been teaching and preparing him for the throne.

On the vase, the larger dragon represents the Qianlong Emperor as a father and the smaller dragon is the Jiaqing Emperor as a son. As such, Canglong jiaozi became one of Qianlong’s favorite motifs, as it encompasses Qianlong’s effort as he guided Jiaqing through the hardships of being an Emperor, and the weight that comes with his crown.

For celadon-glazed ceramics with the same theme from Qianlong period, the auction record is HK$94 million (around US$11.9 million), sold in 2014 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Lot 2722 | Famille rose fahua-style jar and cover
Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)
Height: 45.7 cm

  • Collection of the J.T. Tai Foundation
  • Sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 21 May 1985, lot 26
  • Collection of Mary Porter Walsh
  • Sold at Sotheby's New York, 28-29 November 1994, lot 375

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 20,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$12,000,000
Sold: HK$14,850,000 (around US$1.8 million)


The second place of the sale goes to this famille rose fahua-style jar and cover, which is featured on the cover of the catalogue. Starting at HK$9 million, the hammer was downed at HK$12 million. With buyer’s premium, it sold for HK$14.8 million (around US$1.8 million) to a telephone bidder with paddle number 8017.

This jar and cover was previously kept by Tai Jun Tsei, known as J.T. Tai, a name that is inextricably associated with Chinese artworks of guaranteed quality.

Tai is a reputed art dealer in Chinese antiques who defined the meaning of Chinese art for Western institutions. Born in 1911, he started his career as an apprentice to his uncle’s small antique store in Wuxi, China. In the 1930s, he opened his own shop in cosmopolitan Shanghai.

Later in 1950, he decided to immigrate to New York City, where he established himself as a respected art dealer. In the spring of 1953, he flew to England to attend the sale of Ming-dynasty ceramics at Sotheby’s. An exotic face to the occasion, he ended up buying eleven lots and some of the best pieces – it was when he began to make a name for himself in the Western world. Tai later became an active participant at auctions around the world.

Fahua wares are rare at auctions. On fahua-decorated ceramics, raised lines are used to provide outlines and colour divisions on ceramics decorated with enamel colours. It is often regarded as the ceramics version of cloisonné metalwork.

In this jar and cover, the decoration are heron and lotus – together they mean “all the best in exams’’ in Chinese culture, taken from the homophonic pun of the two words. In imperial China, anyone wanted a government job must first pass a difficult exam – therefore wishing someone luck in exams was a blessing for successful career.

In fact, heron plays an important role in Chinese culture and is commonly seen in Chinese art. Not only does it represent bumper harvests, it also embodies longevity and peace. As herons fly in flocks in an orderly manner, throughout the imperial times, the motifs were used on the robes of civil officials to depict their ranks.

Lot 2726 | Turquoise-ground yangcai imperially inscribed ‘flowers of the four seasons’ vase
Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)
Height: 45.7 cm

  • Sold at Christie’s London, 6 December 1993, lot 108

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 12,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$8,000,000
Sold: HK$10,050,000 (around US$1.2 million)

The third most expensive lot is the turqoise-ground yangcai vase, which was hammered down at HK$8 million and sold for HK$10 million (around US$1.2 million) after fees. 

Turquoise glaze is particularly bright and eye-catching in palaces and rooms where the light was darker. Therefore, ceramics decorated in turquoise ground were prominent in the Qing dynasty, especially during the Qianlong period. 

On this vase, the body is decorated with eight cartouches, four of which are painted with flowers of the four seasons, including peony, prunus, lotus and peach. The other four are inscribed with imperial poems composed by the Qianlong Emperor before he ascended the throne. 

There are several imperial porcelains inscribed with the same poems, including a large 74.5-centimetre-tall Qianlong famille rose vase, which is now in the Palace Museum Collection. Another example is a smaller lantern-shaped vase, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong for HK$21.7 million (around US$2.7 million) in 2017. 

Qianlong famille rose vase, now in the Palace Museum Collection

A lantern-shaped vase sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong for HK$21.7 million in 2017

Other highlight lots:

Lot 2704 | Blue and white 'dragon' vase, meiping
Seal mark of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722)
Height: 23.8 cm

  • Sold at Parke Bernet, New York, 23-25 September 1943, lot 425
  • Stephen Junkunc III (1904-1978) Collection
  • Sold at Christie's New York, 21 September 1995, lot 216

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 10,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$7,500,000
Sold: HK$9,450,000 (around US$1.2 million)

Lot 2712 | Blue-glazed globular bottle vase, tianqiuping
Seal mark of the Yongzheng Emperor (1723-1735)
Height: 67 cm

  • Sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 20 November 1984, lot 486
  • Sold at Christie's New York, 16 September 1998, lot 393
  • S. Marchant & Son, London

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,800,000
Sold: HK$8,568,000 (around US$1 million)


Lot 2709 | A pair of imperial lemon-yellow-enamelled cups
Seal mark of the Yongzheng Emperor (1723-1735)
Height: 9.9 cm

  • Collection of Eli Lilly
  • Sold at Sotheby's New York, 1-2 June 1993, lot 334

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,000,000
Sold: HK$3,780,000 (around US$480,000)

Lot 2716 | Pale celadon-glazed stem bowl
Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)
Height: 11.7 cm

  • Acquired circa 2000

Estimate: HK$300,000 - 500,000
Hammer Price: HK$600,000
Sold: HK$756,000 (around US$96,000)

Auction Summary:
Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: Celestial Brilliance - The Wang Xing Lou Collection of Imperial Qing Dynasty Porcelain
Date: 30 May 2022
Number of lots: 28
Sold: 16
Unsold: 12
Sale rate: 57%
Sale Total: HK$83,163,000 (around US$10.5 million)