Christie’s New York Presents a Famille Rose Vase of Qianlong Period for Marchant Sale

 “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” It is a famous opening phrase of a soliloquy spoken by Prince Hamlet, in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Prince Hamlet is in a dilemma of considering whether to commit suicide.

Dichotomy, such as life and death, good and evil, right and wrong, is prevalent in any forms of arts. The interesting Famille rose vase of Qianlong period that I am going to introduce also features two stories demonstrating a unique dichotomy. The rose vase is going to be sold at the sale of Marchant: Nine Decades in Chinese Art at Christie’s New York.

The 70.5-cm vase is marked with 6 characters of “Da Qing Qianlong Nian Zhi” (made in Qianlong Period in Qing dynasty) in iron red at the base, decorated on the body with two large recessed panels. One shows a scene from a14th-century novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi), which is regarded as one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. One of the commonly known stories in this novel is “Three visits to the thatched cottage”, which describes Liu Bei hoping to enlist the aid of the strategist Zhuge Liang but was rejected in the first two visits. He was rewarded for his patience and perseverance in his third visit that the talented Zhuge Liang agreed to join his team.

The scene on the vase depicts Liu Bei’s first visit to the cottage and his comrades Guan Yu and Zhang Fei are turned away at the door by the servant while Zhuge Liang is playing the instrument qin.

On the other side of the vase is another panel that depicts a story of “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”. The seven sages were believed to be 3rd-century literary recluses, who sought to live a life of freedom and spiritual independence as they grew sick of the political strictures and social injustice. They removed themselves from politics and indulged in leisure activities such as music and poetry.  

The two stories seem totally unrelated but they actually represent a  dichotomic ideas in Buddhism. “Three visits to the thatched cottage” tells a story of Zhuge Liang, who had been living as a recluse, decided to engage in worldly matters. It represents a worldview of Engaged Buddhism. On the other hand, "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" is a story of a group of officials who wished to be detached from the world, showing a completely composite attitude of Engaged Buddhism.

Both stories take place in reigns of political instability and social tension. Intriguingly, the vase was made in the Qianlong period, a reign of peace of prosperity. Why did the craftsman choose the two stories that do not match with the history of his time? Maybe the vase was made as a reminder of how the emperor should always be concious of his governance and prepare for the worse. It is also possible that craftsman was struggling with the dilemma of whether to engage or not to engage in the worldly matters.

When it comes to judging the value of a ceramic, the provenance is also an important factor, besides the shape and glazing. This Famille rose vase was collection from Marchant, a prominent antique shop with 92 years in Chinese art dealing. The vase carries an estimate of US$ 300,000 - 500,000, the highest estimate at the sale.

Richard Marchant at the right

There are fascinating stories behind other ceramics. If you are a fan of stories, please stay tuned. 


An Exceptional Rare And Large Famille Rose Vase. Qianlong Period.

Lot no.: 748
Height: 70.5cm
Important Private Collection. France.
Estimate: US$ 300,000 - 500,000

Other highlighted items

A Large Famille Verte Iron-Red and Gilt-Decorated Rouleau Vase. Kangxi Period.

Lot no.: 740
Height: 71cm
Important Private Collection, Lyon, France.
Estimate: US$ 20,000 - 30,000


A Large Famille Verte Basin. Kangxi Period.

Lot no.: 745
Diameter: 40.7cm

  • Marc Michot, Bruge, Belgium, circa 1990
  • Private Collection. Europe.

Estimate: US$ 8,000 - 12,000

Small Famille Rose and Gilt-Decorated Square Brush Pot. Qianlong Period.

Lot no.: 746
Height: 7.3cm

  • Collection of Sylviane de Rouchechouart de Mortemart (1940-2002)
  • Collection of Comte Charles Edouard de Bruce (1933-2015)

Estimate: US$ 6,000 - 8,000

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Marchant: Nine Decades in Chinese Art
Sale no.: 15797
No. of lot: 51
2017/9/8 - 9, 11-12|10am - 5pm
2017/9/10|1pm - 5pm
2017/9/13|10am - 2pm
Auction: 2017/9/14|10am