Splashes of green: Chinese ceramics to glow at Christie's Asian Art Week (Part I)

As Christie's New York celebrates the Asian Art Week this month, an Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale will be held from 22 to 23 September, featuring works from important private collections and institutions. 

Taking the lead in the sale are a 14th-century biscuit-reserved Longquan celadon octagonal vase, a mid-17th-century massive famille-verte rouleau vase, a pair of Qianlong-marked jade gu-form vases and three Yongzheng mark-and-period porcelains: a large gilt-decorated celadon-glazed vase, a ge-type vase, and a rare eel skin-glazed 'narcissus bowl’ – all of which have one thing in common: the green colour palette.

This article is divided into two parts – this first one discusses the three Yongzheng ceramics; while the second is about the other highlight lots. 

Lot 917 | A large gilt-decorated celadon-glazed vase, ganlanping
Yongzheng six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Height: 42.5 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000

Zande Lou, the Studio of Temporary Enjoyment, is the collection of renowned Chinese antique connoisseur J. M. Hu.

Born in 1911 in Beijing, J. M. Hu was the eldest son of a Chinese influential banker. He first encountered Chinese ceramics during his college years at the Yenching University in Beijing.

The early 20th century was considered a golden age of Chinese collecting, as the fall of Qing dynasty led numerous works of art to be released on the market for the first time. At the time, acquisition of Chinese antique became increasingly competitive. With a reputation for refined taste, J. M. Hu had a focus on Ming and Qing ceramics – imperial porcelains in particular. In 2017, a Wucai Fish Jar from Ming dynasty – once owned by J. M. Hu – caused a great sensation in the art world as it fetched a whopping HK$213 million at Christie’s Hong Kong.

J. M. Hu at his home. One of the Wucai Fish Jar fetched HK$213 million at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2017

Another example from Hu’s collection is this olive-shaped vase from Yongzheng period (1723-1735). This form of vase, named after its resemblance to an olive, was popular during Yongzheng and Qianlong period.

In 2002, a Yongzheng famille-rose olive-shaped vase with fruiting and flowering peach branches was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for HK$41.5 million to Dr. Alice Y. T. Cheng – former member of the Standing Committee of The CPPCC National Committee. Having set the then auction record for Qing porcelains, it took the art world by storm; and Cheng later donated it to the Shanghai Museum.

Covered in pale bluish-green glaze, the vase manifests Yongzheng Emperor’s imperial taste and artistic style. Around the mouth and foot rim are rarely and exquisitely gilt with a floral-scroll band incorporating lotus, peony and hibiscus – all served as auspicious motifs in Chinese culture. Also on the vase was archaistic elements such as the small cylindrical handles flanking the neck, which can be seen on Western Zhou dynasty bronzes.

The olive vase appears to be in good condition, but one of the lug handles has been damaged and might have been repaired.

Dr. Alice Y. T. Cheng acquired an olive-shaped Yongzheng vase at a record-breaking HK$41.5 million

Lot 929 | A rare ge-type vase
Yongzheng six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Height: 33 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 November 2007, lot 1717, sold: HK$3,607,500

Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000

The present ge-type vase was auctioned in 2007, when it fetched HK$3.6 million against an estimate of HK$3.6 million at Christie’s Hong Kong. Fifteen years later, this vase is now going under hammer in New York with an estimate of US$400,000 – close to the final price at its last auction.

Ge ware, renowned as one of the Five Great Kilns of the Song dynasty (420-479), has been highly prized and sought-after by collectors since it was first introduced a thousand year ago. Extremely rare, surviving examples of Ge ware are mostly kept in the The Palace Museum in Beijing and The National Palace Museum in Taipei.

The most distinguished feature of Ge porcelain is its deliberate crackling pattern – an effect caused by the differences in the degree of expansion of various parts of the glaze. Originally an imperfection in technology, the masterful potters saw beauty in cracks and took advantage of them to create an unique aesthetics under meticulous control.

With its one-of-a-kind charm, Ge ware has captivated the hearts of many connoisseurs – Qing Emperors, known for their passions for antique, were no exception. During Qing dynasty, these revered Ge-type wares were reproduced at the imperial kilns – including the present lot, made during Yongzheng period (r. 1723-1735) with his six-character seal mark impressed on it.

Lot 930 | A rare ‘eel skin’-glazed 'narcissus bowl’
Yongzheng four-character impressed seal mark and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Width: 20.3 cm

  • Nagatani, Tokyo, 1953
  • Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection
  • Christie’s New York, 17 September 2008, lot 484

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

Footed vessels of this type was first produced in Jun kiln in Henan province during Yuan and Ming dynasties (1271-1644).  Generally used as a stand for a flower pot of the same shape, these Jun wares were made in a range of sizes – indicated on the base of the vessels by Chinese numerals from one to ten.

The present lot, made in lotus form with six bracket-lobes and seal mark, was based on these early Jun prototypes, reflecting Emperor Yongzheng’s (r.1723-1735) keen interest in the antique. As with the opaque Jun-type glazes, the shape lends itself well to the use of eel-skin yellow – a glaze with significant iron and magnesium oxide content, which results in the development of fine pyroxene crystals during cooling. Yongzheng porcelains of this form with crystalline glazes are very rare, and no other example of an eel skin-glazed, bracket-lobed tripod  appears to have been published.

The vessel was formerly owned by distinguished collector Stephen Junkunc III, whose collection included some of the finest porcelains bought directly from leading dealers around the world such as C.T. Loo, Bluett & Sons, W. Dickinson & Sons and John Sparks. Most coveted in his collection are two examples of the fabled Ru dishes, of which only less than one hundred examples in the world are known.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 794 | Huanghuali round-cornered tapered cabinet
17th century
187.3 x 96 x 54.6 cm

  • Sotheby's New York, 10 October 1987, lot 491

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

Lot 820 | An imperial gilt-bronze ritual bell, bianzhong
Kangxi cast mark corresponding to 1713 and of the period
Height: 30.5 cm

  • Acquired in Georgia or Louisiana by 1967, and thence by descent within the family

Estimate: US$150,000 - 300,000

Lot 918 | A large famille rose figure of Amitayus
Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 29.5 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000

Lot 813 | A pair of large cloisonné enamel panels
Qianlong period (1736-1795)
137.8 x 71.4 cm

  • The Collection of Jerome C. Neuhoff; Sotheby’s New York, 25 January 1986, lot 24

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000

Lot 715 | A yellow jade figure of a recumbent mythical beast
Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Length: 10.8 cm

  • The Gerald Godfrey Collection
  • The Gerald Godfrey Private Collection of Fine Chinese Jades; Christie's Hong Kong, 30 October 1995, lot 866
  • T. Eugene Worrell

Estimate: US$100,000 - 150,000

Lot 826 | A finely cast bronze ritual tripod food vessel, liding
Late shang dynasty, Anyang, 12th-11th century BC
Height: 21 cm

  • S. H. Minkenhof (1879-1956) Collection, Amsterdam, Paris and New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Hart Collection, New York
  • Eskenazi, London
  • Me. Claude Boisgirard et Me. Axel de Heeckeren, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 15 March 1982, lot 46

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000

Auction Details: 
Auction House: Christie's New York 
Sale: Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Date: 22 - 23 September 2022
Number of Lots: 344