Two fragments from Ru-type vessels sell for a whopping US$94,500 in New York

Towards the end of this season's Asia Week New York, Christie's presented us with the highly-anticipated J. J. Lally & Co. Sale on 23 March, which saw 118 of the 138 lots on offer sell, raking in a sale total of US$18.7 million with a solid sell-through rate of 85.5%.

Astoundingly, the showstopper were two shards from Ru-type vessels that dated late 11th to early 12th centuries. Sparking competition so fierce that even the auctioneer was wowed, the lot was hammered at US$75,000 against a low estimate of US$1,000. After fees, the fragments sold for a stunning US$94,500.

J. J. Lally (right) visited the Hutian kiln in Jingdezhen, China's porcelain city, in 1981

Lot 882 | Two Ru-type shards
Northern Song dynasty, late 11th - early 12th century
Length: 10.8 cm; 9.5 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 3646

Estimate: US$1,000 - 1,500
Hammer Price: US$75,000
Sold: US$94,500


Ru ware from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) – the holy grail in the Chinese ceramics and works of art collecting circles – is a crowning glory in any collection and yet nearly unattainable. Renowned for its glowing jade-like glaze and impeccably-proportioned shape, Ru ware has in the course of nearly a millennium gained quasi mythical status.

While a complete inventory of known Ru ware is still unavailable up to the present, it is known that less than one hundred pieces survive, with the majority of them held by the Palace Museums in mainland China and Taipei.

Yet, when it comes to these revered Ru wares, we generally refer to those made specifically for the imperial court, which share characteristics of a crackled bluish-green monochromatic glaze, and are relatively small in size. Little do people know, in a broader sense, the Ru kiln was a sizeable site that produced more than only imperial porcelains.

(Left) One of the shards is from a deep bowl | (Right) Dish with celadon glaze, Ru ware, Northern Song dynasty, in the collection of National Palace Museum in Taipei 

(Left) One of the shards is from the base of a tripod censor | (Right) Tripod censor, Ru ware, Northern Song dynasty, in the collection of Palace Museum in Beijing

The site manufacturing Ru ware comprises a group of over fifteen kilns at the village Qingliangsi in the central part of China, altogether covering at least 300,000 square metres. In early Northern Song dynasty, it was a large folk kiln that produced a variety of ceramics, including black and three-colour wares with decorations.

It was not until mid-late Northern Song dynasty that the court commissioned for imperial wares to be made at the Ru kiln site; since then, a small workshop area had been set aside for making the official wares. From time to time, court officials would visit there to purchase ceramics of imperial quality, which we now identified as Ru wares. 

Those they rejected, as well as other ceramics produced at the site, would circulate in the market and fall within the range of other contemporary Northern Song ceramics, or often named as "Ru-type" wares instead.

Lot 881 | A Guan bottle vase
Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)
Height: 13 cm

  • Stephen D. Winkworth (d. 1938) Collection, London
  • Sotheby's London, 26 April 1938, lot 32
  • Dr. Carl Kempe (1884-1967) Collection, Ekolsund, Sweden
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4445

Estimate: US$700,000 - 900,000
Hammer Price: US$2,100,000
Sold: US$2,580,000

While Ru ware represents the revered treasure of the Northern Song, Guan ware, or official ware, is the most celebrated imperial ceramic ware of the Southern Song (1127-1279). 

With the loss of the northern part of their empire to the Jurchen and the move of the capital to south China, the Song no longer had access to the Ru kilns. Since no southern manufactory was in a position to fill this lacuna, the emperor had to order new official kilns set up right inside the new capital to make wares on a par with Ru ware for imperial use – the result of which was the fabled Guan ware.

One of the most distinguished features of Guan porcelain is the distinct web of veins of the large-scale crackle – an effect caused by different degrees of shrinkage between the glaze and body material. Initially an imperfection in technology, the masterful potters saw beauty in cracks and took advantage of them to create an unique aesthetics under meticulous control. 

After each application of glaze, the vase would have been fired again at a low temperature, before the next glaze layer was added. Some of the finest Guan wares, such as the current vase, may have been fired up to five times. At each firing there would have been some losses, making these ceramics extremely expensive to produce and additionally precious. One similar example to the present vase could be found in the National Palace Museum. 

Endowed with a prestigious provenance, the present lot first belonged to Stephen D. Winkworth, one of the founders of Oriental Ceramic Society. Following his death, it was offered at an auction in London in 1938, before passing to the hands of Swedish collector Carl Kempe (1884-1967). 

Born in a wealthy family in Stockholm, Kempe began collecting Chinese art in about 1930 and became an early member of the Oriental Ceramic Society, actively engaging with renowned connoisseurs and dealers such as Sir Percival David and C.T. Loo. 

Swedish collector Carl Kempe (1884-1967), one of the great collectors from the golden age of Chinese art collection in Europe

A close example to the present lot in National Palace Museum, Taipei

Lot 896 | An imperial fahua jar, guan
Chenghua-Hongzhi period, late 15th century
Height: 18.4 cm

  • Private collection, France
  • Beaussant Lefevre, Art d'Asie, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 29 April 2011, lot 15
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4673

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000
Hammer Price: US$1,200,000
Sold: US$1,500,000

Fahua, or 'designs with borders', is a particularly striking style of decoration seen on Chinese ceramics of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). On fahua wares, the design is outlined in relief in trailing lines of slip and then filled in with brightly-coloured glazes. The distinctive palette includes tones of deep turquoise, inky blue, amber, aubergine, dark green and white. Sharing technical parallels with cloisonné enamel, it is also regarded as the ceramic version of cloisonné metalwork. 

Rarely do fahua wares appear at auctions, and ones decorated with the motif of dragon are even rarer – the more commonly seen decorations are flowers, landscapes and human figures.

Across many dynasties in imperial China, dragon – usually with five claws – had been a symbol for the Emperor. On the body of the present vase, the majestic five-clawed dragons are illustrated in confident brushstrokes to rise from the waves. Some details of elements, such as the scales on dragon or the veins on leaves, were deliberately incised into the jar's body under the glaze, adding depth and visual intensity to the decoration.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 887 | A Longquan celadon Guan-type mallet vase
Southern Song - Yuan dynasty, 12th-13th century
Height: 15.2 cm

  • The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alphonse Cohen, 1970s
  • Christie's New York, 19 September 2007, lot 259
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4385

Estimate: US$70,000 - 90,000
Hammer Price: US$650,000
Sold: US$819,000

Lot 911 | A powder-blue-glazed 'chrysanthemum' dish
Yongzheng six-character mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1723-1735)
Diameter: 17.8 cm

  • Mr. and Mrs. Julian Ganz Collection, Los Angeles
  • Harold Carter Collection, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4679

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000
Hammer Price: US$650,000
Sold: US$819,000

Lot 830 | A yue celadon ewer, cover and warming basin
Five dynasties - Northern Song dynasty, 10th-11th century
Height of ewer: 19.7 cm; Diameter of basin: 16.5 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 3757

Estimate: US$120,000 - 150,000
Hammer Price: US$600,000
Sold: US$756,000

Lot 909 | A 'peacock feather'-glazed mallet vase
Yongzheng four-character incised seal mark and of the period (1723-1735)
Height: 16.5 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4372

Estimate: US$250,000 - 350,000
Hammer Price: US$
Sold: US$756,000

Lot 876 | A brown-splashed qingbai 'sheng player' ewer
Northern Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1127)
Height: 19.7 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4621

Estimate: US$150,000 - 200,000
Hammer Price: US$550,000
Sold: US$693,000

Lot 860 | A large yaozhou celadon tripod censer
Northern Song-Jin dynasty, 12th century
Height: 23.2 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 1774

Estimate: US$50,000 - 70,000
Hammer Price: US$540,000
Sold: US$680,400

Lot 851 | A Jizhou leaf-decorated tea bowl
Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)
Diameter: 14.9 cm

  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4490

Estimate: US$60,000 - 80,000
Hammer Price: US$500,000
Sold: US$630,000

Lot 913 | A teadust-glazed Gu-form vase
Qianlong six-character incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795)
Height: 18.1 cm

  • Estate of James A. Johnson, Minneapolis
  • Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Julian Ganz, Los Angeles
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, no. 4691

Estimate: US$150,000 - 200,000
Hammer Price: 
Sold: US$604,800

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: J. J. Lally & Co.
Date: 23 March 2023
Number of Lots: 138
Sold: 118
Unsold: 20
Sale Rate: 85.5%
Sale Total: US$18,699,528