Three Ceramics Masterpieces That Shine in Christie’s Chinese Works of Art Evening Sale

Coming to the second year since Christie’s held its first Chinese work of art evening sale in Hong Kong last year, the auction house meticulously curated sale Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic. Apart from the leading Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, which realised a whopping HK$463m, three ceramics masterpieces — a ru ‘sky blue’ tea bowl from Northern Song Dynasty, a longquan celadon mallet-shape ‘kinuta’ vase from Southern Song dynasty and a jun ‘number four’ jardinière from Yuan-Early Ming dynasty — also sold for extraordinary prices and contributed a significant part to the sale total of HK$717m.

The auctioneer Elaine Kwok

The saleroom was full of crowds

Traditionally, evening sales in Hong Kong have been focused on contemporary art or western art. Last year, Christie’s held the unprecedented evening sale of Chinese work of art with a theme of Ming works of art and the move was warmly welcomed by collectors and art dealers in the field. This year, the auction house offered an array of high-quality works of art either from the Song dynasty or related to the Song aesthetic. Let’s take a look at some highlights of the night.

Landscapes and Calligraphy

Landscapes and Calligraphy

Landscapes and Calligraphy by Zhu Da (1626-1705), who is also known as Bada Shanren. Dedicated to a gentleman friend, the eighteen-leaf album was executed in ink on paper. The first six leaves reproduce the famous Preface to the Orchid Pavilion. The remaining twelve leaves constitute six pairs of landscapes and original verses. It carried an estimate between HK$6m-10m.

Landscapes and Calligraphy displayed at the preview

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$5m and the price went up to HK$10m in no time. The bid increment was then increased from HK$500,000 to HK$1m. Landscapes and Calligraphy was hammered down at HK$20m and sold for HK$24.1m with premium included to a room bidder.

A rare Ru ‘sky blue’ tea bowl from the Northern Song dynasty was valued at HK$30m. Ru is considered the top among the Five Great Kilns in the Song dynasty, Ru Kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge Kiln, Ding Kiln and Jun Kiln. There are only about 80 pieces of ru known to have existed till today and most of them are in museum collections.

The present one is an unusual Ru example. It is the only surviving example in the shape of a tea bowl, different from most ru ware in the shape of dish and basin. The ru ‘sky blue’ tea bowl has spur marks like most ru wares that were fired on spurs. However, sesame-shaped spur marks on the tea bowl were on the foot ring, unlike most ru wares which have spur marks on the base.

The piece was kept and handed down originally in its complete form, but was broken and then carefully restored with lacquer mixed with gold - the traditional kintsugi technique of restoration - by the then owner. The lacquer adheres the broken sections together, and gold powder is added to the join lines for aesthetic purposes.

The trace of gold powder was visible on the tea bowl when it was exhibited in Japan

The Ru teal bowl was sold to a lady in the room

The bidding opened at HK$24m and soon turned into a bidding battle between a telephone bidder and a room bidder. The price reached HK$45m after 15 bids. The room bidder decided to withdraw from the bidding. But it was not the victory to the telephone bidder because a new bidder in the room jumped in the bidding contest with determination to win the lot. The ru tea bowl was hammered down at HK$48m and sold for HK$56.35m to the new room bidder.

The following lot was a monochrome ceramic, a longquan celadon mallet-shaped ‘kinuta’ vase from the Southern Song dynasty, estimated at HK$30m. It encapsulates the serene refinement of the Song period.

The glaze on the current vase is thick, translucent and has a rich texture reminiscent of jade. The colour of this glaze also has the clear, soft bluish-green colour, which was so highly prized by connoisseurs and yet so difficult for potters to achieve.

With an opening bid of HK$20m, the celadon vase elicited a bidding between a telephone bidder and a room bidder. It was hammered down at HK$36m after eleven bids and sold for HK$42.85m to a room bidder.

Rebecca Wei, President of Christie's Asia, secured Wood and Rock for her telephone client

The climax of the sale was lot no. 8, Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, a holy grail of Chinese painting. There is only one other example of Su Shi’s painting, Bamboo and Rock in the collection of National Art Museum of China.

The painting was hammered down at HK$410m and sold for HK$463m. The auction house said there is a chance that the public will see the painting again, hinting the buyer was an institution from Greater China.

* For more details about the bidding of Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, click here for the article

A Jun 'number Four' jardinière from Yuan-early Ming Dynasty, 14th-15th Century, was estimated at HK$30m. The base is pierced with five drainage holes, and covered with a wash of light greenish-brown, with an incised numeral si, ‘four’.

Jun wares are some of the most striking ceramics of the Song, Jin and Yuan periods. They rarely have any surface decoration, but rely for their impact on a remarkable glaze which is thick, opalescent and appears in various tones of blue.

The Jun vessel was sold to a telephone bidder

The present jardinière belongs to a rare group of Jun vessels comprising narcissus bowls, flower pots, and zun-shaped vases, where each vessel has been incised or stamped with a Chinese numeral on the base. The numbers range from one to ten, and judging from the examples in museums and those examined from the excavations at Juntai, Yuxian, the numbers relate to the size of the vessels - ten representing the smallest size and one the largest.

The jun vessel was hammered down for HK$28m and sold for HK$33.7m to a telephone bidder.  

Wu Hufan’s Wood and Rock After Su Shi and the Cold Food Observance in Running Script

Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

Beside Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, the sale also offered a work After Su Shi and the Cold Food Observance in Running Script created by Wu Hufan (1894-1968), an accomplished collector, authenticator, painter, calligrapher, poet, and writer. This painting shares much with Su Shi’s original and is exceptional in its own right. After he finished the painting, Wu Hufan enhances it further with an inscription of Su Shi’s Cold Food Observance. It was hammered down at HK$4.2m and sold for HK$5.14m.

Lots sold for more than HK$10m

Su Shi (1037-1101)’s Wood and Rock. Handscroll, ink on paper

Lot no.: 8008
Size: 26.3 x 50cm (image), 26.3 x 185.5cm (painting and colophons), 27.2 x 543cm (overall with mounting)
Colophon: Liu Liangzuo (11th century), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Yu Xilu (1278-1368), Guo Chang (1563-1622)
Collector’s seals: 41

  • Property from a Japanese Private Collection
  • Previously in the So¯raikan Collection of Abe Fusajiro¯ (1868-1937)

Estimate: HK$400,000,000
Hammer price: HK$410,000,000
Price realised: HK$463,600,000

An Important & Extremely Rare Ru 'Sky-Blue' Tea Bowl. Northern Song Dynasty, Late 11th - Early 12th Century

Lot no.: 8006
Diameter: 10.2cm

  • Kobijutsu Kusaba (founded in 1905), Kurume, Kyushu, acquired prior to 1941
  • Collection of Mr. Yuzura Sato (1917-1996), scholar of French Literature at Kyushu University and Hiroshima University, acquired from the above in the early 1950s
  • A Japanese private collection

Estimate: HK$30,000,000
Hammer price: HK$48,000,000
Price realised:HK$56,350,000

An Important and Very Rare Longquan Celadon Mallet-shaped ‘kinuta’ Vase
Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279)

Lot no.: 8007
Diameter: 23.4cm

  • The Hachisuka Family Collection (Daimyo of Tokushima Domain)
  • Collection of Shinobu Komuro (1839-1898)
  • Collection of Fuyuki Tominaga (brother-in-law of Baron Masuda Takashi)
  • Collection of Baron Masuda Takashi (1848-1938), tea-master name Masuda Donno
  • Sold at Sotheby’s London, 8 November 2006, lot 54

Estimate: HK$30,000,000
Hammer price: HK$36,000,000
Price realised: HK$42,850,000

An Important and Extremely Rare Jun 'number Four' Jardiniere
Yuan-early Ming Dynasty, 14th-15th Century

Lot no.: 8021
Diameter: 25.4cm
Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 17 November 1975, lot 5
Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - $50,000,000
Hammer price: HK$28,000,000
Price realised: HK$33,700,000

Zhou Chunya (B. 1955). Tree Series

Lot no.: 8010
Size: 195 x 130cm
Private Collection, Asia
Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - $35,000,000
Hammer price: HK$25,000,000
Price realised: HK$30,100,000

Bada Shanren (1626-1705). Landscapes and Calligraphy

Lot no.: 8003
Size: 24 x 13.5cm (each leaf)
Previously in the collection of Matsubayashi Keigetsu
Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - $10,000,000
Hammer price: HK$20,000,000
Price realised: HK$24,100,000

Jin Nong (1687-1763). Seeking Inspiration Amongst Plum Blossoms

Lot no.: 8015
Size: 32.5 x 131.5cm
Property of a Private Collector
Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - $8,000,000
Hammer price: HK$14,000,000
Price realised: HK$16,900,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 20.01.69

Lot no.: 8009
Size: 115.8 x 181 cm

  • Private Collection, Germany
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 - $24,000,000
Hammer price: HK$13,000,000
Price realised: HK$15,700,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic (Evening Sale)
Sale date: 2018/11/26
Lots offered: 21
Sold: 19
Unsold: 2
Sold by lot: 90%
Sale total: HK$717,310,000