EXCLUSIVE PHOTO LEAK: Most Expensive Ceramic Reappears in Sotheby’s Hong Kong?

The Value has received a leaked photo showing a familiar piece of Qing Imperial ceramic in Sotheby’s. The vase shown in the photo reminds us of a similar Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that almost sold for £53.1m. Is the same vase reappearing onto the market? Is it going to be the centrepiece in the coming autumn sales at Sotheby’s?

The window view suggests this photo is probably taken in Pacific Place in Admiralty Hong Kong

The photo shows a ceramic vase of about 30cm tall put on a table, in the setting of a meeting room. The window view suggests this photo is probably taken in Pacific Place in Admiralty Hong Kong. Next to the vase, we can see an arm of someone in black suit. He/she could be a client or specialist of Sotheby’s.

This photo was likely to have been taken by someone who passed by the meeting room and recognised the extraordinary vase while a collector was there to see the piece.

The Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that sold in 2010

Ceramics collectors and lovers would be thrilled to see this vase which shares striking resemblances in shape to the record-setting one sold in 2010.

A Qianlong reticulated vase caused a huge sensation among art dealers and collectors when it was up for auction in the UK in 2010. The vase is about 16 inches tall (40.5cm) and the base has a six-character seal showing ‘Made in the Qianlong period, Qing dynasty’. The vase contains a second, beautifully patterned, cylinder within the outer wall. The vase has a fish motif on the four sides. Celadon-glazed and outlined with gold, the reticulated wall shows a pattern of archaistic Kui dragon scrolls. 

The neck and foot of the outer vase are in yellow-ground yangcai, decorated with ruyi, fish, and floral patterns. The word ‘ji’, meaning ‘luck’, is placed at the centre of the neck. Qing, a standing bell, is a homophone of ‘celebration’. The vase carries an auspicious meaning of ‘jiqingyouyu’ (abundant luck and celebration). The vase within the outer wall is decorated with a floral pattern in blue and white glaze.

The Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that sold in 2010

The Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that sold in 2010

Back in that time, the vase was described as a ‘famille rose’ revolving vase. However, the vase should actually be categorised as ‘Yangcai’ (meaning ‘foreign colour’) as we can see the influence of the west shown in the way foliage was painted. It shows a gradient effect, a technique that was usually used in Western paintings. Moreover, the design of the vase is not a revolving one. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it a Qianlong Yangcai ‘jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase.

In 2010, the vase was offered in a small auction house in London and it was estimated at £800,000 - £1.2m. To the surprise of the seller and auction house, the vase was hammered down at £43m and sold for £53.1m with premium, setting the record for the most expensive item of Asian art ever sold. The buyer was believed to be a Chinese billionaire.

The Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that sold in 2010

The Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase that sold in 2010

Unfortunately, the buyer didn’t settle the payment. Some said it was due to a downturn in his/her business while some said it was about the disagreement over the buyer’s premium. The tale ended up with a happy ending when another buyer acquired the vase two years later. It is reported that the final selling price was £25m (nearly HK$300m at that time), still much higher than its original estimate.

In the autumn auction last year, a Ru-ware brush washer from the Northern Song dynasty was offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. It was sold for HK$294m after premium, becoming the most expensive ceramic ever sold. Since the deal of buying the Qianlong vase was made privately, it didn’t go on another auction after the previous one in 2010. Yet, its value is no less than ru-ware brush washer from the Northern Song dynasty.

Northern Song Ru-ware brush washer set the record for world’s most expensive ceramic

Most ceramic vases in the Qing dynasty were made in pairs, it is hard to tell whether another one in the pair of Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vases is still extant. After all, it has been over hundreds of years since they were made, so it is extremely difficult to keep the pair of vases intact. The story and provenance of the one seen in Sotheby’s remain to be an unknown story that will have to be told by the auction house.

In the next article, we are going to tell the twisted saga of the vase that sold in 2010. It is going to answer your questions about how the vase first came up onto the market and the alleged buyer who didn’t pay the £53.1m. Please stay tuned.