Highlighted Qianlong Porcelain from Distinguished Private Collection to Be Offered at London Auction

This autumn season in Hong Kong, a rare famille-rose vase supported by three boys, Qianlong, was sold for HK$15.77m (US$2m), more than five times its estimate of HK$2.5m-3m. This November, exquisite pieces from the same private collection will be offered at auction in London with an attractive price point. Here are some of the highlights from the sale.

A Very Rare Underglaze-blue, Famille-rose and Gilt-Decorated 'Boys Medallion' Vase, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period. Estimate:  £150,000-250,000

A total of 39 porcelain pieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties are presented at the sale. One of the notable lots is a rare famille-rose and gilt-decorated ‘boys medallion’ vase, Qianlong, which is estimated at £150,000-250,000. It is exquisitely painted with two lively scenes of boys playing against a luxuriant underglaze-blue and gilt lotus scroll. The craftsmen have skilfully captured the children's carefree spirit through their joyful expressions and animated poses.

Depictions of boys at play, which represent the wish for many sons, proliferated on porcelain during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, as he was particularly fond of auspicious and amusing designs. Yingxitu (pictures of boys at play) and baizitu (pictures of hundred boys) are intimately connected with the strong desire for male offspring, who would perform ancestral sacrifices and thus endure the continuation of the family line.

The two scenes on this vase depict the boys playing with goldfish and butterflies, which represent prosperity, wealth and longevity. Goldfish (jinyu) are homophonous with the word for gold (jin) and jade (yu), and together with lotus and boys they convey the wish liannian youyu (May you continuously have plenty year after year).

Su Hanchen. Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden. Song dynasty. National Palace Museum Taipei

Junkunc III

The vase was previously sold at Christie’s New York in 1995. Before that, it was in the collection of Stephen Junkunc III, a renowned collector in Chinese art who owned many great porcelain examples from leading London dealers. He established a reputation for his impeccable taste for ceramics. In 1992, a rare ru example from his collection was sold for US$1.6m at Christie’s, which was a whopping price at that time.

A rare yellow-ground underglaze-blue ‘lotus’ archaistic vase from the Qianlong period. With a height of 32.3cm, the vase is painted in vibrant tones of cobalt blue with meandering leafy scrolls bearing large stylised lotus blooms. Coming from the distinguished collection of Yamanaka & Co., the vase is expected to fetch between £150,000-250,000.

The form and handles of the vase are inspired by archaistic bronze. The yellow-ground blue and white first started in the Xuande period (1426-1435), manifesting the technique which incorporates the yellow glaze of low temperature with underglaze blue of high temperature.

A Rare Yellow-Ground Underglaze-Blue ‘Lotus’ Archaistic Vase, Qianlong period. Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000

Catalogue of Yamanaka & Co.

Sadajirō Yamanaka (1866-1936) was the founder of Yamanaka & Co.

A flambe-glaze vase, Qianlong. Collection of Nanjing Museum

An example with similar form can be found in Nanjing Museum, where it has kept a flambe-glaze vase, Qianlong. It is of similar size to the one offered at the sale but the one at Sotheby’s is decorated with yellow-ground underglaze-blue ‘lotus’, which is believed to be the only example of such form with this particular design.

Also featured in the sale is a pair of celadon-ground famille-rose ‘bajixiang’ lobed vases, Qianlong, with an estimate of £150,000-250,000.

Each vase is modelled with ten lobed sides resting on a short splayed foot and each lobe brightly enamelled with one of the auspicious bajixiang ('Eight Buddhist emblems') and hanging chimes interspersed with stylised floral sprigs and beaded tassels. The unusual lobed form with a flaring mock foot which resembles textile pleats, displays the Qing craftsmen’s creative virtuosity in devising new forms and designs that catered to the Qianlong emperor’s passion for opulent and exotic objects. 

A Pair of Celadon-Ground Famille-Rose ‘Bajixiang’ Lobed Vases, Qianlong. Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000

The Qianlong emperor was a true believer and active practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and commissioned large quantities of ritual implements and sacrificial vessels to both furnish those newly built religious spaces and as gift to family and court members. His fervent support for the religion influenced the artistic direction of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns and resulted in the emergence of an innovative style that combined Tibetan iconography with Chinese decorative motifs. These vases testify to this trend.

Another lot not to be missed is a large celadon-glazed jardinière in the shape of a double-lotus leaf, Yongzheng, which is expected to fetch £120,000-160,000. The jardinière is naturalistically modelled in the form of an open lotus flower with its leaf folding outwards and inwards. Its irregular shape and large size would have been particularly challenging to glaze and fire successfully. This piece appears to be unique and was probably made upon a specific order. Its inspiration may have come from Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) censers in the form of lotus flowers.

A Large Celadon-Glazed Jardinière in the Shape of a Double-Lotus Leaf, Yongzheng. Estimate: £120,000-160,000

Censer in the form of lotus flowers

The lotus, hehua or lianhua in Chinese, is closely associated with Buddhism, and represents qualities such as purity, integrity and spiritual awakening. The flower rises undefiled from impure muddy waters, symbolising the power of the soul to emerge from the physical world, samsara, and achieve enlightenment.

Below are other exceptional works of art featured in the sale. For those who would like to bring these great pieces home, make sure you are well-prepared for intense bidding battles as we expect numerous lots will be hammered down for prices far exceeding the estimates.

Featured highlights (sorted by estimate)

A Carved Celadon-Glazed 'Peony' Vase, Qianlong Incised Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 17
Height: 32.4cm
Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000

A Very Rare Underglaze-Blue, Famille-Rose and Gilt-Decorated 'Boys Medallion' Vase, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 8
Height: 18.2cm

  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
  • Christie's New York, 21st September 1995, lot 260.

Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000

A Rare Yellow-Ground Underglaze-Blue "Lotus' Archaistic Vase, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 27
Height: 32.3cm

  • Yamanaka & Company, Collection of Chinese and Other Far Eastern Art, (in liquidation under the supervision of the Alien Property Custodian of the United States of America), New York, 1943, cat. no. 1188.

Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000

A Rare Pair of Finely Decorated Celadon-Ground Famille-Rose 'Bajixiang' Lobed Vases, Qianlong Seal Marks and Period

Lot no.: 20
Height: 17.2、17.3cm
Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000

A Rare Large Celadon-Glazed Jardiniere in the Shape of a Double-Lotus Leaf, Yongzheng Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 21
Length: 35.1cm
Estimate: £120,000 - 160,000

A Fine Blue and White Ming-Style 'Persimmon' Moonflask, Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng Period

Lot no.: 11
Length: 29.7cm

  • Collection of T.Y. Chao (1912-1999).
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19th May 1987, lot 276.

Estimate: £120,000 - 160,000

A Fine Blue and White 'Lotus Bouquet' Dish, Yongzheng Mark and Period

Lot no.: 26
Diameter: 34.2cm
Estimate: £70,000 - 90,000

A Rare Famille-Rose 'Poppy' Bowl, Yongzheng Mark and Period

Lot no.: 1
Diameter: 9.2cm
Estimate: £50,000 - 70,000

A Black-Ground Green-Enamelled 'Butterfly and Flower' Dish, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 24
Diameter: 18.3cm
Estimate: £25,000 - 35,000

A Rare Copper-Red Glazed Waterpot, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 31
Width: 13.5cm
Spink & Son Ltd., London (according to label).
Estimate: £25,000 - 35,000

A Fine and Rare Small Copper-Red 'Sanduo' Waterpot, Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 3
Width: 5.1cm
Estimate: £15,000 - 20,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Imperial Porcelain - A Private Collection
2-3 November 2019|12pm - 5pm
4-5 November 2019|9am - 4:30pm
Auction: 6 November 2019|6:30pm