Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiqian Spends US$36m on Four Headline-Grabbing Artworks at Spring Auctions

To many art collectors, sharing is a great source of joy. There is no exception for Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiqian, who is also an avid collector in Chinese works of art. Recently, he posted on Chinese social media WeChat four pictures of headline-grabbing works of art that were sold for whopping prices at various auctions this spring. We have confirmed from a reliable source that Liu is the new owner of these four coveted pieces with a total value estimated at US$36m.

These four pieces include an imperial “nine dragon” lacquer throne, a celadon glazed ‘chrysanthemum’ teapot with cover, a yellow jade animal-shaped plaque, as well as a blue and white with copper red ‘dragon’ bottle vase which set the auction record for the most expensive tianqiuping.

Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife

Liu uploaded four pictures on Wechat with a caption that reads, ‘Miscellaneous sales this spring. I think these pieces are pretty nice, good quality with good prices.’ These four works of art are top lots offered in spring sales at various auction houses. Let's take an overview of them all.   

1. A blue and white with copper red ‘dragon’ bottle vase, Tianqiuping

Auction house: Poly Auction Beijing
Sale date: 5 June 2019
Height: 51.5 cm


  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2 May 1995, lot no.: 118
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7 May 2002, lot no.: 580
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 31 October 2004, The Dragon Emperor, lot no.: 25
  • The Ten-Views of Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection, no.: EK254, acquired from Eskenazi

Estimate upon request
Price realised: RMB 147,200,000

Measuring 51.5cm in height, the blue and white ‘dragon’ bottle vase, tianqiuping (means ‘Celestial Sphere vase’ in Chinese), is decorated with a three-clawed, red dragon amidst blue and white clouds, chasing a flaming pearl with its front claw. The mouth of the vase is inscribed with a six-character seal mark of ‘Daqing Yongzheng Nianzhi’ (made in the Yongzheng period of Qing).

Even though the reign of Yongzheng lasted only 13 years, ceramic ware made in the imperial kilns during his time is of high quality. Those made after the 6th year of Yongzheng reign were under the meticulous supervision of Tang Ying in Jingdezhen. Tang was an acclaimed porcelain superintendent who brought ingenuity, creativity and artistry into the works of art produced in the imperial kilns. This tianqiuping vase is an epitome of the top-quality works from ‘Tang’s kilns’.

The other side of the tianqiuping

The seal mark on the mouth 


The provenance of the vase makes it even more sought after at auctions as it came from the ten-views of Lingbi rock retreat collection, a renowned US private collection. It was acquired from Eskenazi, a legendary art dealer in Chinese art. Therefore, the illustrious provenance definitely boosted the confidence of many interested buyers.

The vase appeared at Poly Auction in Beijing on 5 June this year and was sold for RMB 147m (US$21m), the highest price ever paid for a Tianqiuping vase. It obliterated the previous record held by a docai and famille rose ‘anbaxian’ vase which was sold for HK$130m at Christie’s Hong Kong last year to the prominent art collector Robert Chang.

2. An imperial three-colour carved “nine dragon” lacquer throne. Qianlong Period (1736-1795)
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale date: 14 May 2019

Size: 111.1 x 115.5 x 85.7 cm
Provenance: Private Asian Collection, acquired in Hong Kong in 1997.
Estimate: £800,000 - 1,200,000
Price realised: £6,108,250

Finely carved through red lacquer, the throne measures 111.1 x 115.5 x 85.7 cm. Each layer of lacquer takes one to two days to dry and the crafting must be done before the lacquer completely dries. The throne was made by skilled carvers of ivory, bamboo, rhinoceros’ horn and a range of other materials.

Although the greatest proportion of the design appears in carved red lacquer against a yellow lacquer ground carved with lozenges, the majority of the clouds have small carved green lacquer extensions – either to the side or below the individual cloud forms. Specialists point out that this throne has at least 100 to 150 layers of lacquer, thus the production must have taken almost a year.

The center of the throne is carved with a dragon

The back of the throne

The dragons on the current throne are depicted pursuing flaming pearls amongst dense and complex clouds. The clouds themselves are auspicious symbols, in part because they provide a rebus for good fortune. It is also significant that clouds are often shaped like lingzhi fungus of immortality and so emphasise a wish for long life.

The throne was presented in its single-lot sale at Christie’s London on 14 May this year. It saw strong interest from bidders in the room, on the phone and online. It was hammered down at £5.2m and sold for £6.1m (US$7.4m) with premium. Liu bought the lacquer throne through Jud Wei-Tang, Senior Client Advisor at Christie’s.

3. A celadon glazed ‘chrysanthemum’ teapot with cover, Qianlong period

Auction house: Poly Auction Beijing
Sale date: 5 June 2019
Length: 19.3cm

  • J.M.Hu Family Collection
  • Sotheby’s New York, June 4, 1985, Lot 89
  • Robert Chang, Hong Kong, c.1993
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, November 2, 1999, Lot 508
  • The Ten-Views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection, no.EK54, Purchased form ESKENAZI Ltd

Estimate: RMB 12,000,000 - 15,000,000
Price realised: RMB 29,900,000

The teapot is believed to be an imperial teapot used in the Qianlong palace. The shape of the teapot is reminiscent of a blooming chrysanthemum’ and lines throughout the body, foot and cover imitate petals of chrysanthemum. The base is inscribed with a six-character seal mark of ‘Daqing Qianlong Nianzhi’ (made in the Qianlong period of Qing).

J.M. Hu on the right

This one also has an impressive provenance as it was previously kept in the private hands of prominent collectors such as Robert Chang, Eskenazi, and J.M. Hu. The teapot was sold for RMB 29.9m (US$4.3m) at Poly Auction in Beijing on 5 June this year.

4. A Yellow Jade Animal-Shaped Plaque, Eastern Zhou Dynasty

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale date: 3 April 2019

Size: 22cm
Collection of Charles Vignier (1863-1934), Paris.
Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 30,000,000
Price realised: HK$26,575,000

The companion plaques are generally referred to as ‘tiger plaques’. Jade hu (tigers) are frequently mentioned in classical texts and the tiger is one of the most commonly depicted animals. Tiger pendants are known at least since the Shang period (16th century – 1045 BC) and are very common in the Eastern Zhou.

It came from the collection of Charles Vignier (1863-1934), a Swiss-born poet living in France and an important collector of Oriental art. He was an acquaintance of famous painters such as Matisse and Derain. He was instrumental in making East Asian as well as African art more widely known in France.

The plague was offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 3 April this year. It was hammered down at HK$22m and sold for HK$26.57m (US$3.4m) to Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Chairman Asia, who bought the plague on behalf of Liu.