Two Ming Blue and White Masterpieces – a Chenghua Palace Bowl and a Xuande Dragon Stem Bowl

Sotheby's has recently announced highlights from its upcoming fall auction in Hong Kong. We previously invited Nicolas Chow, Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia, to introduce the leading lot of the season, a Qianlong pouch-shaped glass vase from the Le Cong Tang collection, which is expected to fetch in excess of HK$200m. (For more details, please see Nicolas Chow Introduces HK$200m Qianlong Pouch-Shaped Glass Vase from Le Cong Tang Collection). During the interview, Nicolas also presented two blue and white masterpieces from the Ming dynasty – a Chenghua Palace Bowl and a Xuande Dragon Stem Bowl.

Cheunghua Palace Bowl – Classic Blue and White in Cheunghua period

Nicolas: Chenghua Palace Bowls are probably the most classic type of blue and white produced in Chenghua period. They are produced in 1480s, which is the peak period of the Chenghua porcelain production in Jingdezhen and they were made in a dozen or so different designs. Whereas you have in the Yongle and Xuande periods a tendency to fill in the white porcelain, here is actually quite a lot of liberty leaving the porcelain white on Chenghua porcelain.

Nicolas: Palace bowls are found with a variety of design. Most of them actually design on the outside and left blank on the inside. So this particular type here is among the most sought after with matching scrolls on the inside and outside. One of the great characteristics of Chenghua period porcelain, particularly at its peak at 1480s, is that very soft, watery cobalt blue, which is a breakthrough from the early 15th century when cobalt was imported, and very strong and punchy.

It has matching scrolls on the inside and outside

It has matching scrolls on the inside and outside

Only three known examples of palace bowl with daylilies design

Nicolas: The one that we have here, which is a design of daylilies, is among the very rarest. There are only about 3 such bowls known. What you’ll find here is where a lot of design of floral scrolls you find in earlier period and later period are totally symmetrical. What happen here with Chenghua porcelain, you’ll see on the outside is that you have a repeated element – get to repeated three times and suddenly here a break in the scroll. That sort of infuses the painting with a notion, sort of a decorative device of great sophistication. That’s never repeated later on even in the Qing dynasty.

Hong Kong tycoon Alan Chuang

A mallow palace bowl from the Cunliffe collection

A mallow palace bowl from the Cunliffe collection

A mallow palace bowl from the Cunliffe collection

It could fetch in excess of HK$50m

Nicolas: This particular bowl has been in the collection of Hong Kong tycoon Alan Chuang in the last 15 years. It came at the time that he acquired from a Japanese collection but it has never been offered at the public market.

Nicolas: We expect this bowl to fetch in excess of HK$50m. Most of the palace bowl that have been offered in the market in the last 10years have fetched between $50m and HK$120m.

A Xuande blue and white ‘dragon’ stem bowl - one of the finest Xuande pieces ever to come onto the market

Nicolas: This is one of the finest Xuande pieces ever to come onto the market and its conception and its craftsmanship are very typically Xuande. Xuande period follows very closely to the Yongle period and breaks in tradition. You can see there is a movement that’s been a bit away from the bowl you see in the Yongle period. And the use of a much finer brush and the attempt to work on shading. That has to do with technical improvement in the kilns in Jingdezhen at the time. So this attempt to paint a subject, like this dragon in a very softly shaded ground of wave, it’s something you have never seen before or ever after the Xuande period.

Five-clawed dragon in a very softly shaded ground of wave

Nicolas: The dragon is a design that you find quite a lot on imperial porcelain since the early 15th century as a symbol of the emperor. And you’ll see here the five-clawed dragon that is typically the most favoured symbol of the emperor on particular stem bowl of this type. There are two other variants that are also known with five and nine dragons, smaller dragons. But this is by forth the most dramatic.

Nicolas: There are only three other examples known of this particular design on these stem bowls. Two in China: one at the Capital Museum in Beijing, one at the National Museum in Beijing; and one that we sold part of the Meiyintang collection in 2011 which fetched at the time about HK$100m.

Collection of National Museum in Beijing

Formerly in the Meiyintang Collection

Shipping tycoon T.Y Chao (left)

Nicolas: It was sold in 1981 originally in Hong Kong and sold again by shipping tycoon T.Y Chao in 1986. It was the last time it came onto the market, so it’s been kept away in private hands for 33 years.

Nicolas: We expect this piece to sell in excess of HK$60m. I think there’s quite a lot of room there because the last example that we offered back in 7, 8 years ago fetched HK$100m.

A superb and fine blue and white ‘daylily’ palace bowl mark and period of Chenghua

Provenance (sorted by information available):

  • Japanese Collection
  • Collection of Hong Kong tycoon Alan Chuang

Estimate: in excess of HK$50m
Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Two Ming Porcelain Masterpieces from An Important Collection
Sale date: 8 October 2019|10:30am

An exceptionally rare blue and white ‘dragon’ stem bowl mark and period of Xuande

Width: 15.6cm

  • Christie's London, 1st April 1968, lot 121.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 24th November 1981, lot 65.
  • Collection of T.Y. Chao (1912-1999).
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 20th May 1986, lot 15.

Estimate: in excess of HK$60m

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Sale date: 8 October 2019|2:30pm

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Auction

Preview: 4-22 September 2019| Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei
Preview and auction: 3-8 October 2019| Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre