US$6.7 million Chinese dragon jar becomes this season’s most expensive antique among Hong Kong auctions

After the sales of other categories such as Modern and Contemporary Art, Chinese painting and calligraphy, the attention turned to Poly Auction Hong Kong's Chinese antiques last week.

An 18th century Chinese celadon-glaze jar was sold at HK$52.8 million (around US$6.7 million) dollars, with buyer’s premium. It became the highest priced Chinese antique across "all the autumn auctions in Hong Kong [this year]".

The jar’s body is adorned with two dragons dancing among clouds and waves, also known as the Canglong jiaozi  referring to a father teaching his son. In 1773, Emperor Qianlong chose his 15th son, Yongyan, as his successor and prepared him for kingship. 

Lot 3501 | Carved celadon-glazed dragon jar

Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796)
Height: 34.6 cm

  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 24-25 November 1987, Lot 119
  • A distinguished Asian private collection

Estimate upon request

Hammer Price: HK$44,000,000

Sold: HK$52,800,000 (around US$6.7 million)

The bidding started at HK$35 million dollars. After more than 10 bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$44 million dollars. The winning bid was by Albert Du Jibo, Senior Specialist in the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department. for his client with paddle number 1133. In the end, it was sold at HK$52.8 million (around US$6.7 million) dollars, with buyer’s premium.

There is a piece that resembles all stylistic features of this present jar – formerly in the collections of English art collector, Alfred Morrison (1821-1897) of Fonthill House; and the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo. In 2014, the dragon jar was sold for HK$94 million dollars at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Specialists from Poly Auction compared the two jars – in terms of decoration, size, glaze colour, style and patterns. They were convinced that both jars were made by the same group of craftsmen during the Qianlong period (1735-1796). It was normally fired in pairs, and it is very likely that such a pair was fired together.

In 1987, this present jar was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong. The collector's family kept them for more than 30 years.

The dragon jar was hammered at HK$44 million (around US$5.6 million) dollars 

Albert Du Jibo with the winning bid 

Lipped rim, with broad shoulders, and a belly that narrows to a foot. The entire jar is evenly coated in a monochromic celadon glaze. Beneath the glaze, the jar’s body adorned with relief carvings of two dragons dancing among clouds and waves, also known as the Canglong jiaozi. Auspicious clouds are rhythmically arranged to accompany the magnificent dragons in the sky, ocean waves rage across the spherical body of the vessel below. The bottom of the jar is carved in relief with a six-character mark of the Qianlong Emperor in seal script.

This piece's title, Canglong jiaozi, is a symbol of a father teaching his son. During the mid- to late 18th century, this image was ascribed the Emperor’s expectations for his successor. Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong; who reigned during the 17th to 18th centuries, in its most prosperous times owed their success to discerning eyes for future rulers.

Ruling as the successor of two great Emperors, Qianlong was faced with the pressure to select a promising heir. In 1773, the Emperor decided that his 15th son, Yongyan, and would prepare him for kingship. Later, in 1796, Yongyan was proclaimed as the new ruler.

The present jar is the embodiment of Qianlong’s effort as he guided Jiaqing through the hardships of being Emperor, and the solitude that comes with ultimate power. On the jar, the younger, smaller dragon represents Yongyan, while the mighty dragon who looks affectionately at his heir, represents the Qianlong Emperor.

Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1735-1796)

A Consort of the Qianlong Emperor with the Future Jiaqing Emperor as a Child painting (Qing dynasty, 1644-1911) | Palace Museum, Beijing

Lot 3404 | Blue and White Lotus and Pond Vase with Handles

Seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796)
Height: 54 cm

  • An Italian private collection, acquired in China in early 20th century
  • Sotheby's London, 12 November 2003, Lot 172
  • An important private collection
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, Lot 1579
  • The Ten-views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection, Lot EK340, purchased from Eskenazi

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 22,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$20,000,000

Sold: HK$24,000,000 (around US$3.08 million)

During the Palatial Splendour: Imperial Ceramics and Works of Art Sale, an 18th century blue and white vase was the most expensive lot. 

The bidding started at HK$12 million dollars. After nine bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$20 million dollars. In the end, it was sold at HK$24 million (around US$3.08 million) dollars.

This vase has a large body, angled shoulders and a long cylindrical neck adorned with two handles. An exterior richly adorned with blooming lotus flowers and lotus leaves, it is painted in varying hues of vibrant blue underglaze – a definitive characteristic of Qianlong blue and white porcelains. A six-character reign mark of the Qianlong Emperor is inscribed at the base.

The blue-and-white vase was hammered at HK$20 million (around US$2.5 million) dollars

The present lot is distinctive for its representation of a lotus pond. Lotus flowers as a theme on blue and white porcelains are commonly seen as medallion clusters surrounded by organised spirals of branches. The motif rose to popularity during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) with the proliferation of blue and white porcelains.

Its design appealed to several Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Emperors – including Qianlong, whose reign during the 18th century witnessed some of the most splendid works. The lotus buds are depicted with intertwining leaves growing upwards. Lotus petals also show a gradation of colour, which reflects an attention to highlights and shadows or inspiration from European chiaroscuro painting techniques.

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Poly Auction Hong Kong


  • Palatial Splendour: Imperial Ceramics and Works of Art
  • The Grand Empire: The Celadon Dragon Jar

Date: 2 December 2021