Qianlong reticulated vase found in remote country house estimated at HK$70m

A rare Qianlong reticulated vase with yangcai enamels, discovered in a rural property in central Europe, is expected to fetch some HK$70m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. 

The perforated porcelain was hidden away on a cupboard in a remote country home where the homeowner's cats roam freely.

The owner, a woman in her 80s, reached out to art consultant Johan Bosch van Rosenthal about the vessel. When the art consultant first saw the vase, he was immediately struck by its beauty, even when it was covered in dust. 

“Late last year I received an email from Johan Bosch van Rosenthal, someone I never met before," recounted Sotheby's Asia Chairman Nicolas Chow.

"On the day I opened this email, I saw this extraordinary vase. Just because of the way it is decorated, it was quite obvious that it is what it is. So I jumped on the plane and flew over to Europe to this house. Lo and behold on the table was this vase, rather dusty, but a forgotten masterpiece of Qing porcelain.”

This double-walled yangcai vessel was among the most sophisticated pieces of porcelain ever conceived during the Qianlong period (1736-95). It was produced under the supervision of Tang Ying (1682-1756), an acclaimed porcelain superintendent who worked for three Qing Emperors. 

The vase was first included at Sotheby’s London in 1954 as part of the collection by Harry Garner, the former chairman of the Oriental Ceramic Society, and was later acquired by Henry Knight, a famed Dutch collector in the 20th century. It has not been available on the market since.

Decorated with Rococo-inspired floral motifs on a ruby graviata ground, the vessel carries an inner blue-and-white vase in Xuande-style. It’s peach patterns in cobalt blue can be glimpsed through an openwork lattice in celadon green, which harks back to the Bronze Age during the Eastern Zhou period. 

The gilt dragon handles, attached to either side of the neck, draw references from Chinese archaic jade carvings. 

“So you have the Qing style encompassing the Ming past in the middle," said Chow.

"Looking from the outside in, you are looking from the present into the past. It has a symbolic meaning that the Manchu Emperors assimilated the essence of Chinese culture.”

Celadon reticulated vases of this type, he said, were first produced during the Southern Song dynasty in Guan Kiln, one of the five most famous kilns at the time. It was later copied in Longquan Kiln in the early 13th century.

"Yangcai reticulated vases of this type were extremely hard to produce," said Chow. 

“They were produced pretty much only in the seventh and eighth year of the Qianlong reign, which was 1742 and 1743. Tang Ying himself recorded how difficult they were to make and how expensive they were, so he often produced only single vases."

The vase was kept in Qianqinggong, aka the Palace of Heavenly Purity, which is the largest hall of the Inner Court in the Forbidden City where the Emperor held court with his Grand Councils. 

“It’s a very important hall where this particular vase and other group of vases of this type, delivered in 1742, were kept,” he noted. 

“The court records say that such vase was delivered to the court on the twelfth day in the eighth month, seventh year of Qianlong, which was 1742, when the Emperor asked for this group of pieces, which he commended as the finest possible qualities, to be kept in Qianqinggong.”

The lot is akin to the Yamanaka vase, which was sold for HK$150m in 2018. The closing price is more than twice the estimated price of this lot, which stands at HK$70m.

“So there should be quite a lot of room for it to go up,” he concluded. 

“It’s an exceptional masterpiece of the period, and really a great example of what is so spectacular and pleasing about Qing porcelain. The novelty, the quality, the technical mastery.”

A Magnificent and Highly Important Yangcai Reticulated Vase Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Matching Record dated to the 12th day of the 8th month in the 7th year of the Qianlong Period (corresponding to 1742)

Lot no.: 1
Height: 31.4 cm

  • Collection of Sir Harry M. Garner (1891-1977)
  • Sotheby's London, 25th May 1954, lot 91 (£44)
  • Bluett & Sons, London, inventory no. 3396
  • Jacob Stodel, Amsterdam and London, acquired from the above, 8th November 1954 (£80)
  • Collection of Henry M. Knight (1903-1970), The Hague, Holland
  • Thence by descent

Estimate: HK$70,000,000 – 90,000,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Harry Garner Reticulated Vase
Sale date: 11 July 2020