HK$74.96m Xuande Dragon Stem Bowl Leads Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Sale

The last day of Sotheby’s autumn sales in Hong Kong was wrapped up by a modest Important Chinese Art Sale which delivered a sell-through rate of only 54%, selling 36 of all 67 lots offered. Still, led by a Xuande dragon stem bowl which sold for HK$74.96m (HK$9.56m), the sale managed to total HK$185m, exceeding the sum of presale estimate HK$138m.

Xuande Blue and White ‘Dragon’ Stem Bowl was sold for HK$74.96m

Nicolas Chow introduced this blue and white ‘dragon’ stem bowl

Before the sale began, we had interview Nicolas Chow about this Blue and white ‘dragon’ stem bowl. According to Chow, this is one of the finest Xuande pieces ever to come onto the market and its conception and its craftsmanship are very typically Xuande. It was expected to fetch in excess of HK$60m.

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$35m and received bids from absentee bidders and three telephone bidders, respectively represented by Amethyst Chau (Specialist of Chinese Works of Art), Rachel Shen (Deputy Chairman), and Peter Song from Sotheby’s Beijing.

Peter Song (left) and Rachel Shen (right)

Auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd

The auctioneer put the hammer down at HK$64m and sold the bowl for HK$74.96m after premium to Peter Song’s client.

Xuande period follows very closely to the Yongle period and breaks in tradition. But what you see in the present example is the use of a much finer brush and the attempt to work on shading, which has to do with technical improvement in the kilns in Jingdezhen at the time. And the attempt to paint a subject, like this dragon in a very softly shaded ground of wave, is something you have never seen before or ever after the Xuande period.

Shipping tycoon T.Y Chao (left)

Regard its provenance, the bowl 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.

The dragon stem bowl became the top lot of the sale after selling for HK$74.96m (US$9.6m), which is the second highest price achieved by any Chinese works of art this auction season, coming after the Qianlong pouch-shaped glass vase which sold for HK$207m (US$26.4m).

A Fine and Exceptional Famille-Rose 'Prunus and Lingzhi' Bowl, Mark and Period of Yongzheng, sold for HK$28.98m

The second top lot of the sale came as a surprise to many. The famille-rose 'prunus and lingzhi' bowl from the Yongzheng period carried an estimate of HK$12m-15m. With a diameter of 10.1cm, the bowl has its exterior enamelled with two gnarled prunus boughs whereas the lush scene further portrayed with two lingzhi blooms. Believed to hold magical powers, the lingzhi bestowed humans with physical and spiritual strength. It was also associated with special locations and sites of deep spiritual and religious significance.

The bowl was hammered down for HK$24m and sold for HK$28.98m to Peter Song’s telephone bidder with a paddle number L0013, the same one who bought the blue and white dragon stem bowl. In other words, the client spent more than HK$100m (US$12.75m) in just ten minutes.

A turquoise-ground famille-rose 'hui Mountain retreat' teapot and cover, Qianlong, sold for HK$20.58m

The third top lot was a famille-rose ‘hui mountain retreat’ teapot and cover, estimated at HK$12m-15m. Painted on the exterior was a gilt-bordered rectangular panel enclosing a garden scene of a scholar seated at a low stone table admiring a scroll, an aged pine and rocky outcrop concealing part of a pavilion in the background.


The reverse has a similarly shaped panel framing an imperial poem by the Qianlong Emperor, Jihuiquan peng zhulu ge (Brewing Tea by Hui Spring), followed by two seals reading Qian and Long. The Qianlong Emperor was a fervent tea lover and is said to have composed more than two hundred poems on the subject of tea. The painting and the poem celebrate the Qianlong Emperor’s fondness for the Hui Spring in Wuxi, Jiangsu province and the legendary bamboo brazier which was used to prepare tea using water from the spring, both of which had been treasured by scholars for hundreds of years.

The teapot was hammered down at HK$17m (technical problem with the displaying screen)

The teapot was hammered down at HK$17m and sold for HK$20.57m (US$2.65m) to a gentleman in the room

Top three lots

An Exceptionally Rare Anhua-Decorated Blue and White ‘Dragon’ Stem Bowl
Mark and Period of Xuande

Lot no.: 3606
Diameter: 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$60,000,000
Hammer price: HK$64,000,000
Price realised: HK$74,962,000

A Fine and Exceptional Famille-Rose 'Prunus and Lingzhi' Bowl
Mark and Period of Yongzheng

Lot no.: 3605
Diameter: 10.1cm


  • Christie's London, 29th June 1964, lot 170.
  • Collection of Frederick Knight.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 18th May 1982, lot 43.

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 15,000,000
Hammer price: HK$24,000,000
Price realised: HK$28,975,000

A Rare Turquoise-ground Famille-Rose 'Hui Mountain Retreat' Teapot and Cover
Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Lot no.: 3608
Height: 17.4cm

  • An old Scottish private collection, since the 19th century.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27th October 1992, lot 156.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2nd May 2000, lot 646.

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 15,000,000
Hammer price: HK$17,000,000
Price realised: HK$20,575,000

Auction Summary

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

Lots offered: 67
Sold: 36
Unsold: 31
Sold by lot: 54%
Sale total: HK$185,930,750