Interview with Nicolas Chow on HK$50m Qianlong Reticulated Vase

A Qianlong reticulated vase has caused excitement in the antiques world after a leaked photo was released by The Value. We have talked to Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, about this reticulated vase, a brother vase of the most famous vase in auction history.

The Yamanaka Reticulated Vase from Qianlong Period

Auction house: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Estimate: HK$50,000,000

Q: How did Sotheby’s get this vase?

Nicolas: About 4-5 months ago, my colleague Ryoichi Hirano. Our specialist in Japan showed me in Hong Kong pictures of this vase. He said, ‘Listen. This piece is in my client’s hand. What do you think?’ I looked at it and immediately recognised it. This piece is similar to the most famous vase in auction history that was sold for £50m in Bainbridge in London. I said, ‘Listen, there is less than 1% chance of it being genuine. But I must come and check it. Let’s go and see it together.’

Nicolas: We arrived at the appointment. We took the piece out of the box and it was so obviously what it supposed to be. Just from the painting, carving, shape, weight, the mark, from every aspect, this is clearly genuine. That sort of ‘Da Kai Men’ (meaing it's obviously genuine) that we say in Chinese. That’s what it felt like.

Yamanaka catalogue in 1905 exhibition

Yamanaka catalogue in 1905 exhibition

Q: What’s the provenance of this vase?

Nicolas: We dug out the black and white photograph from the Yamanaka catalogue from 1905. And it was an absolute match with the vase we’ve got here. Yamanaka presented it in 1905 in New York in an exhibition of various Chinese works of art. It seems that Yamanaka sold it to the family of this collector back in 1924, passed down in the family since 1924.

Qianlong reticular vase to be offered at Sotheby's

Qianlong reticular vase from the 2010 Bainbridge sale

Q: Does this vase come in a pair with the 2010 vase?

Nicolas: Pretty much everything is identical. Only the border that you see here at the shoulder, Sort of pale green, green ground. And the vase that was sold in Bainbridge, that’s actually in gold ground. So there is a tiny difference here. And the marks are not identical. The mark is in blue enamel on our vase here whereas the mark in Bainbridge was in underglaze blue on turquoise ground.

Qianlong reticular vase to be offered at Sotheby's

Qianlong reticular vase from the 2010 Bainbridge sale

Qianlong reticular vase to be offered at Sotheby's

Qianlong reticular vase from the 2010 Bainbridge sale

Q: If they are a pair, why aren’t they identical?

Nicolas: In 1743, Tang Ying presented it to the emperor nine vases of this type, very complex, reticulated pieces. You can imagine how many must have been broken in the process. The emperor, according to the court record, replied, ‘For those that come in single one, please make one to match them.’ I think this piece and its counterpart that was sold in 2010 are a pair but made at a different time, so that explains the slight differences in the mark.

We can glimpse the blue and white vase inside the reticular outer wall 

Q: Can you tell us about the pattern on the vase?

Nicolas: The main border here in the middle imitated Eastern Zhou bronze. Strong archaistic feel here. On the upper part here is inspired by rococo decoration that you find at the court of Louis XV in Europe at the time. With rocaille elements, acanthus leaves, typical decoration you would have seen in France.

Nicolas: On the inside, you have an inner vase which was painted in blue and white with a composited floral scroll. You have the blue and white vase. The shoulder is built on top on it. The outside vase comes last, enclosing it. These panels, I suspect, they are partly moulded and then carved finish in hands.

Q: How is the condition of this vase?

Nicolas: It’s in absolute pristine structural condition. Not a crack, not a chip. On the base, there is a ring that sort of looks slightly misfired. The position of the misfired ring seems to correspond to the inner vase. So it might be the pressure of the vase that determined the fire ring and reflected on the base. That’s the only slight condition issue with it.

Q: What’s the estimate of this vase?

Nicolas: We are able to get this piece with an extremely conservative estimate of HK$50m. I think everyone remembers that piece in Bainbridge. It was hammered for £43m. So I think we will see a huge auction battle.