Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl and Two Sets of Illuminated Wisdom Sutra Hammered Down for HK$210m at Sotheby’s

Coming to the last day of its spring sales in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s has prepared a line-up of important sales offering an array of exquisite Chinese art. This morning first started with a HK$146m noteworthy single-lot sale of a rediscovered Imperial painting by Qian Weicheng, followed by two sequent single-lot sales, one for a Kangxi Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl and one for Xuande Illuminated Wisdom Sutras, each totalling over HK$200m.

Two sets of Leporello Albums of Illuminated Wisdom Sutra from the Golden Age of Xuande carried a pre-sale estimate of HK$90m. It is the only surviving example in private hands, besides another one currently in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan.

Buddhist Sutras are canonical scriptures that render the teachings of the Buddha, which were taken over from India and translated. Their copying and propagation — like the commissioning of Buddhist images — is considered a meritorious practice. When such deeds are performed by an emperor, the resulting works are inevitably of the highest standard in terms of the materials used and the artists and craftsmen employed.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Xuande Emperor (1426-1435) commissioned an esteemed monk Huijin to supervise the copying project of the four major Buddhist Sutras. These two sets of albums from the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Sutra of Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom, were made during that time. These albums, executed in liquid gold on indigo-coloured goat-brain ritual paper, reflect the breathtaking level of imperially sponsored artefacts in the first decades of the 15th century.

The bidding started at HK$65m and soon jumped to HK$100m. The competitors were mostly telephone bidders, many of who withdrew from the contest after the price rose to HK$170m, a bid offered by the telephone bidder represented by Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia.

Suddenly, a gentleman sitting at the back of the saleroom joined the bidding battle which was later turned into a duel between the telephone bidder and the gentleman. The Imperial Wisdom Sutras was hammered down for HK$210m and sold for HK$238.8m with premium included, setting a new auction record for a Buddhist manuscript.

A Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl from the Kangxi period, the centrepiece of Sotheby’s spring sales, carried a high pre-sale estimate of over HK$200m.

As Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, explained in an interview with The Value, ‘Kangxi Fanlangcai was in an extremely limited production made in the Imperial workshop in Jingdezhen set up in 1690. Because the kilns were very small and the number of staff working in the enamelling workshop was limited. It was a small production. Falangcai only reached maturity towards the end of the Kangxi period so it was a short-lived production.’

This pink-ground bowl is only ever recorded with this design, with only two closely related examples known to have survived. The present bowl once belonged to the celebrated collector Henry M. Knight. It has not been seen on the market for over thirty years, being kept in the collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo.

There are only three pieces with such a colour ground. The present bowl, one in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, and one bowl that used to be owned by T.T. Tsui, the great Hong Kong collector.

Opened at HK$140m, the bidding was not as intense as expected. The auctioneer, Henry Howard-Sneyd, put the hammer down after receiving seven bids at HK$210m, slightly higher than the pre-sale estimate. The pink bowl sold for HK$238m with premium included to the client represented by Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia.


Two Sets of Leporello Albums of Illuminated Wisdom Sutra
Commissioned by Imperial Order and Supervised by Huijin, Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: The Lost Wisdom Sutra – A Treasure from the Golden Age of Xuande
Sale date: 2018/4/3

Lot no.: 101
Size: 40.5 x 14.5 cm (each album)

  • A Kyoto aristocratic collection, 1917.
  • Collection of Fujio Fujii, Tokyo, 1944-1955.
  • Collection of Colonel Thomas Phillips III, USA, since 1955.
  • An American family trust, acquired from the widow of the previous owner in early 1980s.
  • A Swiss private collection, c. 2005.

Estimate: HK$90,000,000
Hammer price: HK$210,000,000
Price realized: HK$238,807,500

A Superbly Enamelled, Fine and Exceedingly Rare Pink-ground Falangcai Bowl
Puce-enamel Yuzhi Mark and Period of Kangxi

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Imperial Alchemy The H.M. Knight Falangcai Bowl

Lot no.: 1
Size: 14.7cm

  • K.K. Chow, Shanghai, 1930/31.
  • Bluett & Sons, London, 1931.
  • Collection of Martin Erdmann, acquired in 1931.
  • Christie’s London, 17th November 1937, lot 73 (part lot).
  • Bluett & Sons, London.
  • Collection of Henry M. Knight (died 1971), The Hague, Holland, acquired in 1938.
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 20th May 1986, lot 123.
  • Collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.

Estimate upon request (It was expected to fetch in excess of HK$200m)
Hammer price: HK$210,000,000
Price realized: HK$238,807,500