HK$40m Qianlong Yangcai ‘Lotus’ Vase from Fonthill House to Lead Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Auction

Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art auction will be held on 3 October, offering an assemblage of fine and rare porcelain and works of art. The cover lot of the sale is a Yangcai blue-ground ‘lotus’ vase, estimated at HK$40m-60m (US$1,910,850–2,547,800). It once belonged to the Alfred Morrison collection, Fonthill house.

Fonthill House is the collection of English collector Alfred Morrison, who was best known for his interest in Chinese works of art. Alfred Morrison acquired many fine pieces from Yuanming Yuan (also known as 'Old Summer Palace', a complex of palaces and gardens during the Qing dynasty). Therefore, ‘Fonthill house’ is almost like a synonym for top quality ceramic works.

The cover of the sale catalogue

The body of the vase is brightly enamelled against a rich blue ground, depicting four large pink lotus blooms, borne on stylised foliate strapwork issuing smaller blooms, buds, and lilies around the sides. The neck is further embellished with a musical chime (qing) above the lotuses, all between bands of pendent ruyi heads and overlapping lappets. Specialists believe the technique and palate for the present vase may be of Western origin.

The use of the colour blue combined with the painting of the lotus scrollwork as the primary decoration, along with the employment of ruyi-shaped handles and the wan symbol attached by red ribbons all convey an auspicious message. The ‘hidden’ meaning in the decoration celebrates the emperor’s appreciation of qualities of purity and integrity known in Chinese as qinglian, which is a homophone for ‘blue lotus’.

The celadon-glazed ‘ribbon’ vase from the Yongzheng period, the period preceding the Qianlong period, perfectly exemplifies the beauty of simplicity and minimalism. Estimated at HK$15m-20m, this Yongzheng vase It encapsulates the Yongzheng Emperor’s refined taste for celebrated wares of the past with Japanese influences. It reflects the Yongzheng Emperor’s penchant for Song dynasty wares and the remarkable technical developments achieved at the imperial kiln to meet his specific taste.

The ribbon-tied decoration on this vase was favoured by the Emperor and incorporated into designs of lacquer, metal-bodied wares and porcelain during his reign.

Jade is another material that favoured by emperors. In 1766, the Qianlong Emperor composed a poem titled Ode to the Khotan White Jade Bowl, in which he quoted a classic reference ‘Flaws do not obscure its beauty, nor does beauty obscure its flaws’ to express his deep admiration for a white jade bowl from Khotan.

Khotan jade became available to the court after the Qing military forces conquered the eastern edge of Central Asia in 1759, defeating the Dzungar Khanate and incorporating its territory into the empire under the name of Xinjiang, meaning ‘new borders’. From the following year, a large amount of high-quality raw jade from the Khotan and Yarkent regions became available and were sent as tribute items to the Imperial court in Beijing.

The present bowl, made from the highest quality Khotan white jade, is skilfully carved with rounded sides and applied with four openwork butterfly loop handles with rings. The handle is decorated with butterflies, a symbol of blessings, happiness and longevity in China.

The Imperial white jade and cloisonné enamel ram-head teapot and cover, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, was sold for HK$75.4m last year

The stepped lobed knop on present bowl (left) and the Sotheby’s teapot (right)

This vessel is possibly by the same hand that produced the white jade and cloisonné enamel ram-head teapot and cover that sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last October. The teapot was sold for HK$75.4m, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of HK$15m. The shape of the stepped lobed knop on the present bowl is also reminiscent of that teapot. The present bowl is estimated HK$12m-18m. We will see if this bowl will also achieve a high price like the teapot. Please stay tuned.


Top three lots of Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Sale

A Magnificent and Extremely Rare Large Yangcai Blue-ground 'Lotus' Vase With Ruyi Handles
Iron-red Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Lot no.: 3611
Height: 36.7cm

  • Collection of Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900).
  • Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire (no. 525).
  • The Rt. Hon The Lord of Margadale of Islay, T.D.
  • Christie's London, 9th November 2004, lot 57.

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 - 60,000,000

An Outstanding and Extremely Rare Carved Celadon-glazed 'Ribbon' Vase
Seal Mark and Period of Yongzheng

Lot no.: 3604
Height: 22.4cm

  • Sotheby's London, 18th June 1985, lot 178.
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 8th October 1990, lot 471.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29th October 2000, lot 13.

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 - 20,000,000

An Exceptional White Jade Bowl and Cover
Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period

Lot no.: 3603

  • Collection of Millicent Rogers (1902-1953).
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 28th April 1996, lot 1.

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000

Other highlights

An Outstanding Huanghuali Couch-bed, Luohan Chuang
Late Ming Dynasty, 16th – 17th Century

Lot no.: 3621
Size: 78.5 x 199 x 95.3cm
Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

An Extremely Rare Large Imperial Gilt-bronze Figure of Amitayus
Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period

Lot no.: 3626
Height: 53.7cm
Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

A Pair of Huanghuali High Yokeback Armchairs
Late Ming Dynasty, Late 16th – Early 17th Century

Lot no.: 3622
Size: 121.3 x 60.4 x 45.3cm

  • Collection of Mr and Mrs Robert P. Piccus.
  • Christie's New York, 18th September 1997, lot 40 (one of the pair).
  • Grace Wu Bruce, Hong Kong.

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

A Fine Large Blue and White Ming-style Vase, Hu
Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Lot no.: 3612
Height: 49cm

  • Sotheby's London, 14th May 2008, lot 683.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th October 2013, lot 3037.

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

An Extremely Rare Silver Alloy Figure of Kalachakra and Vishvamata
Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period

Lot no.: 3625
Height: 18cm
Estimate: HK$9,000,000 - 12,000,000

An Exceptionally Fine and Rare Famille-rose 'flower-balls' Bowl
Mark and Period of Yongzheng

Lot no.: 3606
Diameter: 15.4cm

  • The estate of Gordon Cummings.
  • Christie's New York, 10th December 1987, lot 275.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 13th November 1990, lot 299.
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 31st October 2000, lot 912.

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 12,000,000

A Rare and Superb Large Tianhuang Archaistic Pendant
Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period

Lot no.: 3629
Diameter: 8.7cm
Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 10,000,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Lots offered: 99
Venue: Hall 1, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (New Wing), 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong
28 September 2018|10am - 5:30pm
29 - 30 September 2018|10am - 8pm
1-2 October 2018|10am - 6:30pm
Auction date: 3 October 2018|3pm