Nicolas Chow Introduces HK$200m Qianlong Falangcai Bowl

Sotheby’s coming Chinese Works of Art sales will be led by an exquisite bowl from the Qing dynasty, which is expected to fetch HK$200m (US$25.6m). What’s so special about this Qianlong falangcai poppy bowl that makes it the blockbuster lot of the sale? What’s the meaning of the poem inscribed on the bowl. We have invited Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, to introduce this piece of work.

An Extremely Fine and Magnificent Imperial Falangcai 'Poppy' Bowl
Blue-Enamel Mark and Period of Qianlong

Diameter: 11.8cm

  • A French collection since the early 20th century, by repute.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 26th October 2003, lot 21.

Estimate upon request

Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia

Q: How did Sotheby’s get this bowl?

Nicolas: I’ve offered this once before, back in 2003, on our 30th anniversary of Sotheby’s Hong Kong. It was discovered by our then chairman, Julian Thompson, the great porcelain expert. He discovered it in France.

Julian Thompson, former Chairman of Sotheby's Asia

Nicolas: It’s remained in the same private collection for 15 years. And it’s a great occasion for us to be able to present it again.

Kangxi Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl was sold for HK$238m (US$30.4m) at Sotheby's Hong Kong last season 

Q: What’s the difference between this one and the Kangxi falangcai bowl offered by Sotheby’s last season?

Nicolas: Kangxi Falangcai is the earliest type of Falangcai. And the bowl that we saw last time is one of the two, three finest examples of Kangxi Falangcai ever to have been made. Qianlong Falangcai is very different, and connoisseurs refer it to as 'Guyexuan'.

Nicolas: They both have a design with a matching poem. This is an exclusive type made and enamelled at the court under the supervision of Jesuit painters. It was painted possibly by court painters, rather than porcelain decorators that you would possibly find working at Jingdezhen.

Q: What is the meaning of the poem or flowers on it?

Nicolas: With those incredibly translucent petals, it refers actually to Yumeiren, the word ‘poppy’ in Chinese. It refers to an old story of Sima Qian, the historian. And this poem is about Lady Yu and these poppies first grew on her place of burial. So that’s the story recounted on this bowl.

Q: Are there any similar examples?

Nicolas: This design in Guyexuan is extremely rare. We can only find it on two dishes in the Taipei Palace Museum. They date to the Yongzheng period. They pre-date this bowl so this bowl would have been made or maybe enamelled by the same painters. That’s a possibility because between the reigns, there is no rupture in the palace workshops. The same people continued working there. And I would expect this bowl to have been produced quite early on in Emperor Qianlong’s reign.

Q: Was the poem chosen by the Qianlong Emperor?

Nicolas: We do not have a record as to who chose the poem. But obviously the palace workshops produce objects that particularly pleased the Emperor. Emperor Qianlong was involved in all aspects with what was produced for him. So there’s a high chance that he would have chosen the poem and the design himself.

Q: What about the estimate?

Nicolas: We expect the piece to fetch an excess of HK$200m. I think it’s a perfectly fair price to ask. One that should elicit some competition.

Besides the Qianlong Falangcai Poppy Bowl, Nicolas Chow is going to introduce a rare guan lobed brush washer from Southern Song dynasty. Don’t miss out on our next interview with him.

Auction house: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Sale: The Falangcai Poppy Bowl
Location: 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|11am