Nicolas Chow on HK$80m Southern Song Guan Lobed Brush Washer

‘Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding, Jun’ are the Five Great Kilns which produced Chinese ceramics during the Song dynasty (960-1279). Ru is considered the top among these five kilns while Guan follows closely. Song ceramic is best known for its simply, minimal yet sophisticated design. In the coming autumn sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, there will be a sale dedicated to Song ceramics, led by a rare Guan lobed brush washer from Southern Song dynasty. We have invited Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, to introduce this rare Guan ware, estimated at HK$80m (US$10.2m).

An Exceptional and Extremely Rare Heirloom Guan Lobed Brush Washer Southern Song Dynasty

Lot no.: 3105
Diameter: 14cm

  • Collection of Edward T. Chow (1910-1980).
  • Sotheby's London, 16th December 1980, lot 295.
  • Collection of T.Y. Chao (1912-1999).
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 18th November 1986, lot 29.

Estimate: HK$80,000,000

Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia

Q: What’s so special about this Guan ware?

Nicolas: The present Guan washer here belongs to the earliest type of Guan. The glaze has a watery bluish-green colour. The crackle has not been stained, unlike quite a lot of later Guans. It looks very close to what you expect Ru to look like. In that sense, it’s probably the earliest type of Guan produced at the Southern Song Court.

Nicolas: There is a possibility that it was made by the potters who made Ru. It is because when the Northern Song court fled south to Hangzhou, they took with them all their staff, all their craftsmen. That may have included potters as well.

Q: Were Guan wares made exclusively for the court?

Nicolas: Guan ware was exclusively used by the Southern Song court and was produced at the time when the Southern Song court was desperate to assert its legitimacy. They had been beaten down south by the Jin barbarians so it was very important for the court to establish its legitimacy. And part of establishing its legitimacy was surrounding themselves with the same props that they had in the north.

Guan lobed brush washer, Southern Song dynasty|Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Q: How rare is this washer?

Nicolas: There had been a few, maybe two or three other ones. They are in different sizes, from small to a bit larger. But this one, in terms of look, is very different. There’s only one other washer of this exact mallow shape. It is now in the Palace Museum Taipei.

Nicolas: And you can see on the base that it’s fired on spurs, something you typically expect of Ru and Guan.

Edward T. Chow was a legendary collector in Chinese art

Hong Kong tycoon T.Y. Chao (left)

Nicolas: This is very delicately pottered. It’d be quite difficult to make. But at the time, there were quite a few made. Very few have survived till this day. And this one has an exceptional provenance. It has been passed through the hands of Edward T. Chow and T.Y. Chao. It was sold last time in 1986 and it has been preserved in the same collection ever since.

Ru Ware Brush Washer from Northern Song dynasty was sold for HK$294m last year

Nicolas: The estimate we have for this piece is HK$80m. Guan is only second to Ru and the best Ru these days fetches about HK$300m. At HK$80m, I think there’s a bit of room there.

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Arcadian Beauty – Exceptional Works from the Song Dynasty
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