Top 3 Lots at Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Failed to Sell

London Sale Week continued with Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Sale. The auction results were satisfactory, with a 66 percent sold by lot and a sale total of £5.5m. Although the top 3 lots were not sold, a few ‘dark horses’, including a rare ‘Yaozhou’ vase from the Jin Dynasty and an imperial ‘Famille Rose’ vase from the Qianlong period, took over the top two places in the sale.

The fine and rare ‘Yaozhou’ pear-shaped vase from the Jin Dynasty has a pre-sale estimate of £60,000 - 80,000. Yaozhou glazes of this type provide a striking contrast with its vibrantly carved and olive-green glazed counterparts for which the wares are typically known.

Among the large-scale production of the main Yaozhou kilns, upright shapes of any kind are very rare. It was part of the Muwen Tang Collection and was auctioned at Sotheby’s London in 2003. It had also been in the Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong. The kiln’s provenance was part of the reason why bidders were so keen on acquiring it.

The auctioneer opened the bid at £50,000 and instantly aroused fierce competition between the bidders. The bidding only became less intense when the price reached £400,000. Now it was a battle between the Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, Nicolas Chow, and a gentleman in the room. Every time Chow made a bid, the gentlemen would follow, rising the bid by £5,000 each time.  

Nicolas Chow, the Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia

The battle did not stop until it reached £605,000. Chow made an offer of £620,000 and the gentleman again rose the bid by £5,000. Without hesitation, Chow made a bid of £650,000, forcing his competitor to give in. The vase was sold for £790,000 including buyer’s premium and became the top lot of the sale.

Ranking in the second place is an imperial “Famille Rose’ ‘Eighteen Luohan’ vase from the Qianlong period, Qing Dynasty. The vase is exceptionally rare because of the delicately painted scene of the eighteen luohan engaged in various activities in an idealised landscape. It also shows the brushwork of the artisans and their ability to conceive the finished overall product even before beginning to throw the vessel on the wheel.

Unfortunately, the vase has a hole at the bottom, together with traces of being restored around its mouth, thus it only carries an estimate of £100,000 - 200,000. Despite its imperfections, the bidding was extremely intense. Starting at £75,000, it was hammered down at £540,000, sold for £650,000 with premium to a gentleman at the back of the auction room.

Looking back, Westerners used to collect Chinese ceramics without knowing their values because they cared mostly about their beautiful designs. They would break the bottoms of those that were shaped like jars and bottles and connect them to light bulbs to decorate their homes. We are not certain as to why this vase’s bottom was broken, but according to experts from The Value, this vase could fetch £8m if it was perfect.

The third top lot was Lin Fengmian’s (1900-1991) ‘Lady With A Mirror’ which has an estimate of £150,000 - 200,000. Lin’s series of ‘Lady’ paintings have elements of classical Western art, Impressionism and Fauvism, fusing Chinese Tang dynasty art with essence of Western masters. This painting was hammered down at £260,000 (£320,000 with premium) for a telephone bidder.

The auction results were satisfactory despite the top three lots failing to sell, which was a shock to many. The cover lot, a Qianlong blue and white ‘lotus’ moonflask with an estimate of £1m - 5m was unsold. The bidding started at £620,000 but the atmosphere was very quiet. Finally, the flask was bought in at £820,000, below the low estimate of £1m. 


Top 3 Lots

A Fine and Rare ‘Yaozhou’ Pear-Shaped Vase Jin Dynasty

Lot no.: 70
Height: 28.8cm
Muwen Tang Collection.
Sotheby's London, 12th November, 2003, lot 40.
Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong.
Estimate: £60,000 - 80,000
Hammer price: £650,000
Price realised: £789,000

An Imperial ‘Famille Rose’ ‘Eighteen Luohan’ Vase Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period

Lot no.: 17
Height: 37.2cm
Estimate: £100,000 - 200,000
Hammer Price: £540,000
Price realised: £657,000

Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) ‘Lady With A Mirror’

Lot no.: 46
Size: 65 x 65.8cm
Signed: Lin Fengmian
Purchased directly from the artist in the early 1960s.
Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000
Hammer price: £260,000
Price realised: £321,000

Bought-In Top Lots

A Large, Magnificent and Rare Blue and White ‘Lotus’ Moonflask Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 10
Height: 48.3cm
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 26th October 2003, lot 135. (HK$3,198,400)
Estimate: £1,000,000 - 1,500,000
Bought In


A Fine and Rare Carved ‘Ding’ ‘Lotus’ Bowl Northern Song Dynasty

Lot no.: 60
Diameter: 21.8cm
Estimate: £260,000 - 300,000
Bought In

A Rare Purple-Splashed ‘Junyao’ Bubble Bowl Song/Jin Dynasty

Lot no.: 65
Diameter: 8.5cm
Estimate: £150,000 - 200,000
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 14th November 1989, lot 8.
Sotheby’s London, 12th November 2003, lot 133.
Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong.
Bought In

Auction Summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Lots offered: 151
Sold: 100
Unsold: 51
Sold by lot: 66%
Sale total: £5,573,250
Sale Date: 2018/5/16