Chinese pottery brush rest formerly from Sir Percival David’s Collection sold at US$1 million

Sotheby’s delivered favourable results on 3 November, during this season’s Asian Art Week in London.

The Important Chinese Art Sale was led by 87 lots, and were once owned by famous art collectors  Marcus Ezekiel and his son. These series of lots consisted mostly of ceramics, Imperial porcelains and works of art.

This sale total reached £8.4 million pounds (around US$11.5 million dollars), with 187 out of 236 lots sold. Many lots were hammered at multiple times of their estimates.

The sale’s most expensive lot was a pottery brush rest originating from 17th to 18th century China. The hammer was dropped at £600,000 pounds – 60 times more than its low estimate of £10,000 pounds. It was sold at £741,000 pounds (around US$1 million dollars), with buyer’s premium.  

Lot 35 | Yixing Brush Rest

Period of Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1661-1722)
Length: 11.5 cm

  • Collection of Sir Percival David (1892-1964)
  • Sotheby's London, 30th June 1964, Lot 62
  • Collection of Victor Ezekiel (1905-1976)

Estimate: £10,000 – 15,000

Hammer Price: £600,000

Sold: £741,000 (around US$1 million)

This brush rest, made out of Yixing pottery, dates to circa 17th and 18th century China. 

There are two main reasons for its high price.

Firstly, this brush rest was part of Sir Percival David’s (1892-1964) Collection. Regarding the provenance of antique collections, it is difficult to have a more prominent name than him. The British scholar and collector's Chinese porcelain is unrivalled, and most of them are currently on display in the British Museum’s Sir Percival David Collection.

Among the 1,700 pieces, a pair of 14th century blue and white porcelain, The David Vases, were named after him and are one of the most famous Asian porcelain pieces in the world.

Sir Percival David (right) 

The David Vases were named after Sir Percival David

The second reason is the identity of the creator.

Gnarled prunus branch sprouting small blossoms was a speciality of one of the most famous Yixing potters, Chen Mingyuan. He was active during most of the Kangxi period (reigned 1661-1722). According to a Sotheby's expert, Chen Mingyuan possibly used many artist's names an impressed seal mark reading Chen Ciwei is found at the base. 

Given the outstanding artistry of the present piece, the fact that it is accompanied by a high-quality zitan (red sandalwood) stand, and particularly its similarity to brush rests is possibly attributable to Chen Mingyuan.

Marcus Ezekiel was the Former Director of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC)

Ezekiel Family Collection

Most of the antiques from the Ezekiel Family Collection far exceeded expectations. In addition to the brush rest mentioned above, a series of 17th to 18th century monochrome porcelainwares also attracted competition during the auction.

Marcus Ezekiel and his son, Victor Ezekiel, were two famous collectors in Chinese art during the first part of the 20th century. They were also early members of the Oriental Ceramic Society.

Marcus (1854-1927) was born in Mumbai, and later went to work in Shanghai, where he worked at a trading company called E. D. Sassoon & Co. Ltd. Marcus later became a Director of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), where he represented E.D. Sassoon & Co. Ltd.

Lot 8 | Small Celadon-Glazed Jar and Cover

Seal mark and period of Yongzheng Emperor (reigned 1722-1735)
Width: 7.6 cm

  • Yamanaka & Co., London, 25th June 1919 (£30)
  • Collection of Marcus Ezekiel (1854-1927)

Estimate: £100,000 – 150,000

Hammer Price: £340,000

Sold: £426,400 (around US$582,000)

Lot 7 | Small Turquoise-Enamelled Bowl

Mark and period of Yongzheng Emperor (1722-1735)
Diameter: 6.2 cm

  • Presumably Yamanaka & Co., London, 31st October 1912
  • Collection of Marcus Ezekiel (1854-1927)

Estimate: £30,000 – 50,000

Hammer Price: £195,000

Sold: £245,700 (around US$335,000)

Lot 6 | Incised Yellow-Glazed ‘Dragon’ Handled Cup

Mark and period of Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722)
Width: 7.5 cm

  • Presumably Yamanaka & Co., London, 6th March 1914
  • Collection of Marcus Ezekiel (1854-1927)

Estimate: £20,000 – 30,000

Hammer Price: £175,000

Sold: £220,500 (around US$301,000)

Lot 1 | Yellow-Glazed Handled Cup

Mark and period of Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662-1722)
Width: 7 cm

  • Presumably Yamanaka & Co., London, 7th December 1912
  • Collection of Marcus Ezekiel (1854-1927)

Estimate: £4,000 – 6,000

Hammer Price: £90,000

Sold: £113,400 (around US$154,000)

Lot 151 | Large Celadon-Ground Famille-Rose Vase, Tianqiuping

Seal mark and period of Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796)
Height: 51 cm

  • Acquired in England in the 1950s
  • Thence by descent in the family

Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000

Hammer Price: £240,000

Sold: £302,400 (around US$413,000)

This lot was followed attentively by collectors.

In 2020, this famille rose vase was sold at £462,000 pounds (around US$629,000 dollars). It set an auction record of London auction house Chiswick’s Asian Art Department. This time, it appeared at Sotheby’s – the hammer was dropped at £240,000 pounds. It was sold 65 per cent cheaper than in 2020 – at £302,400 pounds (around US$413,000 dollars) with buyer’s premium.

According to photos provided by the Chiswick auction last year, the vase’s mouth and bottom sections are very damaged. If this vase’s condition was perfect, its worth would be much higher. 

Photos from Chiswick auction in 2020

Photos from Chiswick auction in 2020

Photos from Chiswick auction in 2020

The term tianqiuping, sometimes translated as 'celestial sphere vase', derives from the vase's form, which is characterised by a generously proportioned round body surmounted by a tall cylindrical neck. During the Qianlong period (1736-96), when tianqiuping gained prominence, these vessels were produced in varying sizes.

Western designs, such as stylised and symmetrically arranged scrollwork, were brought to the Qing court (1644-1911) by European craftsmen during 17th and 18th century China. Stylistically, the decoration of the present vase, which elegantly combines European decorative elements with Chinese auspicious motifs such as ruyi-heads and stylised lotus, is representative of the early Qianlong period (circa mid-18th century).

Auction Summary: 

Auction House: Sotheby’s London

Sale: Important Chinese Art

Date: 3 November 2021

Number of lots: 236

Sold: 187

Unsold: 49

Sale Rate: 79.2%

Sale Total: £8,477,284 (around US$11.5 million)