Three 18th-century Imperial Chinese vases worth US$1.2m to head New York sale

During the 18th century, Chinese Emperors were advocates of Chinese art and culture. In this season’s Asia Week New York, the highlights that will feature at Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art Sale are masterpieces produced by the imperial workshops.

A white jade ‘dragon’ vase from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) heads the sale and is estimated between US$800,000 and 1.2 million dollars. Alongside this oeuvre, a gilt-decorated famille-rose turquoise ground vase from the Qianlong period, and a vase from the Yongzheng period (1722-1735) are also offered. Collectively, the trio of works are expected to fetch between US$1.2 and 1.8 million dollars. 

Lot 283 | White Jade 'Dragon' Vase

Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 18.1 cm

  • Private Collection, acquired by 1925
  • Christie's London, 14th May 2012, Lot 80 (Sold: £505,250)
  • Property from the Morgan Foundation Collection

Estimate: US$800,000 – 1,200,000

In 2012, the white jade bottle was offered at Christie's London. Estimated between £60,000 and 80,000 pounds, it garnered £505,250 pounds (around US$800,000 dollars at the time). During this year's auction, this oeuvre is valued from US$800,000 to 1.2 million dollars – the low estimate is identical to its price 10 years ago.

Exquisitely carved, the present vase is a testament to the technical perfection achieved by the imperial workshops during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. The five-clawed dragons carved on each side, amidst scrolling clouds and enclosed within central medallions, are juxtaposed with the vase’s refined and simple form, subtly alluding to the Qianlong Emperor's imperial authority.

Similar examples are found at the National Palace Museum, Taipei (left) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (right)

During the Qianlong period, the production of imperial jade carvings in China soared to new heights. Through successful territorial expansion, political stability and strong economic growth, the Empire acquired an unprecedented amount of wealth, and the imperial workshops recruited the best artisans to cater to the increasing demands of the Emperor and the court.

In 1759, the Qing Empire's victory over the Dzungar and Muslim rebellions marked a pivotal point in the production of jade carvings. The victories allowed access to the jade-rich territories in Khotan and Yarkant, where the geological setting was favourable for the formation of high-quality nephrite. Khotan jade, renowned for its translucency and hardiness, was highly prized. The Emperor’s passion for jade and the court’s access to unprecedented quantities of the raw material ushered in a new age of jade carving, pushing the craftsmen’s technical and creative capacities to new heights.

There are two similar examples at the National Palace Museum, Taipei and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lot 213 | Gilt Decorated Famille Rose Turquoise Ground Vase

Seal mark and of the Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 26.7 cm

  • Christie's New York, 3rd June 1988, Lot 304

Estimate: US$250,000 – 350,000

Meticulously painted with mirroring chilongs (Chinese mythical dragons) at its neck amidst a turquoise-blue ground, the present vase demonstrates the playful emulations that were the result of technical mastery and experimentation at the imperial workshops during the Qianlong period (1736-1795). The vase belongs to a group of vessels commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor in imitation of cloisonne enamel.

He was fond of cloisonne enamel work, which he revived on a grand scale after a period of disregard under the Yongzheng Emperor (1722-1735). Cloisonne-imitation works were commissioned in both enamelled porcelain – such as the present vase, and copper, where the wires separating the cloisons of different colours were complemented by finely painted golden lines.

Although the idea of imitating other materials through porcelain existed before the 18th century, Qianlong period craftsmen advanced the technique to a new level – sometimes creating trompe l'oeil works virtually indistinguishable from the actual medium they were simulating.

Lot 209 | Guan Type Handled Hu Form Vase

Seal mark and of the Yongzheng period (1722-1735)
Height: 28.4 cm

  • Japanese Private Collection, acquired in the early 20th century, and thence by descent

Estimate: US$200,000 – 300,000

This exquisitely glazed vase is an example of Yongzheng monochrome porcelain. An archetype of the technical and artistic perfection achieved at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, its sophisticated shape and pale celadon glaze are deeply rooted in the ceramic tradition of the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) – encapsulating the Emperor’s taste for these early wares and his insistence on quality.

During the early 18th century, the production of monochrome glazes vastly expanded and celadon glazes were made in many variations. In 1735, recorded by the supervisor of the imperial factory, Tang Ying (1682-1756), several different celadon types were included in the list of porcelains produced by the imperial kilns.

Tang Ying thoroughly studied the Song dynasty's finest ceramics to understand their workmanship, forms and designs, who then applied this knowledge to the ceramic production at the kilns. Exemplified in the present vase, the fine potting, lightness, gentle and elegant form all contribute to a refined subtlety and harmony that finds its origins in the aesthetic ideals of the Song dynasty.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 297 | Carved White Jade 'Butterfly' Tripod Censer and Cover 

Created during the late Qing dynasty 
Length: 21.6 cm 

  • American Private Collection
  • Christie's New York, 21st March 2013, Lot 1361 (Sold: US$315,750)
  • Property of the Morgan Foundation Collection 

Estimate: US$200,000 300,000 

Lot 303 | Zitan and Jichimu Display Cabinet

Created during the 17th / 18th century
179.1 x 114.3 x 47.6 cm

  • Grace Wu Bruce Ltd., Hong Kong, late 1980s
  • Property from a New York Private Collection

Estimate: US$150,000 – 250,000

Lot 205 | ‘Clair-de-lune’ Glazed Hundred Rib Jar

Created during the Kangxi period (1661-1722)
Width: 26 cm

  • Offered at Sotheby's New York, 6th December 1989, Lot 192
  • Michael B. Weisbrod, Inc., New York, 1990

Estimate: US$150,000 – 250,000

Lot 261 | Gilt Silver Filigree 'Phoenix' Crown

Created during the Liao dynasty (916-1125 CE)
Height: 30.4 cm

  • Gisele Croes, Brussels, 2005
  • Property from the Collection of Abolala Soudavar

Estimate: US$150,000 – 200,000

Lot 202 | Blue and White 'Dragon' Vase

Seal mark and of the Zhengde period (1505-1521)
Diameter: 24.2 cm

  • Christie's London, 6th June 1994, Lot 117
  • Property from the Collection of Albert Y.P. and Sara K.S. Lee

Estimate: US$100,000 – 150,000

Lot 266 | Gilt Lacquered Wood Figure of Guanyin

Created during Song (960-1279) / Jin dynasty (1115-1234)
Height: 67.7 cm

  • J.C. Moreau-Gobard, Paris
  • C.T. Loo & Cie., Paris, 26th June 1964
  • Collection of J.J. Klejman (1906-1995), and thence by descent

Estimate: US$100,000 – 150,000

Lot 279 | Inscribed Pale Celadon Jade 'Luohan' Boulder 

Seal mark and of the Qianlong period (1736-1795), dated dingchou year corresponding to 1757 
Height: 21 cm 

  • Sotheby's New York, 19th-20th October 1988, Lot 259
  • Property from an American Private Collection

Estimate: US$60,000 – 80,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Date and Time: 21 September 2022 │ 9am (New York local time)
Number of lots: 219