Surprise! New Auction Record Unexpectedly Set by An ‘Ordinary’ Kangxi Famille-Verte Rouleau Vase

A seemingly ‘ordinary’ Chinese vase – a Famille-Verte Rouleau Vase from Kangxi Period with the story of ‘Investiture of the Gods’ painted on its body –  surprised many collectors and connoisseurs at Sotheby’s New York after it sold for a record-setting US$1.57m and became the most expensive Rouleau vase from Kangxi period.

The vase was hammered down at US$1.3m and sold for US$1.57m with premium.

Rouleau vase is also known as Banchuiping (means ‘wooden club’ vase) in Chinese. ‘Rouleau’ is termed by French scholars to describe the cylindrical body of this type of vases. Rouleau vase was one of the new shapes introduced in the Kangxi period, in a straight cylindrical shape and a straight narrow neck raising from an angular shoulder.

Wooden club was used for doing laundry in China

Rouleau vases generally feature narratives that unfold continuously around the whole piece. Painted on the present vase is a scene from Feng shen bang (Investiture of the Gods), which tells the story about the downfall of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC) crumbling under the tyrannical rule of a dissolute and depraved ruler and its conquest by the righteous King Wen of Zhou whose son, King Wu, established the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC).

The 74.2cm-tall Rouleau vase, in a size much bigger than other known examples of Rouleau vases, is meticulously painted with vivid imagery of an array of immortals, spirits and demons fighting alongside humans vying for supremacy. Besides, the vase is well-preserved in a perfect condition.

Though it is a fine example of Rouleau vase, for several reasons, connoisseurs and collectors did not expect it would sell for a record-breaking price. Compared to other shapes of vase, Rouleau vases do not fall into the categories of ‘top’ or ‘best’, despite its outstanding illustration of Kangxi porcelain. In regard to famille-verte from the Kangxi period, most excellent examples were made in folk kilns, not in the Imperial kilns, where the present vase was produced.

The above reasons may give us some clues why the present lot was only estimated at US$400,000 - 600,000. It came as a surprise to many collectors and connoisseurs after it sold for US$1.575m, a new auction record for Kangxi Rouleau vase. Could it be a market signal of collectors’ growing appetite for Kangxi ceramics? Maybe it will further boost Sotheby’s confidence in another piece of Kangxi work – Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl, also the leading lot at the coming spring sales in Hong Kong.

Kangxi Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl will be offered at Sotheby's Hong Kong


Top three lots

A Large and Important Famille-Verte 'Investiture of the Gods' Rouleau Vase
Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period

Lot no.: 322
Height: 74.2cm

  • Tonying & Company, New York.
  • St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, acc. no. 113.1916.
  • Christie's New York, 30th March 2005, lot 396. (US$352,000)

Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000
Price realized: US$1,575,000

A Large Doucai 'Immortals' Jardiniere
Kangxi Mark and Period

Lot no.: 367
Width: 51.1cm
Milan Private Collection.
Christie's London, 15th May 2007, lot 282. (£72,000)
Estimate: US$350,000 - 500,000
Price realized: US$399,000

An Extremely Rare Relief-Decorated Famille-Verte Vase
Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period

Lot no.: 329
Height: 38.3cm
Christie's London, 10th November 1983, lot 770.
D & M Freedman, London, 2000.
Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000
Price realized: US$262,500

Auction summary
Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Kangxi: The Jie Rui Tang Collection
Sale date: 2018/3/20
Lot no.: 91
Sold: 72
Unsold: 19
Sold by lot: 79%
Sale total: US$4,469,000