Chinese Vase Found in Attic Fetches €16 Million, 32 Times Estimate

A single-lot sale was held yesterday at Sotheby’s Paris selling an Imperial 18th century Yangcai Crane and Deer Ruyi vase from the Qianlong period. The porcelain vase was sold for €16,182,800 (US$19m), 32 times its pre-sale estimate of €500,000 - 700,000, setting a new record for any Chinese porcelain sold at auction in France. What’s so special about this record-breaking vase? Maybe we can start with the interesting story of how it was found by its owner.

The vase was discovered by chance in the attic of a French family home and put inside an old green shoebox. It had been left to the great-grandparents of the present owners by an uncle and appeared among the listed contents of his Paris apartment after he passed away in 1947. The vase was wrapped with some wrinkled newspaper inside a shoebox and brought to the auction house for examination. When the specialist opened the box, he was immediately struck by its quality.

It is rare to have an Imperial Yangcai vase made in garlic-mouth shape and painted with Chinese paintings of deer, cranes, mountains and waters. There is only one other vase with similar paintings and design, which is now kept in the collection of Musée Guimet in Paris. So the present vase is the only known example in private hands.

‘Cranes and deer’ is a traditional Chinese pattern. ‘Deer’ in Chinese sounds like ‘six’ while ‘crane’ sounds like ‘union’. 'Six' represents 'the sky, the land, North, East, South and West', which means the entire world. The flowers and trees depict Spring. Combining the images together, the picture shows the revival and union of creatures and plants in Spring time. 

Liu Yiqian attended the auction

The auction started at 10.30 a.m. (local time) and the saleroom was already full of specialists, collectors, art dealers, journalists and visitors. Among them was a renowned Chinese collector Liu Yiqian, best known for buying a US$170m Modigliani painting and a HK$281m Ming Doucai chicken cup. Even Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, also showed up in the telephone area. Though she seldom appears in Paris saleroom, she came all the way to Paris for the unique vase. Rumour had it that the telephone bidder she represented was a tycoon in Mainland China.

Chairmen of Sotheby's Asia: Patti Wong (middle) and Nicolas Chow (right)

Presided over by auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd, the bidding started at €500,000. The price quickly rose to €1m, then €3m after the first two incremental jumps. The intense bidding further pushed the price up to €9m. Telephone bidders were all withdrawn from the bidding when the price reached €10m, leaving three gentlemen in the room to remain in the contest.

After an intense 20-minute bidding battle, the vase was hammered down at €14.2m, followed by a round of applause in the room. It was sold for €16.18m (premium included) to a Chinese room bidder in white shirt sitting in the front row.


A Magnificent Imperial ‘Yangcai Crane and Deer Ruyi Vase’
Qianlong Seal Mark and Period

Lot no.: 1
Height: 28cm
French Private Collection
Estimate: €500,000 - 700,000
Hammer price: €14,200,000
Price realised: €16,182,800

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby’s Paris
Sale: A Magnificent Imperial ‘Yangcai Crane and Deer Ruyi Vase’
Lot offered: 1
Auction: 2018/6/12|10:30am