Qianlong Falangcai Pouch-Shaped Glass Vase from Le Cong Tang Collection Sells for a Whopping HK$207m

A falangcai pouch-shaped glass vase from the Qianlong period that formerly belonged to Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau and Taiwanese collector Robert Tsao (owner of Le Cong Tang Collection) just fetched HK$207m (US$26.4m) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, the highest price realised in this autumn auction week in Hong Kong. It also set the auction record for Imperial glass. The vase has seen an eightfold increase in value after being kept in the private hands for 19 years.

The pouch-shaped glass vase was hammered down at HK$180m

Carrie Li, Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art

The glass vase was offered in a single-lot sale which was presided over by Henry Howard-Sneyd. The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$150m and received several bids from telephone bidders. He brought the hammer down at HK$180m (US$22.9m) and sold it to Carrie Li, Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art, who gained victory on behalf of her telephone bidder. The vase was sold for HK$207m (US$26.4m) after premium, meeting the pre-sale estimate of in excess of HK$200m.

Enamelled vessels in the Qianlong period were painted in Western styles with vibrant colours. Glass vessels were by far the most complex and demanding of all works of art commissioned at the Beijing Palace Workshops. The present one measures 18.2cm in height and is inscribed with a four-character seal mark of ‘Qianlong Nianzhi’ (made in the Qianlong period) on the body.

Nicolas Chow, Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia

Pouch shape and ribbon design are popular in vessels made during the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods. Pouch (包袱, baofu) in Chinese is a homophone of ‘a package of luck and fortune’ (包福, baofu). This auspicious theme was also favoured by the Qianlong emperor himself.

The mark is incorporated in the design in the bud here. And the idea of incorporating the mark in the design is something you will find on Yongzheng period enamel, particular enamels on copper or occasionally on snuff bottles or little vessels. You’ll find the mark incorporated in the foot. The design of the phoenix might refer to the empress. It might have been a gift for Emperor Qianlong's consort, the Qianlong Empress or the Emperor Dowager or maybe for his mother. That’s also possible.

Vase bouteille à décor de ruban noué. Collection of Guimet Museum

Trompe L’oeil Jar with Cover. Qianlong period, Qing dynasty. Collection of Taipei Palace Museum

Pouch-shaped vases can also be found in other mediums like porcelain and copper. The most famous porcelain pouch-shaped vase is in the Guimet Museum is a falangcai vase with a sash tied around the shoulder. There is a copper piece in the Palace Museum of Taipei which is a jar with a cover.

The pouch-shaped glass vase came from the legendary collection of Prince Gong. It later passed through the hands of A.W. Bahr and Paul and Helen Bernat. A.W. Bahr was born in Shanghai in 1877 to a German father and a Chinese mother. He founded the Central Trading Company in 1898 and began organizing various art exhibitions with pieces from his own collection. Before his death in 1959, Bahr donated pieces of his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Robert Tsao, owner of Le Cong Tang

The piece was acquired by Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau in 1988 at the Paul and Helen Bernat collection sale. It was sold again in 2000 where it was acquired by Robert Tsao for HK$24.24m at that time. Now the vase was sold for HK$207m, 8.5 times its previous price realised, perfectly demonstrating Tsao’s discerning eyes for quality pieces. Along with the glass vase, he also purchased at the Wucai fish jar, Jiajing period, from the same sale in 2000 for HK$44.04m, which was resold again for HK$213m (US$27.15m) in 2017 in Hong Kong.  

A Highly Important and Superbly Painted Beijing Enamel Falangcai Pouch-shaped Glass Vase, Blue Enamel Mark and Period of Qianlong | Le Cong Tang Collection

Lot no: 1
Height: 18.2cm
Provenance (consolidated by The Value):

  • Collection of Yixin, the first Prince Gong (1833-1898), by repute.
  • Collection of Abel W. Bahr (1877-1959), Shanghai.
  • Collection of Paul (1902-1987) and Helen Bernat, Brookline, Greater Boston, Mass.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 15th November 1988, lot 75. (Acquired by Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau)
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29th October 2000, lot 2. (Acquired by Robert Tsao, owner of Le Cong Tang, for HK$24.2m)

Estimate: in excess of HK$200,000,000
Hammer price: HK$180,000,000
Price realised: HK$207,086,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: An Enamelled Jewel The Le Cong Tang Collection
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Sale date: 8 October 2019
Lots offered: 1
Sold: 1
Sold by lot: 100%
Sale total: HK$207,086,000