Qianlong Reticulated Vase Hammered Down at HK$130m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sotheby’s wrapped up the autumn auction season with a series of Chinese works of art sales. The first sale which took place this morning was a stand-alone sale of the long-awaited Yamanaka reticulated vase from the Qianlong period. This vase was hammered down for HK$130m (US$16.58m) after a prolonged bidding battle that lasted for 15 minutes, becoming the first piece of Chinese art crossing the HK$100m mark this autumn auction.

The Qianlong reticulated vase was hammered down at HK$130m (US$16.58m)

The Qianlong reticulated vase is the first piece of Chinese art crossing the HK$100m mark this autumn auction season

The present vase (left) and the vase from the 2010 sale (right)

In 2010, another Qianlong Yangcai ‘Jiqingyouyu’ reticulated vase made debut at Bainbridge auction in the UK. It caused a huge sensation among art dealers and collectors after it was hammered down at £43m (£53.1m after premium), becoming the most expensive ceramic ever sold.

However, the buyer didn’t pay for the vase. The vase was later sold through a private deal for an amount reported to be up to £25m (about HK$300m at the time). It became a famous vase in the auction world. About two months ago, The Value learned that Sotheby’s had secured a brother vase of the famous vase hammered at £43m in 2010. Sotheby’s estimated the present vase at a conservative price of HK$50m.

The sale was presided over by Henry Howard-Sneyd

The saleroom was already full of people before it started at 10am this morning

Carrie Li, Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art

The sale was presided over by Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s lead auctioneer globally in Asian Art. Before the sale began at 10am, most of the seats in the saleroom were already taken and some people had to stand at the back of the room.

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$40m and the price rose steadily up to HK$50m after five bid increments. Yet, it was only the beginning of a bidding war. The telephone bidder represented by Carrie Li, Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art, stepped up the game and offered a bid increment of HK$30m, which pushed the price up to HK$80m in a blink of an eye. Whereas another telephone bidder was represented by Carmen Li, Business Manager.

Carmen Li, Business Manager

These two telephone bidders were the main contestants in the battle. However, a room bidder later joined in the bidding and offered the bid at HK$100m.

After a total of 17 bids, the auctioneer brought the hammer down at HK$130m, a winning bid from Carmen Li’s client. The vase was sold for HK$149m (premium included) and became the first piece of Chinese Art that sold for more than HK$100m this autumn season. It is also the second artwork that reached the HK$100m during the auction period, after Zao Wou-ki’s largest painting was sold for HK$510m on 30 September.

The 40.8cm-tall vase is painted in yellow-ground yangcai on the neck and foot, and decorated with ruyi, fish, and floral patterns. The word ‘ji’, meaning ‘luck’, is placed at the centre of the neck. Qing, a standing bell, is a homophone of ‘celebration’.

The lower section of the body is modelled with a celadon-reticulated wall of kui dragons and archaistic phoenix emphasised with gilt borders, framing four evenly spaced gilt-rimmed medallions carved in relief with dynamic scenes of different fishes.

Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia

The vase was included in the 1905 Yamanaka Exhibition in New York and was later acquired by a private Japanese collector in 1924. It has since then been kept in the collection for almost a century. This vase is nearly identical to the one sold in 2010 except for a few differences. For example, the vase from Sotheby’s has a border in turquoise ground around the shoulder whereas the 2010 one has a border in gold ground.

We asked about the reason for the differences between the two vases during our interview with Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. He explained, “In 1743, Tang Ying presented to Emperor Qianlong nine vases of this complex, reticulated pieces. According to the court record, the Emperor replied, ‘For those that come in single one, please make one to match them.’ This piece was likely a pair to its counterpart sold in 2010 but was made at a different time, so that explains the slight differences in the mark.”


A Highly Important and Exquisitely Enamelled Yangcai Reticulated ‘Fish’ Vase
Blue-enamel Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Lot no.: 3001
Height: 40.8cm

  • Yamanaka & Company, Osaka, Kyoto, New York and Boston, 1905.
  • The American Art Association, New York, 1905.
  • Acquired from Yamanaka by a Japanese private collector, 1924, thence by descent.

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 70,000,000
Hammer price: HK$130,000,000
Price realised: HK$149,091,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: The Yamanaka Reticulated Vase
Lot offered: 1
Sale date: 3 October 2018