The Review with William Chak |Turquoise-ground Cloisonne-imitation Vase

 “I don’t have to say much about it. The vase is a royal and spectacular piece of art,” said William Chak, master of Chak’s and distinguished art dealer. Alongside with the Ru ware that we introduced before, Sotheby’s Hong Kong offers a series of fine works for its fall sales. One of the highlights is a sumptuous turquoise-ground ‘Bajixiang’ cloisonne-imitation vase inscribed with seal marks of Qianlong period. The Emperor Qianlong was particularly fond of this type of famille-rose vase. Fascinated by this vase, Mr Chak exclaimed, “Wow, really amazing.”


A Fine and Rare Large Turquoise-ground ‘Bajixiang’ Cloisonne-imitation Vase. Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Auction date: 2017/10/3

Height: 55 cm

  • Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire, probably acquired in 1861 from Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900).
  • Collection of the Rt. Hon Lord Margadale of Islay, T.D.
  • Christie's London, 18th October 1971, lot 82.
  • Jen Chai Art Gallery, New York, no. A532 (one of the gallery labels of J.T. Tai & Co.).
  • Collection of J.T. Tai.
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2010, lot 2132.

Estimate: 35,000,000 — 45,000,000

W: It is a classic famille-rose large vase from the early Qianlong reign. It is very rare and important. This is no ordinary turquoise famille-rose vase. It is a cloisonné-imitation enamelled vase. Famille rose ranges from white, green, turquoise to red, which were the Qianlong Emperor’s favourites. The Palace Museum and the art market put this vase in the Fangcai category. It was not classified as Yangcai (foreign colours) because such concept was not yet developed at the early stage but I think this can actually be considered as yangcai.

Q: Why can it be classified as yangcai?

W: The decoration of this vase bears traits of yangcai. For example, the lotus here seems to be deviated from the traditional Chinese lotus. This is the traditional Chinese lotus.

Q: Any reason for such deviation?

W: The vase adopts the aesthetics and the lighting effect from the Western art. There is no obvious deviation in the foliage so it is acceptable to classify this vase as famille rose. But I personally think it can also be defined as yangcai given that it shows certain variations. 

Q: What’s so special about this vase?

W: This vase is colourful and the craftsmanship is sophisticated. The vase imitates the effect of gilt wires by outlining the famille-rose enamelled pattern in gilt before covering with over glaze. That’s a lot of work and effort.

Q: How’s the condition of this vase?

W: This vase is not easy to keep. This vase is not easy to keep, which is in a low-temperature glaze. If you touch it with your hands very often, the gilt falls off easily. But the glitz on this vase is still very well-preserved. That’s a point that adds value to the vase.

Q: Did this vase go on sale before? How’s its provenance?

W: This vase first made its appearance in 1971 at Christie’s London. It was part of the collection of Fonthill house and was later bought by J.T. Tai (a prominent collector). It reappeared on the market from J.T. Tai and Co. Foundation in 2010, spanning over 60 years. If we are fortunate enough to have acquired this piece, I believe it is a rare and fine piece of art.

Q: We have seen inscriptions of different colours in famille rose. The base of this vase is inscribed in gilt.  What's the rationale behind the inscription choices?

W: That’s determined by the system and guideline from the imperial court. This turquoise famille rose usually goes with inscription in gilt. This is a classic combination of cloisonné-Imitation enamelled ceramics. For inscription in red, it mostly goes with white famille rose or famille rose in other colours. Therefore, we need to learn how to differentiate different inscriptions like blue and white, red and gilt.

Q: Can famille rose go with inscriptions of other colours?

W: The system and guideline from the imperial court were very rigid so the combination was not arbitrary. You can tell which one is a forgery if it goes with the wrong inscription. This situation can be seen on the market quite often.

W (continue): For example, for a vase in this colour. It must be wrong if it goes with a blue and white inscription because the guideline from the imperial court is very rigid. It is not like ceramics from non-official kilns. Sometimes, it is saddening to see people being so blind. I hope to spread the right information through media to tell everybody that there are certain rules and guidelines from the imperial court. The production of official ceramic wares should adhere to those rules.