VA Review with William Chak|Kangxi Pink-Ground Fanlangcai Bowl

The centrepiece of Sotheby’s spring auction is a Rare Pink-Ground Falangcai Bowl from the Kangxi period, Qing dynasty, which is expected to set a new auction record for the world's most expensive ceramic. The Value has invited William Chak, an experienced art dealer in Chinese art, to give a review of this bowl.


Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Imperial Alchemy The H.M. Knight Falangcai Bowl

Size: 14.7cm

  • K.K. Chow, Shanghai, 1930/31.
  • Bluett & Sons, London, 1931.
  • Collection of Martin Erdmann, acquired in 1931.
  • Christie’s London, 17th November 1937, lot 73 (part lot).
  • Bluett & Sons, London.
  • Collection of Henry M. Knight (died 1971), The Hague, Holland, acquired in 1938.
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 20th May 1986, lot 123.
  • Collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.

Estimate upon request (It is expected to fetch in an excess of HK$200m)

Chak: This bowl was formerly auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1986. I was there at that time. As I recall, it was also the star lot of the sale. I finally meet it again after decades.

Chak (continues): Where has it been over the past 32 years? It has been in the collection of Idemitsu Museum of Arts since its last appearance in 1986. It is a rare opportunity that it goes on the market again at Sotheby’s.

One of the Best in Qing Ceramics

Chak: This is a Falangcai bowl made in the Kangxi period. Falangcai was not introduced to China until the Kangxi period. The pigments were imported by European Jesuits and drew the attention from the Kangxi Emperor. The technique was used in metal wares at the very beginning, then it was further applied on ceramics wares. So Falangcai made in the Kangxi period is one of the best in ceramics.

Style Resembles Paintings by Castiglione

Chak: Technique, colours and design shown on the bowl suggest it was painted by top painters in the Imperial court. The blue chrysanthemum here has not been found in other ceramic wares, but in paintings by Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit artist at the Imperial court.

Giuseppe Castiglione. Myriad Longevity in an Everlasting Spring. Collection of National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Chak (continues): Maybe the design of the bowl is somehow related to Castiglione. And the overall presentation, like this chrysanthemum, is closer to the style of oil paintings in the West. So the bowl shows influence from the West with similar technique shown in Castiglione’s paintings. The bowl was first painted with the pink ground and the four window panels, whereas the flowers were painted after finishing the above steps.

One of the three extant bowls of similar type

Chak (continues): There are not many extant, well-preserved examples of Fanlangcai made in Kangxi period. We have only found three examples of Falangcai in pink-ground with window panels. One is the present bowl; one in the collection of National Palace Museum in Taipei; one belonged to T.T Tsui (a great Hong Kong collector).