including other asian porcelain
Northern Song - A Black Bowl with Russet Patterns
2018 SOLD for $ 4.2M including premium
The beautiful creamy white Ding porcelains become commonplace and the court always demands more refinement. The Ding workshops add to their know-how the black porcelain bowls bringing a more pleasant vision of tea froth. The activity of the Ding kilns is not interrupted after the invasion of North China by the Jin in 1125 CE.
Ding potters know how to embellish their black porcelain with colorful effects. On March 22 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 506 a conical bowl 19 cm in diameter made by the Northern Song.
Its glaze is a dense and lustrous black. It is missing on the base and not on the rim, enabling to consider that its manufacture has been especially careful. The potter managed to avoid unpleasant red dots that sometimes appear on pieces from that technique.
Its outside and inner texture is composed of a radiant shower of very fine red-brown or russet splashes that may evoke shooting stars. An almost identical color appears on the mouth rim where the glaze is thinner. The only similar known example is at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. It is less glossy.
This practice of black bowls with colored patterns will be later extended in the Jian kilns of the Southern Song with continuous patterns described as hare fur, tea dust, partridge plumage or oil drops. The manufacturing process has not been retrieved. A Southern Song oil pattern bowl from the same Japanese collection as the piece of the next sale was sold for $ 11.7M including premium by Christie's on September 15, 2016.
The bowl coming for sale had been purchased by its current owner at Christie's in 2002 on the advice of an antique dealer. She evokes the sensational features of this piece in the video shared by The Value.com Ltd.
THE WHITE PORCELAIN OF THE NORTHERN SONG
2014 PROBABLY WITHDRAWN
Ding ceramics already existed when the Song established their dynasty 1,050 years ago. Their qualities were exceptional. They were light, due to the thinness of their walls. Their whiteness was perfect. They were probably the earliest ceramics used by the emperor in addition to silverware.
Ding artists used simple geometric shapes, with a glaze very close to white that had a great brightness.
On May 28 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells a washer 20cm wide with a flat base and twelve panels like the petals of a chrysanthemum. The clear ivory glaze covers the whole piece except for the top of the lobes. Not carved and colorless under the glaze, this porcelain is certainly very old.
Ding porcelain glaze is always incomplete, either on top or below, due to the position in the kiln during baking. To reduce this vulnerability, it became common to reinforce the rim by a metal strip. A nicely decorated Ding basin 22 cm in diameter with this feature was sold for HK $ 147M including premium by Sotheby's on April 8, 2014.
The development of the Ru porcelain at the end of the Northern Song period, 900 years ago, results from the imperial will to solve the problem of the incomplete glaze. Ru productions are along with the Chenghua bowls of the Ming dynasty the most perfect ceramics of all time.
I invite you to play the video by Christie's introducing the sale. The brightness of the Ding washer is really pleasing.
black ware for the tea
Such a ceramic is covered with a dark brown glaze with high iron content. Adjusting the parameters of the furnace is much sophisticated. The transition more or less slow between solid and liquid during heating and the reverse transition when cooling generate texture effects that are much refined, such as the hare's fur or partridge's feather.
The chaos that followed the fall of the Tang did not remove the Chinese taste for a continuity of artistic traditions. On September 16 in New York, Sotheby's sells an archaistic jar with black glaze made during the Song era although its dating cannot be better identified.
It is a pot of bulbous shape 20.5 cm high whose opening is wider than the base. The rim and the foot are not glazed, as it is often the case at that time. In some places the iron of the glaze created an effect of spray russet droplets that was certainly intended by the potter.
The decoration made with a brush over the glaze is also archaic, with four wide russet spirals.
This piece known as the Vortex Jar with some features of a high rarity is estimated $ 2.5M, lot 3.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
Development of the meiping
The Tang had designed a new vase for the wine. This bulked container with broad shoulders had a very narrow neck that was easy to clog. This complex form unknown in the Bronze Age was first made of stoneware. It will be developed in porcelain under the Song of the North and then of the South. Its narrow orifice invites to use it as a flower vase and it is known as meiping meaning plum vase.
On September 13 in New York, Sotheby's sells a small Ding meiping 25 cm high, lot 84 estimated $ 500K. It is dated by thermoluminescence from the Northern Song period, 1000 to 900 years ago. This attribution is undoubtedly consistent with the fineness of its carving decorated with peony flowers and foliage.
The reversed positioning of the pieces in the ovens was a puzzle for the Ding potters who could not realize the glaze on the upper rim. The Song meiping coming on sale does not seem to have this defect, either because the positioning of this piece was different from the upside down of bowls and saucers or because it benefited from the technological improvements of the later period.
In any case the extreme rarity of porcelain meiping of such an age testifies that it was still a tour de force at that time.
After the Fall of the Northern Song
2014 SOLD 26 MHK$ including premium
Two forces are still facing : the Jin dynasty founded by the Jurchen which rules in the north, and a new Song dynasty identified as the Southern Song which establishes its capital in the current city of Hangzhou. The Southern Song period lasted one century and a half.
These events put an end to the exquisite activity of the Ru kilns. The Ding porcelain which had been the foremost supplier to the imperial court goes to the Jin. The official porcelain is now known as Guan which is not a location but a label.
The Southern Song established kilns in their new capital as they sought to regain the imperial elegance experienced by their predecessors. The best Guan dishes of the Southern Song have much in common with Ding porcelains : perfection of geometry, reinforcement by a metal strip on the unglazed rim.
However the fashion also changes, probably forced by the fact that the ceramic material after firing is no longer white. The high end pieces are designed with a thick grayish glaze decorated by a dense pattern giving an appearance of crushed ice whose brightness was as spectacular as in the white Ding porcelain.
On May 28 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells a dish 18 cm wide shaped as a chrysanthemum with fifteen petals, lot 3213.
This spectacular piece was Lot 100 in the extraordinary sale of the collection of Mrs. Clark at Sotheby's London on 25 March 1975.
In the same Clark sale, Lot 101 was a Guan vase of same period and same technique with the ice crackle effect. Its complex pear shape topped in a square rim shows that the progress of Chinese porcelain was not stopped by the political and military events. This vase has been previously discussed in this column. It was unsold on 11 May 2011 at Sotheby's London.
POST SALE COMMENT
The estimate had not been published. The result, HK $ 26M including premium, confirms that the best period is not the Southern Song. The vase unsold in 2011 had been estimated £ 2.5 million, a consistent amount compared with today's result.
ICE CRACKLE FOR THE SOUTHERN SONG
After a long period of anarchy, the Song Dynasty endeavoured the come back of China to a brilliant civilization.However peace was not yet achieved. After the loss of their capital against the rival dynasty of Jin, the Song, thereafter designated as the Southern Song, created a new capital city that deserved to be called the most beautiful city in the world and became Hangzhou.
From this period, which corresponds to 1127-1279AD, ceramics reached an extreme refinement. Jingdezhen kilns were already very active. The imperial ware of the Southern Song is known as Guan.
Made in the kilns of Hangzhou, a vase for sale by Sotheby's in London on May 11 is a typical example of what is best as a Guan.
26 cm high, it looks like an antique hu vase, with a pear-shaped body on foot ending with a rectangular opening. The dark brown ceramic is coated with a beautiful water green glaze providing a luminous effect mimicking layers of crackled ice.
This rare masterpiece made long before the visit of Marco Polo in Hangzhou is estimated £ 2.5 M. It is illustrated on the release shared by AuctionPublicity.
infants in the flowers
Interlaced floral patterns form another consistent example of this artistic evolution. On September 16 in New York, Sotheby'ssells a meiping vase from the time of the Southern Song, lot 6estimated $ 2.5M, 28.6 cm high.
The meiping is one of the most common shapes of Chinese vases, with a swollen shoulder and a very small opening that enables it to be used as a flower vase. Meiping means 'vase for plum blossoms'.
At that time when the cobalt blue was not yet used, the decoration is incised without added colors. The lilies and lotus are guided by rotating stems in an intricate network of spirals. Amidst that lush two infant boys appear, one on each side of the vase.
The theme of the baby in the flowers had begun in the Chinese iconography at the end of the Tang Dynasty to express the hope of abundance and perhaps also the reincarnation.
The ancient Chinese loved the glazes in very pale colors. The glaze of this meiping is a qingbai in a translucent light green that does not mask the perfection of the white ceramic bulk.
THE ART OF ZAJU
2013 SOLD 1.34 M$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The Mongol conquerors of China, very fond of warlike feats, brought a new and brutal sensibility to traditional arts, but not up to the point of a total break from the refinement of the Song culture.
In terms of porcelain, they are indeed the Yuan who brought the landmark development of the blue and white with anunderglaze cobalt painting of high figurative quality. These techniques have ensured the durable success of the kilns of Jingdezhen.
The Yuan enjoyed a form of drama invented by the Song, the zaju. It was a multidisciplinary show with recitations, songs, dance and mime, somewhat like the total shows by Aeschylus in Athens or by Diaghilev much later.Demonstrating their interest in the history of the invaded country, the Yuan zajus selected their themes in the epic legends of the Han or Tang.
Painting on porcelain their zaju stories, the Yuan are the precursors of the movie posters! The scenes are animated by warlike horsemen and emperors.
On July 12, 2005, Christie's sold £ 15.7 million including premium a masterpiece of ancient porcelain inspired by zaju. This jar 33 cm high with a narrative drawing in very intense blue was made at the end of the Yuan period, 650 years ago.
With a simpler design and a lighter blue, an ovoid Yuan jar 38 cm high on a theme of warriors on horseback is estimated $ 1M, for sale on March 17 in Beverly Hills by I. M. Chait Gallery. It is curiously flanked by two moulded handles shaped as tiger's head. Here is the link to the catalog on LiveAuctioneers.
POST SALE COMMENT
Well deserved result for this rare Yuan jar: $ 1.1 million before fees, about 1.3 million including premium.
BLUE AND WHITE DISHES FROM YUAN TIME
2008 SOLD 815 K€ INCLUDING PREMIUM
Both dishes have many similar points. Both had the honor to be on the cover of the Gazette de l'Hotel Drouot (number 22 of 2007 and number 17 of 2008). They are both of Yuan time, and have a similar size: 44 cm for that of last year, 46.5 cm for that of this year. Their designs of plants and fruits are very close together.
That of last year was polylobé, that of this year is circular. The design of the latter is finer, especially on the perimeter.
The blue and white porcelain is a Chinese specialty invented during the time of Yuan Dynasty, which preceded the Mings.
The buyers of Asian art are much trained at finding anywhere in the world rare items, and they know how to discriminate the lots of the highest value, according to criteria that Westerners have yet to learn.
I take as an example an interesting result obtained by a well-known expert of Drouot, M. Portier, in a judicial sale in the Paris suburbs, out of all the regular channels of the major auctions: 526 K € fees included last March 2 at Chatou by Maître Dragon for a yellow Ming Xuande dish 30 cm in diameter (source: La Gazette de l'Hotel Drouot). It had been estimated 30 K €.
Let us come back to our Yuan dishes:
The first was sold € 1.4 million before fees on June 12, 2007 at the Espace Tajan in Paris, on an estimate of 350 to 400 K €.
The second, also presented by M. Portier, starts on an estimate of 400 to 500 K €. It will be sold on June 25 in Paris at Drouot by Ader (Lot 256). No anomaly is announced in the Gazette or in the catalog. Comparing it with its predecessor, I do not appreciate why it should remain at such a low price.
POST SALE COMMENT
Indeed the price has far exceeded the low estimate. However it is far from achieving the result obtained by Tajan last year. Here is the result: 815 K € fees included.
THE COBALT ROAD
After decades of fierce conquests, the Mongols invaded China. Now named Yuan, their dynasty succeeded the Song.After the Tang, the Song had sponsored a refined society. Despite their bad reputation, the new invaders did not let China enter into recession.
The Yuan sought to establish a synthesis of Mongolian and Chinese traditions, but they were foreigners. They strengthened their position by facilitating maritime and land communication with other Asian countries, reviving theSilk Road.
The Jingdezhen kilns existed before the Yuan, but experienced towards the end of this dynasty, 650 years ago, aunique and sustainable development.
The painting under glaze and the cobalt blue are both imports made by the Yuan from the Muslim world for theporcelains of Jingdezhen. The beautiful underglazed blue enables very fine figurative motifs which are infinitely variedby the meticulous Chinese artists.
A blue and white Yuan jar, 29 cm high for a larger diameter of 35 cm, is estimated £ 1M, for sale by Bonhams in London on November 8. It is decorated in three main registers with lotus, peony, and geometrical and vegetal patterns. Here is the link to the catalog.
2021 SOLD for € 4.55M by Vassy et Jalenques
This blue and white vase is decorated with vegetal patterns, plus ten different fruit on their foliage in two registers on the baluster body below the shoulder. Below it, the upper register of the lower frieze displays petals within exquisite arched cartouches.
Previously unknown, it recently resurfaced in a French family near Clermont-Ferrand where it was auctioned.
Estimé à plus d'un million d'euros, un précieux vase en porcelaine daté du règne de Ming Yongle sera vendu aux enchères le 19 juin à Clermont-Ferrand par Bernard Vassy et Philippe Jalenques. ⚱️— Interencheres (@interencheres) June 18, 2021
Témoin des heures fastueuses de l’Empire chinois, l… https://t.co/KE7IJvfqTg pic.twitter.com/qmCStcfENk
The White Secret of the Yongle Emperor
2017 SOLD for $ 3.13M including premium
600 years ago the third Ming emperor reigned over China. His reign name was Yongle. An effective and refined despote, he promoted the Chinese culture and helped protecting China against foreign influences.
His preferred color was white. To please the Emperor the chemists developed during his reign a highly tactile white glazed porcelain known as tianbai meaning sweet white. It is particularly appealing with its glossy texture whiter than the bulk of its ceramics.
The emperor so enjoyed the purity of the tianbai that he rejected the presents in jade. It was a very difficult technique as evidenced by the high number of rejected fragments excavated in Jingdezhen compared with the extreme scarcity of surviving end item products.
The vase for sale has a baluster shape with high shoulder, short neck and small mouth. This shape is named meiping. Of course meiping was also popular in blue and white. A Yongle vase 36 cm high was sold for HK$ 168M including premium by Sotheby's on October 5, 2011.
The tianban meiping coming back for sale displays another exquisite refinement known as anhua meaning secret. Its body is incised with motifs of scrolls, lotus, blossoms and buds that remain invisible at a distance.
Hopefully this white auspicious vase will make the yongle of its new owner : Yongle means perpetual happiness in medieval Chinese.
Yongle Moonflasks for Muslim Trade
2012 SOLD 1.3 M$ including premium
Yongle, the third Ming emperor, was the most powerful monarch of his time. He reigned 600 years ago. Ruthless enemy of the Mongols, he had a more open and tolerant vision of the rest of the world and successfully promoted thevoyages of discovery.
At that time, the blue and white dominates the Chinese porcelain. One of the most remarkable developments is a piece of complex shape, a gourd also named moonflask. The main body is strictly circular, with two winding handles around the bulbous neck. The belly is more or less rounded depending on the variants.
The main known role of their new shape and new decoration was to create pieces able to demonstrate the Chinese know-how to the Muslim rulers of the Middle East. The moonflasks were thus used for presentation during diplomatic and commercial exchanges.
These models will continue to be produced under Xuande, with some small changes especially concerning the shape of the base. Of course, the Qing, keen of the synthesis of all Chinese art, will make moonflasks in relatively large quantities.
In the sale of 11 and 12 September in New York, Sotheby's sells a moonflask 30 cm high attributed to the Yongle period. It is estimated $ 600K, lot 277. It is adorned with a radiant decoration of stylized and vegetal motifs.
On 28 November 2006, Christie's sold HK $ 16.4 million including premium a moonflask 32 cm high of similar design but finer line.
POST SALE COMMENT
This is one of many good results in this sale. Sold $ 1.3 million including premium, this flask exceeds its higher estimate, without reaching the price of the Christie's flask whose line was more exquisite.
yongle - blossoming flowers from jingdezhen
THE YONGLE EMPEROR PRESENTS THE DRAGON
The blue and white porcelain had the favor of the Yuan and was no longer a novelty at the time of Yongle, the third Ming emperor, who reigned 600 years ago.
Yongle was a strong personality who knew to be feared. His great role in the history of China is to have favored thevoyages of discovery and the foreign relations. Inspired by Islamic ceramics, the flat bottle or moonflask appears in China at that time.
To maintain good diplomatic relations, China practises gifts, and some porcelain wares are made for export. On May 12 in Beijing, China Guardian sells a moonflask of Yongle period decorated with a blue dragon on each side, and mounted in the eighteenth century with European gilt bronze. Here is the link to the catalog.
This piece was not intended for the palace and did not get the Imperial mark. The dragon, with only three claws per paw, is also not imperial, confirming the use for export, but it is superb, displaying its power over the full width of the flask.
The ceramics of this type have become extremely rare, and this piece is also outstanding for its height, 51 cm including the bronze base.
Yongle - The Bottomless Vase
2019 SOLD for HK$ 23.6M including premium
Objects are exchanged. The potters in Jingdezhen add to their know-how the creation of shapes and styles previously unknown in China. Since the Song, porcelain is used in the imperial court for vessels, chargers, plates or flower vases. Unusable objects are extremely rare.
The Mamluks used brass tray stands, built in two truncated cones in opposition around a cylindrical cavity. A horizontal rib at half height allows a better handling. The flat top and bottom are identical at both ends of the cylinder.
This form, comparable to lacquered stands for tea bowls, is however too high and too narrow. Its ceramic reproduction is useless because it cannot offer the steadiness of Mamluk pieces in heavy metal.
Three centuries later, the Qianlong emperor considers a porcelain stand. The quality of workmanship and the very fine decoration imitating Arabic patterns and script indicate that it was produced at the beginning of the Ming period.
A 17 cm high stand almost identical to the piece in the imperial collection is estimated HK $ 20M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 3, lot 102. It is supposed to be from Yongle time when the imperial mark was still often omitted. Similar fragments were found in the Yongle and Xuande strata of the Jingdezhen rubble.
The long inspection poem prepared by Qianlong is translated in Sotheby's catalog.
The most learned of the emperors is so much astonished at the uselessness of this item that he devotes a poem to it despite the absence of an imperial mark. He attributes it reasonably to the Xuande period and inscribes that name on the zitan stand which he commissions for it.
The Son of Heaven is the holder of the continuity of the Chinese dynasties. He does not authorize himself to criticize his Ming predecessor who let made this crazy vase that does not hold water. He opportunely finds an antique fable in which the leak of water from a bottomless goblet is compared to the loss of a good word.
Later Yongle Jar
2022 SOLD for HK$ 43M by Sotheby's
On April 29, 2022, Sotheby's sold for HK $ 43M a blue and white jar, lot 5.
Certainly made in Jingdezhen, this jar with no imperial mark is attributed to the Yongle period or as a terminus ante quem to the Yongle-Renzong-Xuande transition. The brilliance of the graded hues of cobalt blue makes it a very fine example of the blue and white in the earlier Ming period.
This opulent piece 24.4 cm high and 30 cm in its larger diameter is decorated around its ovoid body with a magnificent pair of barking scaled dragons chasing each other in the clouds above an unusual horizon of crashing waves.
These three clawed dragons with fluttering manes are not imperial. They are hybrids of the Buddhist Indian-Tibetan kui or makara type with wings instead of the hind legs, and of a Chinese dragon with its typical snout.
The name Joseph Lau resonates with collectors around the globe and it is one that stands for excellence. Chinese art stands at the genesis of Lau’s adventure with art and it is on Chinese art that he cut his exacting eye. Watch video: https://t.co/knTjX8KB9G pic.twitter.com/UWe36TEma1— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) April 20, 2022
2017 SOLD for HK$ 35.5M by Sotheby's
The Jingdezhen porcelain was often used under Yongle as a diplomatic gift. Xuande sees it as a source of extreme refinement for his own use and the number of pieces bearing his mark is important. The mastery of the cobalt preparations allows subtle shades of blue on white that will never be equaled.
The Xuande potters try complex shapes inspired by gold or silver models. A bell shaped bowl with ten lobes for enhancing the visual effect of a fish scene was sold for HK $ 230M including premium by Sotheby's on April 5, 2017.
The emperors govern according to the principles of Confucianism but also protect the Tibetan Buddhism of which they acknowledge the mystical vision. The use of Buddhist themes in the Jingdezhen blue and white ware is essentially limited to the Xuande period. Two high quality Buddhist porcelains bearing his imperial mark will be sold by Sotheby's on October 3 in Hong Kong.
Lot 3301 estimated HK $ 35M is a bowl 18 cm in diameter whose flared shape is very elegant. It retains its cover, which is a rarity because the pots were so equipped only if they were designed for some ritual uses. The cover copies in an exact face to face the decoration of the bowl, a circle of eight lotus flowers all of them surmounted by one of the eight symbols constituting the Buddhist bajixiang. The imperial mark under the cover is an exquisite surprise when the eunuch opens the bowl. The transparent glaze is unctuous.
Lot 101 estimated HK $ 30M is an ovoid jar 19 cm high decorated with two dragons inspired by the Indian makara type which usually ensures the protection of a temple. This illustration is highly rare in the Ming porcelain.
RESULTS INCLUDING PREMIUM :
Bowl : SOLD for HK$ 51M
Jar : SOLD for HK$ 35.5M
Negative Pictures for Xuande
2007 SOLD for HK$ 17M including premium by Sotheby's
The Xuande emperor of the Ming dynasty was passionate about porcelain, unlike Yongle whose developments were largely for export. The potters in Jingdezhen are invited to develop increasingly refined techniques. The cobalt blue reaches its best ever gloss with Xuande.
The shallow-sided dishes with flower or fruit themes are made on a very limited number of models : peonies, pomegranates, gardenias. Colors are cobalt blue on white or yellow background and iron brown on white.
A variant with inverted colors has also been tested. The plant motifs are created in white in reserves, the rest of the piece being blue. The drawing is not reworked inside the white areas. The visual effect in silhouette appears too bulky compared to the blue drawings on a clear background of the traditional technique.
The largest pieces, from 30 cm in diameter, are decorated externally and internally, with the imperial mark of Xuande in a horizontal cartouche under the rim. For these formats the base is not glazed, probably due to its position in the kiln.
These experimental dishes were too expensive because of their wide surfaces of cobalt, too long processing time and probably low yield. One of the difficulties was to avoid the overlaps of blue on the white. They are very rare. Here are two examples :
A dish with an inner decoration of peonies and chrysanthemum exterior, 39 cm in diameter, was sold for $ 2.17M including premium by Sotheby's on March 15, 2017. A dish with pomegranates inside and lotus outside, 30 cm in diameter, was sold for HK $ 17M including premium by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 8, 2007 and returns to the same auction house on October 8, lot 1001 estimated HK $ 25M.
Chenghua - The Delights of Lady Wan
2019 SOLD for HK$ 57M including premium
Wan, who was a consort without the title of Empress, was authoritarian, jealous and corrupt. When the craftsmen of Jingdezhen received the imperial order to do even better than their predecessors for table pieces, it can only be on the initiative and for the personal use of Wan.
Chinese chemists were extremely competent. They select the best materials and purify the cobalt. Potters develop slightly flared curves, ensuring lightness without losing strength, with a rim diameter around 15 cm for the bowls. The inspectors reinforce their controls but the quality of production was so good that very few fragments have been found in Jingdezhen.
The touch sweetness of the bowls with the Chenghua mark was unprecedented and will never be achieved again, except for the doucai chicken cups of the same reign. The cobalt blue under glaze is used in several shades for the first time although without matching the glossy blue of the Xuande porcelains.
The floral design is also innovative, with a very airy composition that completely contrasts with the density of patterns of the previous periods. The meticulousness of the artists goes so far as to reveal defects in the flowers that are carefully copied from one unit to another of the same variant. Eleven different designs have been created, ten flowers and a fruit, often chosen for their fragrant or tasty qualities.
The finest bowls are illustrated both on the outside and inside, with the same flowers. The decorations are bordered at the top and bottom by dark blue circles. A musk mallow bowl was sold for HK $ 140M including premium by Sotheby's on October 8, 2013. A bowl with very pure friezes of day lilies will be sold by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8, lot 1002. The press release of August 28 announces an estimate in excess of HK $ 50M.
These productions of very high quality were too expensive despite the well-known illegal incomes of the concubine. The prestige production was slowed in 1482 CE and finally stopped in 1485. Under this reign, ordinary wares remain in the style of Xuande.
1532 The Sixteen Boys of the Jiajing Emperor
2007 SOLD for HK$ 30.6M including premium by Christie's
The Zhengde emperor of the Ming died in 1521 CE in scandalous circumstances, before reaching 30 years old, with no surviving child. His cousin who succeeded him was obviously not ready. His reign name will be Jiajing meaning 'admirable tranquility'. He will never be interested in the exercise of power.
During the 11th year of his reign, 1532 CE, the Jiajing emperor is worried. At 25, he still has no descendants. His first empress had died of his brutality while she was pregnant. He abandons the second because she is pushed by a clan. He organizes a Taoist ritual in the imperial garden to encourage the birth of imperial boys. It is not clear what happened in this ceremony but a first prince was born to a concubine in the following year.
The prince dies at the age of six weeks. The emperor finally finds the solution. Over a period of five years beginning in the 15th year of the reign, nine concubines give him seven sons and four daughters.
As for porcelain, the novelty of this period is the covered jar of large size, offering an increased surface for the illustration.
A blue and white jar of the largest model, 47 cm high including its original cover, was sold for HK $ 30.6M including premium by Christie's in Hong Kong on November 27, 2007. It is back in the same auction house on November 27, 2019, lot 3007. It was part of a pair of identical jars that was separated in 1985.
Its iconographic theme of the hundred boys is traditional. It comes from the legend of an emperor of the Zhou who, unable to have his hundredth son, adopted an orphan.
In a continuity throughout the circumference, sixteen boys play various games in a garden. They are all alike, with shaved heads. One group represents education, with the oldest child playing the schoolmaster while the smallest one does not yet walk but is already trying to catch the book.
All these occupations form several rebuses, according to the traditional game of homophonies. Their meaning is in line with wishes for the imminent birth of one or more boys along with longevity auspices.
A smaller jar showing exactly the same plays passed at Bonhams on November 10, 2011. A 26 cm high jar with another composition of plays was sold for HK $ 11.8M including premium by Christie's on May 27, 2009. These two examples do not have a lid.
Jiajing - The Sixth Color of the Wucai
2012 SOLD 2 M$ including premium
The multicolored porcelain was developed during the Ming dynasty. It takes the name of wucai, which means "five colors". It is already very decorative, with bright and pure enamel colors.
In the sale of 11 and 12 September in New York, Sotheby's has a covered pot decorated with fish, with the mark of the Jiajing Emperor. These animals swim above the weeds, between plant motifs regularly arranged.
The reign of Jiajing (not to be confused with Jiaqing of the Qing) was very long, from 1521 to 1567 of our calendar.Disgusted by politics, he turned to Taoism. We could consider fish as a Taoist symbol of life in freedom, in contrast to the rituals of the court, but remember that it is also a symbol of abundance.
Despite its etymology, wucai fish pots have a sixth color, the beautiful dark orange of the animals. This is not an anomaly, "five" in this case being a way of expressing a plurality.
Other jars, in the Musée Guimet in Paris or in the Museum of Beijing, show the fish in the same attitudes as in the Sotheby's lot, while the plant environment varies. A pot without its cover was sold RMB 15M including premium byChina Guardian in Beijing during the 2012 spring auctions.
The jar for sale by Sotheby's comes from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which had never exhibited it because they also have another similar piece. It is estimated $ 500K, very reasonably. It is illustrated by Sotheby's on the page announcing the sale.
Here is the link to the catalogue, and the size : 41 cm high.
POST SALE COMMENT
As I told it, the estimate was too reasonable, especially since the provenance was impeccable. Result for the pot: $ 2M including premium.
2009 SOLD 11.8 MHK$ including premium
The price of antique Imperial Chinese wares is often hard to predict, although the best auction houses know clearly to identify the top pieces.
Yesterday in London, Bonhams sold for £ 1.1 million charge included a blue and white Jiajing jar. The lower estimate had been 180 K£ only, but Bonhams had published two press releases for it, showing that they understood the true value of this lot.
So it is no surprise that Christie's has not published an estimate for two pieces of their sale of May 27 in Hong Kong.
Chance of the auction sales: one of the two lots at Christie's is a white jar decorated in cobalt blue, with same globular shape and similar size (26 and 30 cm high, respectively) than at Bonhams. Both pieces bear under the base the six character Jiajing mark. This emperor of the Ming dynasty reigned 450 years ago.
For aesthetics, I prefer the subtlety of Bonhams' jar, decorated in enamel with pretty golden fishes swimming in the middle of the blue plant motifs. Christie's jar is more anecdotal, showing young boys engaged in various games.
POST SALE COMMENT
Aesthetics is very important in the price of Chinese ceramics. Christie's copy was sold $ 11.8 MHK including expenses, i.e. approximately 15% below that of Bonhams, which was so nice. The anecdotal nature of the design of Christie's jar was not enough to generate higher prices.
The Korean King-Dragon
2012 SOLD 3.2 M$ including premium
Its size, 60 cm high and 43 cm in greatest diameter, is both a technical tour de force and a perfect example of balanced proportions.
Korean porcelains have no mark enabling to date them. This one was made about 300 years ago and could therefore be contemporary with the end of the reign of Kangxi in China. This is undoubtedly one of the most successful ceramics of that time among those which have not been realized in the Chinese imperial workshops.
On each side, a large royal dragon, identified as such by his five fingered legs, flies among the clouds.
The dragon is the symbol of all male qualities: strength, agility, fire control, dynamic attitude. He is not bad, but he is terrible. It is a paradox of ancient civilizations that even the most powerful kings needed to use terror to maintain their authority.
This vase is very similar in all characteristics from another piece sold $ 3.9 million including premium at Christie's on March 23, 2011.
POST SALE COMMENT
Very good result: $ 3.2M including premium, not reaching the price of the other jar sold last year which was perhaps in better condition.
Yongzheng Peach Box
2013 SOLD for HK$ 44M by Sotheby's
Its cover displays eight fruits in an irregular arrangement within branches and blossoms. The careful naturalistic rendering of the peaches in two varieties precedes the 1731 standardization.
It was certainly executed after the superintendent Tang Ying made his first official visit to Jingdezhen in 1726 CE to trigger his highly successful diversification of the porcelains in techniques, shapes, themes and reproductions. Its domed shape is very scarce in fencai. No similar peach box is known.
A vase was sold for HK $ 41.5M by Sotheby's on May 7, 2002, lot 532, and donated in 2004 to the Shanghai Museum by Dr. Alice Cheng. This yangcai peach vase from the Yongzheng period had spent the previous 33 years on a table in Ogden Reid's New York home stuffed with sand and newspaper with a light bulb in its mouth. No other peach vase of olive form is known.
Yongzheng Dragon Charger
2012 SOLD for HK$ 41M by Sotheby's
Successor to Kangxi and predecessor of Qianlong, Yongzheng was like them an avid supporter of Chinese porcelains. The piece coming for sale, as almost always in China, is a synthesis of different traditions executed by a skilled craftsman.
The colors are classical : underglaze dark blue and bright iron red, and the model of the composition was known from the early Ming.
At the center of the medallion, a very strong red dragon is seen full frontal, levitating over a blue ocean of unleashed waves. On the front side, in the sloping edge of the plate, four red dragons soar in the blue clouds. A similar scene happens on the back edge.
Some of these secundary dragons have a lesser social status, which can not be detected in their size or in their attitude but in the number of claws and the shape of the tail. The readability of these symbols was certainly obvious to the guests of Yongzheng, 280 years ago.
ca 1732 landscape and false wood
2016 sold for hk$ 35m including premium
Art and virtuosity are rewarded by nominative interventions of the emperor himself who decides the allocation of the best artists to the most advanced techniques. During the tenth year of the reign, 1732 of our calendar, Yongzheng publishes a description of the Jiangxi province which includes a list of the types of ceramic wares that are made in Jingdezhen for the use of the emperor.
The mocai, meaning the ink color whether black or sepia, is an appealing novelty, allowing an imitation of drawings with more elegance than the blue and offering the same opportunities for contrasts of shades as on traditional paper. Another novelty is the development by the yangcai chemists of a red-orange color that is mingled with brown to give the appearance of wood.
On 23 October 2005, Sotheby's sold for HK $ 21M including premium an extremely rare example of a porcelain imitating altogether the hand scroll and the wood. This piece is now for sale by Christie's in Hong Kong on June 1, lot 3213.
It is an imperceptibly curved cylindrical brush pot 18.3 cm in diameter. The Ming style landscape is continuous around the cylinder, an improvement in the refinement which is not possible in the scrolls. Several scholars animate the scene with their leisure occupations. This theme suggests that the piece was commissioned for the desk of the emperor himself who was also a keen calligrapher.
The landscape is bordered top and bottom by a false wooden strip that extends inside the pot and down to the base with a reserve for the underglaze blue six-character mark of the emperor.
Yongzheng - The Octagonal Moon Flask
2015 SOLD for € 2.4M including premium
The availability of all shades of blue restarted the fashion of the blue and white that had made the success of the Yuan and early Ming porcelains, using again traditional forms and themes along with interesting innovations.
On 7 April 2015, Sotheby's sold for HK $ 76M including premium an ovoid vase with tall neck from the Yongzheng period decorated with dragons, 39 cm high, where the blue was intense.
From the same period, a globular vase with a tall neck, 53 cm high in a lighter blue, that had belonged to the collection of President Hoover was sold for $ 5.9 million including premium by Bonhams on December 10, 2012.
The Yongzheng potters also made bottles of the moon flask type that had been one of the favorite porcelain shapes at the time of the Yongle emperor of the Ming.
On May 26 in Milan, Cambi sells a blue and white moon flask of Yongzheng period and bearing his mark, lot 255 estimated in excess of € 200K. This pretty piece 47 cm high is decorated with birds in a surrounding of leafy branches, two quails on one side and on the other side two geese including one in flight, a theme that was already used under the Ming.
This porcelain has an octagonal shape, which was a technical feat for realizing the transition with the usual bulge of the faces of the moon flask. This is a good example of the efforts of diversification in the workshops through the direct and attentive encouragement of the Yongzheng emperor himself.
early Qianlong - Antiquity and Perfection of the Imperial Chinese Ceramics
2009 SOLD 30 MHK$ including premium
Sold by Christie's in Hong Kong on May 27, a vase manufactured 250 years ago may claim a much older tradition: its form of an amphora reproduces an antique Tang.
The price is not indicated in the catalog, but its shape is perfect and its decoration in cobalt blue on white, divided into nine parallel rings of unequal widths, is particularly exquisite. It measures 32 cm high including the two handles with dragon heads.
Better still, this vase bears under its base the six-character Qianlong mark. This is the only known specimen of this description under Qianlong. We may think that it dates from the beginning of the reign, because two similar vases of the Yongzheng period are known. It does not escape you that Yongzheng was the father of Qianlong.
POST SALE COMMENT
The price of a ceramic of top quality: 30 MHK $ including premium.
1741 Scratched Enamels for the Qianlong Emperor
2018 SOLD for HK$ 50M including premium
Around 1741 CE, to please the Qianlong emperor, Tang Ying transferred to the yangcai the ancient technique of sgraffito. Fine scratches are made with a needle to reveal the white glaze under the enamelled ground. In a tight pattern this figure mimics the texture of a silk brocade.
The Qianlong emperor appreciated everything about art, including European aesthetics. A pair of vases 21.7 cm high is decorated in reserves with the same figures of flowers and foliage. The ground layer is incised by a sgraffito of arabesques. The decorative taste mixes traditional China and rococo.
This pair has an exceptional feature : the ground does not have the same color. One of them, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is bright blue. Its companion piece is ruby red. The red vase is estimated HK $ 40M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 3, lot 3622. Another difference is the color of the collar rim, red for the blue vase and gold for the red vase.
1742 The Spring of Clear Water
On November 28 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells as lot 2802 a 19 cm yangcai vase incised with sgraffiato on its neck over a frieze of molded petals, and decorated on its globular body with a circling landscape embedding a Qianlong poem. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The very detailed scenery is fully identified : it shows the hill of the Jade Spring surrounded by its lakes, in the immediate vicinity of the Summer Palace, with several pavilions. This spring had been known for six centuries to provide the clearest water in China, which was carried on daily to the palace in mule carts. The site is still prestigious nowadays.
The first Qing emperors had given their full attention for maintaining the salubrity of this water essential to the survival of the city and carried out major irrigation works. Qianlong was aware of its strategic importance. Even before ascending the throne, he wrote many poems devoted to this place and to the peaceful beauty of the surrounding landscape.
This piece offers the full range of the yangcai colors. This scenery is typical of Tang Ying's zeal to offer to the Emperor the themes on which he was most sensitive.
Its terminus post quem is the seventh year of Qianlong, 1742 CE, when the emperor delighted with the beauty of an albarello jar orders to Tang Ying porcelains of various other shapes with scenery, flowers and poems. This theme was still applied four years later. Vases with paneled landscapes of the four seasons are created at the same time.
1743 celadon and enamel
The vase of the four seasons for sale on December 2 in Hong Kong by Christie's at lot 3122 reaches perfection by the balance of its shape, the beauty of its colors, the successful combination of techniques and the simplicity of symbols.
It bears the mark of Qianlong but indeed the maturity of its technique and the care of its execution could not be associated with any other period. This lobed vase 36 cm high was part of a pair unique of its kind whose other element belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Its first glaze is celadon. Celadon imitating the jade was mastered from the Ming but the Qing made considerable progress by varying the thickness of the layer, allowing both a setting of the color hue and a thicker surface inviting to moulding and carving in low relief .
Each of the four sides of the lobe was processed with large reserves within the celadon, enabling to apply superb yangcai colors within a thin golden frame. The four sides show the four seasons with the flowers symbolizing all things positive : the birth of spring and the abundance of summer on the two broader sides, the longevity of autumn and the endurance of winter on the two narrower sides.
This piece with a much balanced aesthetics is also equipped with a nice pair of elephant heads as golden handles.
The catalog does not attempt to precisely date this masterpiece made in the Qianlong period, but indicates that other themes were used for pieces made in a similar mixed technique : four season landscapes, hunting scenes. The extreme rarity and the complexity of execution makes me suggesting that this technique was only practiced during a very short period.
A boys vase sold for HK $ 64M including premium by Sotheby's on April 7, 2015 was also based on celadon and yangcai. This piece could better be dated because its theme was related to an imperial encouragement to the renewal of the iconography linked to the festivals during the eighth year of Qianlong, 1743 of our calendar.
Qianlong - A Pink Butterfly Vase
2008 SOLD 53 MHK$ including premium
The Qianlong vase that Christie's offers on December 3 (sale 2633, lot 2388) is one of the highlights of their week of sales in Hong Kong. The estimate is available on request for the customers of the auction house, but Christie's said in its press release that it could bring more than 40 MHK $.
In an elegant baluster shape with an angular shoulder, this vase 46 cm high bears the Qianlong six-character Qianlong sealmark. Technically, it belongs to the famille rose (a term that is used as is in English without translating). Its decor is patterned of butterflies in many different flight attitudes and surrounded by various flowers. It is made with enamel paint of different colors on a pale pink background that is, even in photos, a real achievement. The meticulous design and delicate colors make it a masterpiece and, for connoisseurs, a tour de force (also in French in the text).
It is believed that this piece has been taken out of China during the sack of the Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) in 1860.
POST SALE COMMENT
Christie's has managed the sale, by devoting a separate catalog for this exceptional piece. The result confirmed their expectations: 53 MHK $ inclusive.
Qianlong - Imperial Blue
2011 SOLD 5.5 M$ including premium
The imperial porcelain of Qianlong period are of infinite variety and unmatched quality. Some are modern for theirtime, others correlate to the older traditions.
The vase described today belongs to both categories. The flask shape seems strange: it was used in Chineseantiquity, under the Jin Dynasty. The taste for monochrome ceramic is also very old, dating back to the Song Dynasty.
On the modern side, the glazed blue porcelain is a rare feat of the imperial chemists, and the handles shaped asparakeets are exquisite.
Let us complete the description of this rare masterpiece by indicating that it is 30 cm high and bears the sixcharacter Qianlong mark.
This vase is for sale by Christie's on March 24 in New York.
POST SALE COMMENT
$ 5.5 million including premium. The estimate was not published, but I did expect a price in that range.
qianlong - a door stopper in west midland
2016 sold for £ 650k before fees
The Musée Guimet keeps a tall baluster vase improved by an hexagonal outline from top to bottom. This vase bearing the imperial mark of Yongzheng is described as the prototype of its model. The six front sizes are decorated with branches of flowers and fruits in a decorative arrangement that was influenced by the style à la Bérain.
At that time when potters were experiencing the full range of colors, this piece remains a blue and white. It retrieves the perfection in its class by imitating the so-called heaped and piled Ming process bringing under glaze a variation of the blue hue by a more or less high concentration of cobalt and also by inserting impurities.
This model has so pleased the emperor that several similar examples are known, 66 cm high, all of them with the imperial mark of Qianlong. A pair was sold for £ 700K by Sotheby's on 12 July 2006. Single units have also appeared at auction : HK $ 1M at Christie's on 27 April 1998, HK $ 17.5M at Sotheby's on October 5, 2011. These results include the premium.
Another example is surfacing. An antiques dealer acquired it in the 1930s for her personal use without identifying its value, which is not surprising when we observe the evolution of the prices from the above records that span the last two decades. Her equally ignorant heirs used it as a doorstop within their home in West Midland.
This treasure discovered and identified during an inventory by a manager of Hansons Auctioneers is estimated in excess of £ 300K for sale by that auction house in Etwall, Derbyshire, on July 1, lot 806a here linked from the bidding platform The Saleroom. Here is the link to the release issued by Hansons.
Please watch the video shared by the auction house :
Qianlong - Alliance of Ancient and Modern
2011 SOLD 960 K€ including premium
History did not retain the names of the craftsmen, but the wide variety of vessels is sufficient to ensure that everyone had to be very specialized. The best vases bear the Imperial mark of Qianlong, the others could be exported to Europe.
An Imperial vase for sale on December 15 by Sotheby's is a harmonious blend of styles. 49 cm high, it copies the hu shape of archaic bronzes, but the handles are modern.
Still better, the tea dust glaze mimics the color of the oxidation of ancient bronzes, ensuring a full reconciliation between old and modern. Elegant cartouches include ancient symbols.
Coming from a French aristocratic collection, it is sold in Paris. Despite good sales of Asian art, Paris has never recorded prices comparable as those in specialized sales in Hong Kong, New York or London. This may explain the conservative estimate of this remarkable piece, € 800K.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, € 960K including premium, is in line with the estimate.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
Qianlong - Flat Bottles for the Qing
Three centuries later, Tang Ying arrives at Jingdezhen. To please the Yongzheng emperor, he organizes the production of porcelain pieces imitating the best from the imperial collection, with a sensational diversity.
The porcelain moonflask is thus reappearing at the time of Yongzheng. It is most often colored only in cobalt blue which had been the most common and best mastered color at the time of Yongle. Pushing all variants of vases to the extreme limits of feasibility, Tang Ying has made moonflasks in large size. The Islamic patterns used under Yongle are replaced by auspicious Chinese figures.
For example of pieces with the Yongzheng mark, let us refer to a 53 cm high moonflask sold for £ 1.45M including premium by Christie's on November 6, 2018 and to a 47 cm high unusual octagonal moonflask illustrated with birds sold for € 2.4M including premium by Cambi on May 26, 2015.
On October 8 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells as lot 3108 a 50 cm high moonflask bearing the imperial mark of Qianlong. It is decorated with symbols mixing Buddhism, Taoism and wishes of happiness and longevity in a radiant composition with eight cartouches. The press release of August 28 announces an estimate in excess of HK $ 40M.
A 49 cm high moonflask, also with the Qianlong mark, was sold for € 5,1M including premium by Rouillac on June 5, 2018. This one is not entirely in blue and white : its bulging front and back walls both have a monochrome celadon enameled molded decor displaying the eight Buddhist emblems in a radiant cloisonné design similar to the previous example.
A MESSAGE HIDDEN IN A DOUBLE VASE
The quality of Chinese porcelain is due to the effectiveness of the interaction between the workshops and the imperial court, which prepared the orders and encouraged the innovation. The presentation of the principle of rotating vesselsby Tang Ying, superintendent of the imperial kilns, on the 17th day of the 5th month of the 8th year (1747AD) of the reign of Qianlong is the equivalent of a patent.
Two coaxial vases are closely interlinked with one another, in such a way that the inner vase can rotate within theoutside piece. This invention has no practical application, but it is one of the most remarkable engineering feats inChinese porcelain. The mastery of firing must be absolute to avoid thermal distortions that would brake the rotation.
A further refinement was later added: the two vessels were glazed, and the interior image could be seen through a reticle.
Christie's devotes a separate catalog to a masterpiece of the genre, for sale in Hong Kong on June 1. Its photo is shared on the blog LuxArtAsia.
It is a large lantern shaped double vase, 38 cm high, richly decorated in the style of the famille rose.
The observation through the reticle provides access to the rotating view of a flight of twelve magpies, symbolizing the twelve hours of the Chinese day, surrounded by other symbols of happiness and longevity.
The estimate, not published, is very high if one believes the figures which are beginning to circulate. Note howeverthat Sotheby's sold a vase of similar type but different decoration, $ 1.2 million including premium, on March 23, 2011. Simpler in shape, smaller (21 cm), it has such a general resemblance with Christie's specimen that we would liketo think that the both were made in the same workshop.