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A magnificent Imperial Cloisonne Enamel 'Phoenix' Tripod Censer and Cover Qianlong Period (1736-1795). 31 ¾ in. (80.6 cm.) high. Estimate: HK$ 12,000,000-18,000,000 / US$ 1,600,000-2,300,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

HONG KONG.- On May 29, 2013, Christie’s Hong Kong will hold four sales of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art during its Hong Kong 2013 Spring Auctions. With a total of 388 lots, the sales are estimated to realise in excess of HK$400 million/US$51 million. Three important private collections will be presented, including the YC Chen Collection, the Yiqingge Collection of Chinese Ceramics, and important Imperial cloisonné enamels from a European collection, followed by the Imperial Sale and the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale.

REVERENCE AND PERFECTION – MAGNIFICENT IMPERIAL CLOISONNÉ ENAMELS FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Comprising 26 pieces and estimated to realise in excess of HK$41 million/US$5.3 million, this sale features one of the finest groups of 18th century Imperial cloisonné enamel wares to have come up for sale at auction. Cloisonné production demands extensive amounts of time and high levels of craftsmanship, and at the time they were made, cloisonné enamels would have been reserved for the Imperial Court. Thoughtfully selected by a European collector with a focus on quality, the pieces in this collection are of intrinsic historic and aesthetic value. Cloisonné enamels produced in the Qing Dynasty, which combine both Chinese and Western decorative elements, have been widely used throughout the 19th and 20th centuries by designers and tastemakers worldwide to match a wide array of interior settings. More recently collectors have started to appreciate them for their importance within the context of Chinese art.

The highlight of the collection is a masterpiece: an 18th century cloisonné enamel incense burner (Sale 3217, Lot 2064, Estimate: HK$ 12,000,000-18,000,000 / US$ 1,600,000-2,300,000), illustrated above. The imposing incense burner stands nearly 80cm. high and is one of the largest censers of its kind. The gilt metal handles, feet and finial are highly detailed and paired with the intricate floral designs adorning the body. It also has a fascinating history, having been acquired in the early 19th century by William Jardine, the founder of the Hong Kong trading house, Jardine Matheson. 

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A magnificent and very rare pair of large Imperial Zitan corner-leg altar tables Tiaozhuo Qianlong Period (1736-1820). 35 1/2 in. (90.2 cm.) high, 106 3/8 in. (270 cm.) wide, 21 1/4 in. (54 cm.) deep. Estimate: HK$ 8,000,000-10,000,000 / US$ 1,000,000-1,300,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

A LEGACY OF MR Y.C. CHEN

One of the most iconic connoisseurs of Chinese art of our times, Mr. Y.C. Chen (Yu Chieh Chen) was also one of the last of a generation of Chinese antique dealers from Shanghai who came to Hong Kong in the early 1950s. Mr. Chen became an apprentice at the age of 15 to a prominent antique dealer in Shanghai, where he learned the trade. He found his life-long passion in the world of Chinese antiques and went on to become a ceramic collector whose vast knowledge was matched by his immense generosity. For a few privileged individuals, Mr. Chen was unstinting in sharing his experience and expertise in the field of Chinese ceramics.

This single owner sale comprises 67 carefully selected lots from Mr. Chen’s collection and a total value in excess of HK$50 million / US$6.4 million. Items range from vases, works of art to zitan furniture, dating from Jin to Qing dynasties. From the collection, the most surprising part is the zitan furniture on offer which has been kept in exceptionally good condition, particularly the pair of zitan altar tables (Sale 3216, Lot 1952, Estimate: HK$8,000,000-10,000,000 / US$1,000,000-1,300,000), illustrated above. These tables have remained largely untouched for more than 40 years. It is their impressively large size - each almost three metres long – and the superb quality of the carving that make them so exceptional.

13Among Mr. Chen’s ceramic collection is a group of 11 ‘month’ cups. During the Kangxi period, finely potted wine cups were produced at the imperial kilns. The cups were painted and enamelled with individual flowers that designated each of the 12 months of the year, and from which the name ‘month’ cup was derived. These Kangxi period cups embodied the essence of classical Chinese scholarship with its display of poetry, calligraphy and painting, and this schematic design inspired imperial ceramics of the later Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns. The most interesting among Mr. Chen’s ceramics is a rare pair of Qianlong-marked ruby-ground famille rose vases (Sale 3216, Lot 1922, Estimate: HK$ 8,000,000-12,000,000 / US$ 1,100,000-1,500,000), illustrated right. The survival of vases in pairs is rare and Mr. Chen’s pair of vases, both in pristine condition, will undoubtedly attract much interest from collectors of imperial ceramics. 

THE YIQINGGE COLLECTION ASSEMBLED BY A JAPANESE PRIVATE COLLECTOR

Carefully assembled by a Japanese connoisseur of Chinese ceramics, the Yiqingge Collection comprises 36 lots featuring important Chinese ceramics from the Song Dynasty to the Republic period, as well as a set of important art publications, altogether estimated to realise in excess of HK$31 million / US$4 million.

1e95317ec19677288a8eda4bcf177cccAmong the highlights is a rare pair of well painted famille rose ‘flowers and peaches’ jars and covers (Sale 3220, Lot 2025, Estimate: HK$5,000,000-8,000,000 / US$650,000-1,000,000), illustated left. No other identical examples appear to have been published to date. The jars also have remarkable provenance. They were previously in the collection of Asano Souichiro (1848-1930), an influential entrepreneur at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries in Japan and an avid collector of Chinese art, in particular Qing Imperial porcelains.

Another important piece is a very rare pair of porcelain-inlaid calligraphic panels bearing the signature and seals of Tang Ying (1683-1756) (Sale 3220, Lot 2012, Estimate: HK$1,800,000-2,500,000 / US$240,000-320,000), the pre-eminent Superintendent of the Imperial kilns during the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods, whose works are highly valued and sought after. Porcelain-inlaid panels with Tang Ying’s calligraphy are rare, and only one other example appears to be known, which is in the collection of Eisei Bunko Museum, Tokyo. 

THE IMPERIAL SALE AND IMPORTANT CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART

Imperial Sales have been a feature of every spring auction season at Christie’s Hong Kong since 1996. This year, the Imperial Sale and Important Chinese ceramics and works of art categories range from archaic bronzes, Song ceramics and Longquan celadon ceramics, to Qing doucai ceramics and jades. The sale was put together with emphasis on reasonable and realistic estimates, with pieces carefully selected in direct response to what is of interest to the market and reflecting the increasingly sophisticated and discerning tastes of collectors worldwide. There are 259 lots on offer, estimated to achieve in excess of HK$279 million / US$35.8 million.

Qing famille rose, doucai-decorated and monochrome ceramics continue to be the most prominent category and a particularly fine selection in the Imperial sale embodies the key attributes of provenance, rarity and fine condition.

77d327eabb2622dd65b367517bfa101bA number of very important jade carvings in the sale include a rare imperial inscribed Mughal-style white jade cup from the Qianlong period (Sale 3213, Lot 2133, Estimate: HK$ 12,000,000-18,000,000 / US$ 1,600,000-2,300,000), illustrated right, a superb carving aimed at recreating the jade carvings from the Mughal Empire that were so admired by the Qianlong Emperor. Satisfied that its superb quality befits his ideal of Mughal jades, the Qianlong Emperor inscribed his own poem of appreciation on it, and used it as a brush washer on his writing desk.

164bcfc4829aa3c013da3e317431e8fcA pair of imperial Canton tribute bejewelled and jadeite-inlaid silver-gilt boxes (Sale 3213, Lot 2163, Estimate: HK$5,000,000-8,000,000 / US$600,000-1,000,000), illustrated left, is a highlight of a section of the Imperial sale, dedicated to a group of very fine and ornately decorated pieces produced in Canton for the Imperial Court. These objects were made using the expertise of some of the country’s finest artisans and assimilating the prevailing influences and taste for Western works of art.

The sale also includes a fine selection of Buddhist bronze figures led by a very rare and important gilt-bronze figure of Bodhisattva Padmapani (Sale 3213, Lot 2138, Estimate: HK$4,000,000-6,000,000 / US$520,000-770,000), which is the largest example among the few recorded gilt-bronze figures that bear a Zhengtong (1436-1449) reign mark, the sixth emperor of the Ming Dynasty.