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Detail of a very rare blue and white garlic-head joined lotus bottle vase from the Qianlong Imperial period which made £679,650. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Any concerns about the health of the Chinese art market were put to rest at Bonhams yesterday. (16.5.13). Colin Sheaf, Bonhams Deputy Chairman and Head of Asian Art, commented: “Last year we were concerned that the political transition in China would impact on the art market. This sale comprehensively demonstrates that the Chinese art market is back to form with record prices.” 

Bonhams Fine Chinese art sale in New Bond Street saw standing room only and brisk bidding which took the sale to £11.5 million with some enthusiastic bidders increasing bids by £100,0000 or more at a time. Besides the huge interest in the saleroom for the 420 works in the sale, there were bids from around the world via the Internet online bidding system, as well as bids from a bank of 15 telephones. 

An earlier Chinese art sale at Bonhams Knightsbridge saleroom on Monday 13th May made £1.2 million, producing a total of £12.7 million for Chinese art at Bonhams this week. 

The Bond Street sale included Imperial porcelain, sculpture, Buddhist gilt bronzes and vessels, jade carvings, scrolls, screens, furniture and paintings – but without doubt the Imperial porcelain dominated with paintings by Lin Fengmian also achieving remarkable prices. 

11The top item in the sale, lot 39, a very rare blue and white garlic-head joined lotus bottle vase from the Qianlong Imperial period which made £679,650. (Photo Bonhams, right). The bulbous body vividly painted in rich, even-toned underglaze blue with meanders of double-headed lotus alternating with smaller lotus blossoms painted in profile issuing from foliate scrolls above a band of key-fret at the foot, the scroll design continuing over the ribbed neck and the bulging garlic-shaped rim. 28.8cm (11¼in) high. The present vase is extremely rare in the decoration of the lotus blossoms. Unusually, the full open blossoms are painted as two lotus flowers joined together, but issuing from a single stem. The only other comparable example in form and design is a doucai garlic-head 'joined-lotus' bottle vase, Qianlong mark and period, illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pl.230. The motif of two lotus blossoms growing from the same stem is very auspicious, forming a rebus bingdi tongxin 並蒂同心, which means 'May you have a harmonious marriage and share the same ideals'.

This rare decorative element of a joined-lotus can also be seen on a famille rose ruby-ground enamelled vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, in the Qing Court Collection, National Palace Museum, Taipei, dated to 1743, illustrated in Liao Pao Show, Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, pl.29. Another example with this rare feature can be seen on a doucai bowl, Qianlong mark and period, in the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Hong Kong, 1995, pl.105. 

The rarity of this feature would suggest that the present vase was a special imperial commission. 

The National Palace Museum vase is dated to 1743, a time during which the Imperial porcelain production was directed by Tang Ying (1682-1756). The similarity of the joined-lotus feature on the one hand and the rarity of this decoration on the other, would indicate that the present vase was very possibly produced under the supervision of Tang Ying during the early Qianlong period. 

111A magnificent and rare blue and white moonflask of the Qianlong period, lot 40, was sold for £421,250 (photo Bonhams, left). The smoothly rounded body superbly painted in bright underglaze blue with Ming-style 'heaping and piling' with elegantly-spaced floral scrolls variously composed of fully-blooming lotus, peony, chrysanthemum, hibiscus and other blossoms amid foliate scrolls issuing a single vine leaf on each side above the foot, all beneath a band of pendent ruyi-head at the base of the tapering neck painted with two fully blossoming lotus on foliate scrolls each flanked by elephant-head handles modelled with long curving trunks and lingzhi sprays in the mouths, beneath a band of lingzhi fungus scroll at the rim. 45.6cm (17¾in) high. This stunning vase came from an English private collection, having been acquired by the owner's grandfather, in the late 19th or early 20th century. The present blue and white moonflask is extremely rare and only one other example of the same form and decoration, but slightly smaller, appears to have been published; see Yang Boda, The Tsui Museum of Art: Chinese Ceramics IV, Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no.74, previously sold by Sotheby's Hong Kong on 30 April 1996, lot 431.

The moonflask is inspired in form and decoration by early Ming Dynasty examples; for a Xuande-period example in the Qing Court Collection, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, pl.98. A similarly painted blue and yellow glazed moonflask with the composite floral scroll unusually comprising vine leaves, Yongzheng mark and period, in the Qing Court Collection, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, pl.233. For a Qianlong mark and period moonflask, of similar form, but with a border of lotus petal panels above the foot, and with a composite floral scroll without vine leaves, see Chinese Porcelain: The S.C. Ko Tianmilou Collection, Part I, Hong Kong, 1987, pl.65. 

111Another stunning work, Lot 69, a very rare Qianlong gilt baluster vase sold for £325,250 (photo Bonhams, right). The rounded body outlined in underglaze blue and brightly enamelled with four alternating iron-red and pink lotus blossoms amidst dense foliate scrolls in yellow, grisaille and shades of green issuing delicate hibiscus flowers, all between a band of pendent gilt ruyi heads at the shoulder and stiff lappets above a key-fret band on the gently flaring foot, the neck similarly decorated with two iron-red lotus blossoms amid leafy scrolls beneath ruyi heads and lappets at the broad gilded mouth. 43.4cm (17 1/8in) high. This vase came from an English private collection.The propserity, stability and length of the Qianlong period combined with the Emperor's personal interest and patronage of the arts, resulted in one of the most important periods in China's imperial history of art production both in terms of quantity and in superb quality. The present vase is a magnificent example of the imperial splendour and finest craftsmanship achieved during this period, both in its impressive size and refined and colourful design.

The doucai style of decoration, whereby the design is outlined in underglaze blue and filled in with overglaze enamel, was derived from the technique of cloisonné introduced to China during the Yuan Dynasty. One of the peak periods for doucai production was during the reign of the Chenghua Emperor, which saw the manufacture of doucai chicken bowls and stem cups prized and imitated throughout subsequent generations. However, whereby earlier Imperial doucai-decorated vessels were restricted to smaller sizes, the present vase, though keeping with a traditional lotus scroll design, is a statement of technical virtuosity, exhuberance and power.

Compare a related doucai vase, with a similarly moulded shape at the base of the neck, in the Qing Court Collection illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, no.252, and another 'lotus scroll' doucai vase also in the Qing Court Collection, ibid., no.255. A further example in the Wang Xing Lou Collection is illustrated by J.Thompson, Imperial Perfection: The Palace Porcelain of the Three Chinese Emperors, Hong Kong, 2004, no.46. 

It is also very rare to find the presence of pink enamel, more commonly grouped into the famille rose style, on a piece primarily decorated in the doucai technique described above. Another example of this combination of decorative techniques, again in the Qing Court Collection, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, no.245.

Asaph Hyman, Director of Fine Chinese Art at Bonhams, said after the sale: “We are delighted that connoisseurs of Chinese art from all over the world recognized the beauty and the rarity of what was on offer today and this was reflected in the very strong prices achieved.” 

PAINTINGS BY LEADING MODERN CHINESE ARTIST

Two paintings by Lin Fengmian (1900 -1991), a painter considered a pioneer of modern Chinese painting best known for blending Chinese and Western painting styles, did outstandingly well, each one selling for £421,250. With the exception of one image, they were part of a group of Fengmian pictures from one English family, a member of whom was a student of Fengmians. In total the group of 12 Fengmian paintings made £1.8m

Lin Fengmian was painting with the vision of the 20th-century, while contemporary Chinese artists lagged behind. But much of Lin's art was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. For years until he was allowed to leave China, he was tortured and persecuted for being an intellectual and an artist.'

The Lin Fengmian picture, Lot 254 Opera scene’, an ink and colour on paper, sold for £421,250. The painting portrays a scene from the Beijing Opera 'Southern Heaven's Gate'. The story takes place during the Ming Dynasty when a high minister was ensnared in an ambush by his political rival, the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian.

Lot 255 ‘Seated Lady with Flowers’, made with ink and colour on paper, purchased in Shanghai by the owner's father while he was working for the Shell Oil Company, circa 1952, also sold for £421,250.

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‘Seated Lady with Flowers’, made with ink and colour on paper, purchased in Shanghai by the owner's father while he was working for the Shell Oil Company, circa 1952, also sold for £421,250. Photo: Bonhams.