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An extremely rare sgraffiato-ground famille-rose vase, from the Qianlong period, which was being used as a lamp in a bedroom. It is estimated to sell for between £200,000-300,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Remarkable prices paid for important Chinese ceramics discovered in the UK continue to make headline news around the world. They form a fascinating part of an equally fascinating story: the extraordinary growth of the Chinese art market. The international market for Chinese ceramics and works of art continues to grow at unparalleled levels, with works frequently sourced from English collections, often from owners who are unaware of the value of the pieces in their possession. Sotheby’s London sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art on 14 May 2014 will present four pieces which together tell a story of connoisseurship and serendipity. 

Robert Bradlow, Sotheby’s Senior Director and Head of Sotheby’s London Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department, said: “The discovery of our headline lot, the exquisite vase, is made more exceptional by its superb condition. For our London sale this season, we have sourced several objects of the highest quality and rarity from English private collections. With demand for porcelain treasures from the Qianlong period, and for superior pieces of jade, going from strength to strength, this promises to be one of our most exciting London auctions in recent years.” 

New discoveries are being made all the time in British homes. The highest estimated piece in the sale is an extremely rare sgraffiato-ground famille-rose vase, from the Qianlong period, which was being used as a lamp in a bedroom. It is estimated to sell for between £200,000-300,000. Exquisitely painted with peony and chrysanthemum branches in full bloom, the delicacy of the vase is further accentuated by the sgraffiato scrolling tendrils that cover the white ground. The vase represents the Qianlong emperor’s keen interest in ceramic production and his taste for innovative pieces that demanded the highest level of workmanship. Only two vases of this type appear to be known. The floral motif depicted first appeared on porcelain during the Yongzheng period, made possible through the introduction of white enamel which opened up the possibility of creating a new spectrum of pastel colours. In turn, the painting style of the chrysanthemums and peonies was inspired by the flower paintings of one of China’s most celebrated artists, Yun Shouping (1633-1690) who sought to accentuate the distinct beauty of the flowers by making them appear vivid and bright. The sgraffiato technique, introduced during the Qianlong period, was reserved for decorating notable pieces. 

A pair of famille-rose altar vases (Gu) from the Qianlong era which had been in a English family collection and assumed to be of relatively modest value is estimated to sell for £100,000-150,000. They date to the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) and would have originally formed part of a five-piece altar garniture. They are exceptionally large at 44.8cm high and finely enamelled with the Eight Buddhist Emblems (Bajixiang). The mark is found in a horizontal line around the middle section of the vases, reading Da Qing Qianlong Nian zhi (made in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor). A devout Buddhist and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, the Qianlong emperor commissioned the furnishing of the Buddhist temples and ancestral halls with ritual vessels made from the finest materials, including cloisonné enamel, bronze and porcelain. Vases of this form belong to a group of ritual wares produced in a range of colour palettes and sizes, and are particularly notable for their large size and famille-rose palette on a white ground. 

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A pair of famille-rose altar vases, Gu, Qianlong seal marks and period. Photo Sotheby's.

of archaic bronze shape, each vase finely decorated in bright famille-rose enamels on the flaring trumpet-shaped neck with four of the bajixiang divided by scrolling lotus blooms between ruyi head and upright lappet borders, the reign mark written in iron-red enamel in a single line within a rectangular cartouche on the narrow cylindrical neck and framed by a keyfret border, the central bulbous knop section enamelled with further lotus scrolls, all supported on the high bell-shaped foot enamelled with the four remaining Buddhist emblems between chevron, key-fret and ruyi head borders, the interiors of the neck and foot enamelled in turquoise, the edges highlighted with gilding. Quantité: 2; 44.8cm., 17 5/8 in. Estimation 100,000 — 150,000 GBP

Provenance: Acquired in the early 20th century, and thence by descent.
An English Private Collection.

A devout Buddhist and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, the Qianlong emperor commissioned the furnishing of the Buddhist temples and ancestral halls with ritual vessels made from the finest materials, including cloisonné enamel, bronze and porcelain. Vases of this form belong to this group of ritual wares, which were produced in a range of colour palettes and sizes, and sometimes as part of a group of five altar garnitures. The present vases are particularly notable for their large size andfamille-rose palette on a white ground; compare a similarly decorated vase of smaller size (36.5cm) sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 30thApril 1996, lot 500.

Vases of this type are more commonly known in a smaller size and decorated on a coloured ground; a yellow ground example, from the Nanjing Museum, was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 95; two coral ground examples were sold in our rooms, one in Hong Kong, 8th October 2006, lot 1123, and the other in these rooms, 10th November 2004, lot 666; a ruby-ground version was sold in these rooms, 13thJuly 2005, lot 267; a pair of pink-ground vases, was sold in these rooms, 1th June 1991, lot 218, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th October 2002, lot 733; and a light-blue ground example was sold in these rooms, 9th November 2005, lot 314.

Compare also a complete set of altar garnitures with related designs which include two gu vases, such as a set of slightly smaller size (vases measuring 35.6cm) decorated in doucai enamels, sold in these rooms, 10th June 1991, lot 196, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 4th April 2012, lot 50, from the Meiyintang collection; and another much smaller set (vases measuring 27cm), presented by Lord Kitchener to Sir Thomas Hohler, sold twice in these rooms, 17th December 1980, lot 677, and again, 11th May 2011, lot 230. Sets continued to be made into the Jiaqing and Daoguang reigns; for example see a lime-ground five-piece garniture, with a Daoguang reign mark and of the period, sold in these rooms, 17th December 1996, lot 163. 

 

Born in Caterham, England, Kenneth Dingwall, a highly-decorated officer and an active collector of Chinese ceramics, was one of the founding members of the Oriental Ceramic Society which formed in 1921. He was the single largest donor of Chinese ceramics to the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1910 and 1937, leaving a further bequest in 1948, and donating four pieces to the British Museum. A pair of white jade bowls formerly in his collection comes to auction from an English private collector. Dating to the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, these bowls have been carved from a superior white stone and hence embody the finest jade carving of the Qianlong period. Estimated at £150,000-200,000, they are perfectly proportioned and smoothly polished to a lustrous sheen. The sensitive modelling and lack of any embellishment reflects its porcelain-inspired form and a deep respect for the stone itself, which is one of the most highly-valued materials in China, while the thin walls of the vessel highlight the translucence of the material and purity of its colour, two characteristics shared with its porcelain prototypes. Such large flawless stones, characterised by an evenness of tone, were available from the mid-18th century, allowing for complete services to be produced for the imperial court

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A fine pair of white jade bowls, Qing dynasty, 18th century. Photo Sotheby's.

each delicately carved with deep rounded sides rising from a slightly spreading foot to a flared rim, the well-polished translucent stone of an attractive white tone suffused with milky-white streaks, gilt wood stands. Quantité: 4; 14cm., 5 ½ in. Estimation 150,000 — 200,000 GBP

Provenance: Collection of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Dingwall DSO (1869-1946).
Thence by descent to the present owner.

Born in Caterham, England, Kenneth Dingwall was a highly-decorated officer and collector of East-Asian ceramics. He was made a Lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders in 1894 before serving in the North West Frontier from 1895 to 1898. Sent to South Africa in 1899 he was in action throughout the Boer War, for which he received the DSO in 1901. After a short retirement from the army in 1904, he re-joined in 1914 and was frequently employed as a Deputy Judge-Advocate during the Great War. An active collector of Chinese ceramics, Dingwall was one of the founding members of the Oriental Ceramic Society which formed in 1921. He belonged to the National Art Collections Fund and was the single largest donor to the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1910 and 1937, leaving a further bequest in 1948, and donating four items to the British Museum. Part of his collection was sold at Sotheby’s London on 10thMarch 1933, consisting of 90 lots of mostly Tang to Ming ceramics.

Perfectly proportioned and smoothly polished to a lustrous sheen, these bowls have been carved from a superior white stone and hence embody the finest of jade carving of the Qianlong period. The sensitive modelling and lack of any embellishment reflects its porcelain-inspired form and a deep respect for the stone itself, which is one of the most highly-valued materials in China. Such large flawless stones, characterised by an evenness of tone, were available from the mid-18th century which saw the production of complete services for the imperial court. A slightly larger bowl was included in the exhibition Jades from China, Museum of East Asian Art, Bath, 1994, cat. no. 340, where it is mentioned that in 1753 ‘101 pieces of uncarved jade with a recorded weight of 2 1/3 tonnes were selected and orders placed with Suzhou… for 100 bowls and 100 zhuomu’ (see p. 389).

Further bowls of this type, and possibly from this special commissioned group, include one included in the exhibition Later Chinese Jades. Ming Dynasty to Early Twentieth Century, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2007, cat. no. 113, where it is noted that the thin walls of the vessel highlight the translucence of the material and purity of its colour, two characteristics shared with its porcelain prototypes. A pair of bowls of similar size, in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pl. 29:13, where Rawson states that such undecorated jade vessels in porcelain shapes probably represented the highest quality eating and drinking utensils. Sumptuary laws, which restricted the use of jade vessels, and passages in novels that mention the utilitarian use of jade cups and bowls, indicate that jade was highly valued and used for eating and drinking (see p. 400). Compare also a bowl included in the exhibition A Romance With Jade, From the De An Tang Collection, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, cat. no. 116; a slightly larger pair, from the Cunliffe collection, sold at Bonhams London, 11th November 2002, lot 10, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 555; and another pair  sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st December 2012, lot 3001.

Qianlong mark and period bowls of this form carved from various coloured jade stones are also known; see a white jade example sold in our New York rooms, 19th March 2007, lot 618; two examples, one of spinach green colour and the other white, were sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1stDecember 2010, lot 3248; and a pair of jadeite bowls sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 31st October 1995, lot 754, and again in our New York rooms, 20th March 2012, lot 278.

From an English private collection, a rare iron-red and underglaze blue ‘Dragon’ dish is estimated to bring £100,000-150,000. Dishes of this magnificent size (47.5cm) and formidable decoration were made to impress. Such wares were used at Imperial banquets and on special celebratory occasions. The Manchu custom of banqueting closely followed the Mongolian and Tibetan tradition of shared communal dining. The decoration is a Yongzheng period interpretation of an early-Ming pattern. The Yongzheng emperor was known to have sent antiques from the palace to Jingdezhen in order to establish production standards as well as to serve as models and inspirations for designs. This design shows an iron-red five-clawed frontal dragon curled around a flaming pearl amongst crashing waves in the centre, the side decorated with four dragons pacing amid clouds. The creative ingenuity of the Yongzheng potter is evident from the successful transference of a pattern that was originally made for much smaller vessels, while the use of red heightens the contrast between the dynamism of the background and that of the dragons, and endows the scene with auspicious meaning. 

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A rare iron-red and underglaze blue ‘Nine Dragons’ charger, Yongzheng Mark And Period. Photo Sotheby's.

sturdily potted with curved sides rising from a tapered foot to a wide everted rim, the interior painted with a central medallion enclosing an iron-red five-clawed frontal dragon curled around a flaming pearl amidst a turbulent sea of underglaze-blue waves, the cavetto on both the interior and exterior with four rampant red dragons in different lively attitudes, two of them five-clawed and two three-clawed and one of the latter with wings and a fish tail and only one eye visible, all pacing among blue clouds, the rim encircled by a band of crashing waves, inscribed to the base with a six-character reign mark within a double-circle; 47.5cm., 18 ¾ in. Estimation 100,000 — 150,000 GBP

Provenance Collection of George and Cornelia Wingfield Digby

Dishes of this magnificent size and formidable decoration were made to impress. Such wares were used at Imperial banquets and on special celebratory occasions, such as the ‘Thousand Elderly Banquet’ held in honour of senior citizens when thousands of invited guests were served a great feast. The Manchu custom of banqueting closely followed the Mongolian and Tibetan tradition of shared communal dining.

A Yongzheng dish of this design and large size in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, was included in the exhibition Seikado zo Shincho toji. Keitokuchin kanyo no bi [Qing porcelain collected in the Seikado. Beauty of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006, cat. no. 53; and another in the Meiyintang collection is published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1723. Compare also a Yongzheng dish sold three times in our rooms, once in London in 1995, and twice in Hong Kong, in 2005 and 9th October 2012, lot 125, from the collection of Dr Alice Cheng; another sold in our London rooms, 6th December 1994, lot 179; and a third, with a slightly reduced rim, sold at Christie’s London, 10th April 1978, lot 49. 

The decoration found in this dish is a Yongzheng period interpretation of an early-Ming pattern. The Yongzheng emperor was known to have sent antiques from the palace to Jingdezhen in order to establish production standards as well as to serve as models and inspirations for designs. This dragon design follows after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the side decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of this Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87 

The creative ingenuity of the Yongzheng potter is evident from the successful transference of a pattern that was originally made for much smaller vessels. The different design elements on this dish are perfectly composed to give no hint of overcrowding or spatial gaps that could hinder the overall harmony. While maintaining the essence of the original design, the artist created a motif that is familiar yet fresh: the side-facing dragon has been replaced with a frontal dragon and the crashing waves no longer cover any part of the dragon’s body to give a greater sense of the creature’s dominance and strength. The use of red heightens the contrast between the dynamism of the background and that of the dragons while endowing the scene with further auspicious meaning. Moreover, the extent of the Qing craftsman’s proficiency is evident in the additional crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which frames and draws the expansive design together, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.

Yongzheng dishes of this type continued to be favoured by the Qianlong emperor who commissioned the making of very similar vessels. Examples of dishes from both periods are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172; and another Qianlong example in the Nanjing Museum was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81, and also illustrated on the dust jacket.