Lot 11. A rare and large red and yellow lacquer 'dragons' box and cover, Mid-Qing Dynasty. Estimate HK$600,000 - 800,000 (US$77,000 - 100,000). Sold for HK$ 3,700,000 (€398,943). Photo: Bonhams.

The high rectangular cover masterfully carved through two thick layers of lacquer, the upper layer red and the lower layer yellow, vividly decorated with two five-clawed writhing dragons emerging from tumultuously crashing waves releasing splashes of foam, facing each other from a distance ferociously chasing a flaming pearl, surrounded by undulating scrolling clouds, the sides elaborately carved with rectangular panels, each framed within a rope work border encircling two flying bats amidst a dense ground of curling foliage issuing a blooming chrysanthemum at the centre symmetrically flanked by lotus flowers, the box deftly decorated in openwork with a ruyi-head border at the rim, supported on bracket feet. 106cm (41 5/8in) long x 47.5cm (18 5/8in) deep x 18.5cm (7 1/4in) high (2).

Provenance: An American private collection

NoteThis lacquer box and cover is remarkable for its impressive size and well-detailed decoration carved in cinnabar red lacquer on a yellow ground. The subject matter, of contrasted dragons emerging from waves and pursuing the flaming pearl of wisdom, follows on that seen in late Ming dynasty lacquer-wares, such as a carved red and yellow lacquer tray, 16th century, illustrated in Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colors: Treasured Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, no.99. This subject matter continued into the Qing dynasty as can be seen in related variously shaped red lacquer boxes and covers, 18th century, illustrated in ibid., nos.134 and 153; and see also a large red lacquer box and cover, early Qing dynasty, and another with a pair of dragons above waves, mid-Qing dynasty, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Lacquer Wares of the Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2006, nos.2 and 46. For a related design of stylised lotus scrolls as can be seen on the sides of the box, see a carved red lacquer 'cart' box, 18th century, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated ibid., no.164. Related carved red lacquer ruyi terminals stands were often used on Imperial lacquers to elevate vases or boxes; for related examples, 18th/19th century, see ibid., nos.167, 168, and 179.

This type of decoration and highly accomplished execution exemplify the high level of craftsmanship achieved by the lacquer ateliers in the mid-Qing dynasty period, responding to the Imperial Court's exacting demands.