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Imperial Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
The star lot is a pair of famille rose ‘peach’ bowls from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), Qing Dynasty (Estimate on request). It is the only known pair of Yongzheng ‘peach’ bowls available on the market in recent years. The bowls rank among the masterpieces of the overglaze enamelled porcelain from the Chinese Imperial kilns. © Christie's Images Ltd 2007.

HONG KONG.-Prized Qing ceramics will lead this season’s Imperial Sale to take place at Christie’s Hong Kong on 29 May 2007. This important auction event is comprised of a myriad of rare and splendid Chinese porcelain, works of art and jade carvings made for the Imperial court. On the same day, the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale will include a wide selection of exquisite pieces ranging from Longquan celadon ceramics to important lacquer and cloisonné wares.

In this Spring auction series, Christie's Hong Kong will introduce a real-time multi-media auction service Christie’s LIVE™, becoming the first international auction house in Asia to offer fine art through live online auctions. Christie’s LIVE™ enables collectors around the world to bid from their personal computers while enjoying the look, sound and feel of the sale.

Amongst the Qing dynasty polychrome ceramics on offer are the highly desired collectors’ pieces best represented by a pair of famille rose ‘peach’ bowls from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) (Lot 1374, Estimate on request). Formerly from the collections of J. D. Chen, Paul and Helen Bernat and T. Endo, it is the only known pair of Yongzheng ‘peach’ bowls available on the market in recent years. The bowls rank among the masterpieces of the overglaze enamelled porcelain from the Chinese Imperial kilns. Each bowl is skillfully decorated with luscious peaches growing on branches that extend from the exterior, rising from just above the foot ring the branches emerge over the mouth rim and grow into the interior cavetto. This continuous painting technique on ceramics, known as guozhihua or guoqiangji, reached a peak in the Yongzheng reign in terms of the superb enamelling quality.

The decorative scheme, guoqiangji, provides a similar sound of changzhi, meaning ‘a continuous peace under good government’. This implication undoubtedly met Imperial favour as it proffered compliment to the Emperor and a wish for his reign to be long in years. The imagery of peaches is also auspicious as the fruit have long since been associated with the Daoist Star God of Longevity, Shou Lao, and also associated with the legendary peaches grown in an orchard of Xiwangmu, The Queen Mother of the West. Xiwangmu’s peach trees were believed to bear fruit only once in three thousand years and if eaten would confer immortality.

Another auspicious motif in Chinese Art is the butterfly, hudie, which provides the homophone for ‘an accumulation of blessings’. By the Qianlong period (1736-1795), butterflies were expertly enamelled on ceramics as exemplified by the famille rose double-gourd vase (Lot 1375, Estimate on request). It is one of only three examples of its kind known to exist. Painted to depict various species, these butterflies are realistically rendered fluttering amidst floral sprays and above a band of overlapping lotus flower petals around the base. Aside from the visual appreciation of the painting itself, there are also hidden meanings as the double-gourd shape, hulu, provides the pun for ‘blessings’ (hu) and ‘emolument’ (lu). As such, the combined imageries of this vase symbolize a vast fortune of health and wealth.

Further symbolisms can also found in the pair of doucai ‘sanduo’ bowls from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) (Lot 1366, Estimate: HK$4,000,000-6,000,000/ US$520,000-770,000). Each of these bowls is delicately enamelled with sprays peaches, pomegranate and finger citron, producing the ‘Three Abundances’ of blessings, long life and many sons.

Aside from ceramics with auspicious themes, one of the most fascinating lots in the Imperial Sale is the newly discovered pair of turquoise-ground famille rose reticulated ‘landscape’ parfumiers from the Qianlong period found in a European family collection that will generate much excitement (Lot 1370, Estimate: HK$3,000,000-4,000,000/ US$390,000-510,000). Sturdily potted in the form of square vases, the side panels of the body are carved in openwork to allow incense smoke to escape through the tall trees. This pair of parfumiers is typical of novelty pieces from the Qianlong period, inspired by aesthetic frivolity and made to please and tease the eyes.

In addition to Qing ceramics, this season brings a refreshing focus on the works of art from the Xuande period (1423-1435), known the ‘Golden Age’ of the Ming Dynasty. Xuande Emperor was not only an able ruler but also an artist in his own right; his enthusiastic patronage led to an estimated 58 kilns at Jingdezhen working for the court, and that by the end of his reign some 443,500 items of porcelain were made.

Amongst the Xuande blue and white pieces on offer are two large heavily potted bowls with wide mouth rims, reputedly used for the playing game of dice. Both bearing the Xuande reign marks, the first bowl is painted with a continuous band of lotus blossoms connected together by an undulating stem (Lot 1354, Estimate: HK$2,200,000-2,800,000/ US$290,000-360,000). The second bowl, formerly from the collection of Stephen Junkunc III, is decorated with fruiting sprays including pomegranate, crab-apple, grapes, persimmon and peach (Lot 1358, Estimate: HK$2,000,000-3,000,000/ US$260,000-380,000, illustrated right).

Lacquer wares from the Xuande reign are particularly high in quality, and were made in accordance to the exacting standards requested by the Emperor. A fabulous example of this unrivalled lacquer craftsmanship is an important cinnabar lacquer chilong foliate-rim tray (Lot 1359, Estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,000,000/ US$200,000-260,000). The only other example of this same pattern and shape is found in the Beijing Palace Museum collection.

Also featured are important pieces of Palace furnishings including an important gilt-incised lacquered ‘dragon’ throne, Baozuo, from the Kangxi period (1662-1772) (Lot 1395, Estimate on request). Formerly from the Arthur M. Sackler collection, the throne has been decorated by using both the qiangjin and tianqi lacquer techniques.

Equally noteworthy is an Imperial yellow embroidered ‘twelve-symbol dragon’ robe, Jifu, from the Qianlong period (Lot 1388, Estimate: HK$3,000,000-4,000,000/ US$390,000-510,000). Finely couched in gold and silver tread with nine contorted five-clawed dragons clutching ‘flaming pearls’, it is further embroidered with twelve Imperial symbols including mountains, flames and mountains. The entire combination of these motifs, when used together, was exclusively reserved for the Emperor, signifying ‘The Ruler of the Universe’.

Further highlights include two Imperial seals: the first is a soapstone example bearing the seal chop, Qinmin, meaning ‘Working assiduously for the people’ (Lot 1386, Estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,000,000/ US$200,000-260,000). The Qinmin seal is identified as one of Kangxi Emperor’s few surviving personal seals. These two characters are a reference from the Classics of History and in its simplicity served as a reminder to the Emperor of his duties to the nation.

The second seal, equally important but of a less serious subject-matter, is carved of white jade from the Qianlong period and bears the seal chop, Shizilin, or ‘Lion Grove’ (Lot 1387, Estimate: HK$2,500,000-3,000,00/ US$320,000-380,000). This seal was commissioned by the Emperor to be placed in the Lion Grove garden which was lavishly constructed in the Yuanmingyuan, the Summer Palace, in imitation of the famous garden in Suzhou.

Pre-sale Exhibitions: Shanghai: Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 12 - 13 May. Beijing: The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, 15 - 16 May. Taipei: Fubon Life Assurance Building, 19 - 20 May. Hong Kong: Convention & Exhibition Centre , 25 - 28 May. Auction: The Imperial Sale – 29 May, 10:30am - Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works

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