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Chinese works of art from an important European collection to be offered at Christie's Hong Kong
A Finely Carved Ivory Brushpot, bitong Qing dynasty, 18th century. Estimate: HK$500,000-700,000 / US$65,000-91,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2011.

HONG KONG.- Christie’s presents an important single-owner collection of exceptional Chinese works of art from a renowned European connoisseur. This outstanding collection of fifteen rare works in jade, ivory and rhinoceros horn was put together over the past 50 years with a focus on the very finest examples of superbly carved scholarly objects.

To be offered on 30 November in Hong Kong, Exceptional Chinese Works of Art from an Important European Collection demonstrates the collector‟s appreciation of the decorative themes that have traditionally appealed to the Chinese literati, particularly those of the 18th century. This is the second of a series of sales from the collection, following on from the hugely successful auction of superb jade carvings in New York on the 15th September. A third auction is scheduled to be held in London in Spring 2012.

From a combination of Chinese history and legend comes the subject of the beautifully carved rhinoceros horn cup that leads the collection. This extremely rare rhinoceros horn „log raft‟ cup, Kangxi period (1662-1722) (Lot 2913, estimate: HK$10,000,000-15,000,000/US$1,300,000-1,900,000) depicts a superbly carved scholar seated in the stern. The subject of this magnificent carving was inspired by a legend involving the Han dynasty envoy and indefatigable traveller Zhang Qian who through his missions and travels is often credited as initiating the establishment of the famous Silk Road.

Also of note is a superb rhinoceros „dragon‟ horn libation cup, Qing dynasty, early 18th century, that is part of a rare group of rhinoceros horn carvings depicting dragons in a naturalistic manner as opposed to the more standard archaistic variety (Lot 2907, HK$5,000,000-7,000,000/US$645,000-900,000). In China, the dragon is a beneficent animal, and indeed, the five-clawed dragon with horns is the symbol of the Emperor. In addition, the dragon was believed to be the bringer of rain, rising from the winter hibernation among the waves at the spring Equinox to bring the rain necessary to water the crops. On this cup the dragons are shown rising from the waves which surge around the base of the cup, and flying up into the clouds, through which the carver has skilfully shown them disappearing and emerging with a powerful feeling of movement.

Of striking resonance for a scholar-official is the superbly carved 18th century white jade vase depicting a creature that is part dragon and part fish (Lot 2903, HK$2,000,000-3,000,000/US$260,000-390,000). This is a very popular subject in the Chinese decorative arts, since this creature is often seen as representing the scholar who is successful in his civil service examinations, allowing him to obtain a good official position. Legend says that the carp swims upstream every Spring to the Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, which it leaps and in doing so is transformed into a dragon – like the scholar who strives to pass his examinations and having passed them becomes an official. This dragon-headed fish is also known as a makara, which Buddhist legend says was a whale that saved hundreds of men from drowning at sea and then sacrificed itself to feed them. Because it so eloquently demonstrated the two important Buddhist virtues of compassion and sacrifice, the whale was made immortal and became a makara with the head of a dragon and the body of a whale, and with wings and a pearl at its side.

Leading the selection of rare ivory carvings is a very finely-carved stained ivory ruyi sceptre from the Qing dynasty, 18th century (Lot 2901, estimate: HK$2,000,000-3,000,000/US$260,000-390,000). Ivory ruyi sceptres are very rarely seen on the market today, which is surprising given the predilection for both ivory carvings and ruyi sceptres in the 18th century Imperial court. This exceptional example is decorated with intricate and naturalistic depictions of auspicious plants including fruit, including peaches, flowers, including narcissi, and, the legendary fungus of immortality - lingzhi.

Additional Select Highlights
*An Extremely Rare Rhinoceros Horn “Archaistic Vase” Libation Cup Qing dynasty, 18th century Estimate: HK$2,000,000-3,000,000 / US$260,000-390,000.

This is a very unusual form combining an archaistic bronze base with a naturalistic depiction of flowers, only very few similar examples are known. Here, auspicious flowers depicted on the sides of the vase represent the four seasons. When combined with the vase forming the base, it forms the rebus “siji pingan” – “May you have peace throughout the four seasons.”

*A Large and Finely Carved White Jade Finger Citron, foshou Qing dynasty, 18th century Estimate: HK$2,000,000-3,000,000 / US$260,000-390,000.

This magnificent white jade Buddha-hand citron is not only a superb example of carving an exceptionally large piece of white jade, but also carries an auspicious message. Buddha-hand citrons were popular fruit to be placed on an altar during the New Year celebrations, and their fragrance was used to perfume rooms, even in the Imperial Palace itself. However, it is the Chinese name of the fruit that makes it especially popular, since it provides a rebus for blessings, riches, and long life.

*A Finely Carved Ivory Brushpot, bitong Qing dynasty, 18th century Estimate: HK$500,000-700,000 / US$65,000-91,000.

This well-carved ivory brushpot depicts an activity that was greatly enjoyed by China’s elite, including those at court - boating amongst blossoming lotus. Lotuses have long been admired by Chinese literary men and have appeared in both paintings and poetry for centuries. This scene portrays what is likely a court lotus-picking party, with the Emperor overlooking the scene on the edge of the pond.

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