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Rare Qing Dynasty jade washer emerges from English private collection
A monumental spinach-green jade washer. Estimate: £600,000-800,000 / US$775,000-1,040,000 / HK$6,080,000-8,110,000. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

LONDON.- This November, Sotheby’s will offer a monumental spinach-green jade washer that ranks among the most impressive jade vessels remaining in a private collection, and appears to be the largest jade basin recorded. Emerging from an English private collection, the washer has been unseen in public since it was exhibited in the landmark International Exhibition of Chinese Art held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from November 1935 to March 1936. The majestic vessel leads Sotheby’s sale of Important Chinese Art in London on 7 November 2018, where it will be offered with an estimate of £600,000-800,000 / US$775,000-1,040,000 / HK$6,080,000-8,110,000.

Carved with two large beast-head handles and four further smaller handles with freely-moving rings, the basin embodies the distinctive qualities of mid-Qing imperial jade. Measuring 50 cm in width at its widest point and 12.8 cm in height, the vessel is carved from Khotan jade, a material which was, and remains, both highly prized and beloved in Chinese culture. The jade has an extremely rich lustre, one of the distinct characteristics of spinach-green jade harvested from the Khotan region by the imperial court.

Since jade is not so much carved as subtracted and ground away, the washer can be considered one of the highest technical accomplishments of the Golden Age of Qing dynasty jade. Vessels of any form, of the size of this piece, are virtually unknown, and this washer is remarkable because of its sheer size and exceedingly rare because of its six freely moveable rings suspended from animal masks. Such a feat makes this a unique piece and marks a pinnacle of imperial craftsmanship. Created under the auspices of the Emperor himself, the primary purpose of the washer would have been for display and aesthetic appreciation.

Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's Chairman of Asian Art, Europe and Americas, said: “This extraordinary washer has been in the same English collection since the 19th century, it has been published in one of the most famous books on jade, and it has been shown in the great exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in the 1930s, so it has a history, but since 1936 it has not been seen in public so it’s a discovery as well. This piece really ticks all the boxes that a major collector would want.”

The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) was extremely fond of jade, revering what he considered to be the eternal quality of the stone. During the early Qianlong period, the jade-producing areas of Khotan and Yarkent were not easily accessible due to occupation by the Dzungars, a tribe which formed the last great nomadic empire in Asia. In 1759 the Emperor organised a campaign to conquer that part of China where the great jade rivers and the great jade mines were to be found; the Qing army defeated the Dzungars decisively and cemented control of the region. The influx of raw jade following this victory provided the material foundation for the Golden Age of Chinese jade during the Qianlong reign.

“Khotan’s jade miners, they find jade boulders in the river; at autumn, the river is at low tide, many precious stones are found; they bend their backs and search meticulously, braving the chilling currents. Jade does not speak, yet its fame is known to all”. --Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)

1 Impressive in scale, the Royal Academy exhibition of 1935-36 was the most extensive international presentation of Chinese art and provided a European audience with a rare opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of Chinese art. The washer was included in the accompanying exhibition catalogue and in the seminal 1936 publication, Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages.

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