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Sotheby's Hong Kong to offer an outstanding Guan Vase from the Southern Song Dynasty
A Sotheby's Hong Kong specialist Yongzheng Jade Seal. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong Chinese Works of Art Spring Sales 2015 will take place on 7 April at Hall 5, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, led by an outstanding Southern Song ‘Guan’ Vase from a Japanese Collection (Expected to fetch in excess of HK$60 million / US$7.7 million) which has been unseen in the market for four decades, as well as two theme sales respectively dedicated to the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors of the Qing dynasty, two of the greatest art patrons and collectors in Chinese history. Also noteworthy are a magnificent carved celadon, famille-rose and underglazed-blue ‘boys’ vase, the Robert H. Blumenfield collection of bamboo carvings in addition to imperial porcelains and works of art from a Hong Kong private collection. Altogether, the six sales will offer more than 250 lots with a total estimate of approximately HK$600 million / US$76 million*.

Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Chairman and International Head of Chinese Works of Art, said, “We are privileged to offer this season some of the most outstanding Chinese works of art to come to the market in recent history. The Southern Song Guan vase, a masterpiece of ceramic art, and the jade seal that the Yongzheng Emperor used to impress on his own calligraphy are worthy of the finest public or private collections.”

Auction Highlights:

I) GUAN – FROM A JAPANESE COLLECTION An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty height 21.9 cm Expected to fetch in excess of HK$60 million / US$7.7 million

Guan yao, the fabled ‘official ware’ specially created for the imperial court of the Southern Song (1127-1279) in Hangzhou in south China, is perhaps the most desirable and certainly one of the rarest types of Chinese ceramics. It showcases Chinese potters at the height of their ingenuity, technical know-how and aesthetic vision. The works of art they conceived embodied the leitmotifs of China’s highly educated scholar-officials, the ruling elite of the Song.

The shape reflects the Song dynasty fascination with archaic bronzes. The exquisite, unctuous glaze of the present vase with its smooth pleasing texture, milky-blue tint and subtle gloss was achieved through gradual application of multiple layers and presumably successive firings. The thick coating thus formed softly envelopes the angular shape, rounding off all sharp angles to create an object that invites being held. The distinct web of veins of the large-scale crackle, probably provoked by a well-controlled cooling process after the last firing and subsequent staining, acts like a design formed by nature, giving the whole piece an aspect as if carved out of one large boulder of a fine jade-like stone.

Although widely admired and avidly imitated, actual examples are exceedingly rare even in the Palace Museums of Taipei and Beijing, since despite the expertise of the craftsmen, a satisfactory outcome was difficult even at the time. Only three other vessels representing Song guan ware at its best have ever appeared at auction. The present vase, originally purchased from Sotheby’s London in July 1975, from the collection of John Henry Levy, has been carefully preserved the last forty years in a Japanese collection, from where the record-breaking Ru washer emerged in 2012, selling for an unprecedented HK$207.86 million / US$27 million. Kept until last, the current vase was the one the collector cherished and valued the most highly.

The Yongzheng Emperor is celebrated among historians and connoisseurs as a distinguished aesthete and art patron. Under his brief thirteen-year rule, the Imperial workshops within the Forbidden City came into full bloom by virtue of the Emperor’s meticulous involvement in the production and quality control. The most luxurious materials were painstakingly gathered, the most skilled craftsmen summoned from afar and techniques perfected to levels never to be surpassed.

The present sale pays homage to the exacting eye and elegant taste of the Yongzheng Emperor . The nineteen objects selected here encompass some of the finest porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, and include as a group of exceedingly rare works of art – jade, soapstone, crystal, agate, glass, bronze, lacquer – manufactured in close proximity of the Emperor at the court and under his direct guidance. Every piece in the sale is inscribed with a reign mark, or of a type documented as being directly commissioned by the Emperor. It is unprecedented to have assembled a group of such quality and rarity.

An Extremely Rare Imperial White Jade ‘Yongzheng Yubi Zhi Bao’ Seal with original Ivory-Inlaid Box and Cover The seal: Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period The seal face: Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng Period Seal 7.5 x 6.1 x 6.1 cm; box and cover 9.1 x 9.1 x 8.6 cm Est. HK$30 – 40 million / US$3.8 – 5.1 million
This jade seal with its original box, one of only five recorded jade examples from the Yongzheng reign, ranks among the most important works of art of the period to come to light in recent history. The seal face translates as ‘Treasure penned by his Majesty the Yongzheng Emperor’ and the seal is impressed on his own calligraphy and paintings. It is exceptional to find such a seal preserved with its original box, which, like the seal itself, is recorded in the archives of the Forbidden City.

A Fine and Superbly Painted Blue and White ‘Dragon’ Vase Mark and Period of Yongzheng height 38.6 cm Est. HK$40 – 60 million / US$5.1 – 7.7 million
This magnificent dragon vase epitomises the Yongzheng Emperor’s admiration for early Ming dynasty porcelain and his endeavour for aesthetic excellence. The dragon motif is emblematic of the Emperor and, by extension, imperial power. The brilliant deep blue cobalt, applied to replicate the ‘heaping and piling’ effect of early Ming underglaze blue designs, reflects the high level of technical achievement of the kilns in Jingdezhen during the period. No other example is known from the period.

Prince Hongli (1711-1799), the Qianlong Emperor, is one of the most prolific poets and writers in China’s literary history, with more than 40,000 poems composed by him. He is also recorded in history as one of the most zealous collectors, with an art collection of enormous scope and size, which included antiques, archaistic works and contemporary art. His enthusiasm is reflected in the numerous inscriptions compiled in anthologies, and in his commemorative poems and compositions preserved on the surface of the finest paintings, calligraphy, porcelains and jades. The present sale offers four pieces formerly in the imperial collection of the Qianlong Emperor.

An Exceptionally Large and Extremely Rare Dated Zitan Mounted Archaic Jade Bi Disc Jade Disc: Eastern Han Dynasty Stand: Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, dated in accordance with 1770 height 30 cm; disc 23.8 cm Est. HK$30 – 40 million / US$3.8 – 5.1 million
The superb Eastern Han jade bi disc features painstakingly carved and reticulated dragon and phoenix motifs. The carved words Yan Nian (‘elongated lifespan’) stand for the longevity of the emperor as well as the eternal prosperity of Qianlong’s reign, a symbolic reflection of his quest for legitimacy as a ruler and his right to the Mandate of Heaven. The jade disc itself is of outstanding quality and superbly carved. Inscribed, dated and preserved with its original zitan stand, it is arguably the greatest inscribed work of art from the Qianlong Emperor's collection that remains in private hands.

This sale presents a selection of 24 objects from an Asian private collection, ranging from imperial porcelain from the Xuande period, in the Ming dynasty, to Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong in the Qing dynasty. There is also a number of rare imperial works of art, kesi and albums.

An Imperial Kesi Album of Poems On ‘West Lake’ Mark and Period of Qianlong 37.8 by 25.7 cm Est. HK$4 – 6 million / U$510,000 – 770,000
The Qianlong Emperor was particularly drawn to the beauty and elegance of the landscapes in southern China. When revisiting, he would compose poems, and then upon returning to the Forbidden City, would order imperial albums of all the poems he had composed on them.

A Fine and Rare Celadon-Glazed Vase Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong height 37.9 cm Est. HK$8 – 12 million / US$1 – 1.5 million
Of exceptional graceful form covered with a luminous celadon glaze, this vase is an impressive example of the remarkable technical developments made to meet the specific taste of the Qianlong Emperor, which was characterised by the imitation of antiques, innovation and flair. Its simplicity of form and absence of decoration was a new stylistic trend resulted from research into celebrated Song glazes. Published in the collection of Taji Shuichi in Tokyo in 1983, it has exceptional provenance.

The sale will feature a diverse range of important Imperial porcelain and works of art from the Ming and Qing dynasties, highlighted by a magnificent carved-celadon, famille-rose and underglaze-blue ‘boys’ vase.

A Magnificent Carved Celadon-Glazed, Famille-Rose and Underglaze-Blue ‘Boys’ Vase Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong height 44 cm Est. HK$50 – 70 million / US$6.4 – 9 million
This exceptional vase is a tour-de-force, combining celadon glaze with relief design, famille-rose and underglaze-blue painting. Acquired by the currently owner in France twenty years ago, it is extremely rare with no other comparable published example, and is of the uttermost refinement. The subject of children at play was favoured for its auspiciousness inspired by paintings by court artists such as Jin Tingbiao.

Passionately collected over 30 years by the American collector Robert H. Blumenfield, this is an outstanding assemblage of bamboo carvings, reflecting the superb output of literati taste bamboo produced in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Encompassing all the major categories, the collection includes figure carvings, brushpots, incense burners and exquisite miniatures produced for the scholar’s desk.

A Superb Carved Bamboo ‘Eight Daoist Immortals’ Brushpot Attributed to Gu Jue Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period height 17 cm Est. HK$2.5 – 3.5 million / US$320,000 – 450,000

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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