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The Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase achieves $2.45 million at Doyle
The Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase.



NEW YORK, NY.- A rare and important Chinese Imperial falangcai vase achieved a stunning $2.45 million at Doyle’s Asian Works of Art auction on September 20. Created during the reign of Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796), the Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase highlighted the collection of Belk department store heiress and passionate philanthropist Sarah Belk Gambrell (1918-2020). Determined bidders from around the globe competing via telephone sent the vase soaring over its pre-sale estimate of $100,000-300,000.

The Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase

The Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase bears a four-character mark in blue indicating its origin as a product of the Qianlong Emperor’s imperial workshop. Among the many artworks produced by the imperial workshop for use within the Forbidden City, falangcai (or “foreign colors”) wares are rarest. They hold the special distinction of having had to pass Qianlong’s own inspection.

The techniques involved in creating, applying and firing the brilliant, jewel-like enamels were laborious. Relatively few falangcai wares were ever produced in the Qianlong Emperor's long reign (1735-1796). Of the small number of known extant examples, most are now held by major world museums.




Measuring 4 7/8 inches in height, the Sarah Belk Gambrell Falangcai Vase is decorated with a continuous scene of two European women and a child in a garden, reflecting the Qianlong Emperor’s admiration for the European aesthetic. A prototypical European-subject falangcai porcelain vase on display at the British Museum as part of the Sir Percival David Collection similarly displays two women in a pastoral setting with a young boy. The Sir Percival David Vase provides the best and closest example from which to envision the proportion and possible design of the missing Sarah Belk Gambrell Vase’s neck.

Though the significance of the Sarah Belk Gambrell Vase in terms of its history, quality and value in today’s Chinese arts market makes it a singular highlight of her marvelous porcelain collection, it will never cease to be a study piece. It reveals in its subject matter the history of 17th and 18th century imperial court artistry. In its construction, one can begin to surmise the technical and conceptual skill required to create such a graceful scene in 360 degrees on a flawless olive-shaped porcelain body. Even its conspicuous loss invites us to envision the vase whole and in perfect proportion. How the neck was decorated – if at all – is the fair guess of any imagination.

Sarah Belk Gambrell (1918-2020)

The daughter of Belk department store founder William Henry Belk, Sr., Sarah Belk Gambrell spent her life as a trailblazer. Charting a path in a retail world run by men, she coordinated the women’s wear and cosmetics businesses for hundreds of Belk stores across the South. In 1952, she married banker Charles Glenn Gambrell, and the pair maintained homes in Charlotte and New York. A generous philanthropist, Mrs. Gambrell was a tireless advocate for women and other marginalized groups nationwide, and in her native city of Charlotte. She served on the national, NYC and Charlotte boards of the YWCA and donated generously to the Mint Museum, Opera Carolina and the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as numerous cultural, educational, medical and social service institutions.

A sophisticated collector, Mrs. Gambrell also assembled an extensive collection of important English and Continental porcelain. On June 24, Doyle held the highly-successful auction of The Sarah Belk Gambrell Collection of European Porcelain, which topped $1 million, exceeding expectations.

Fine English and Continental Furniture and Decorative Arts from Mrs. Gambrell’s elegant home in the Eastover section of Charlotte and her New York apartment on Park Avenue will be auctioned at Doyle on October 13, as well as Old Master Paintings and English & Continental Silver on November 10.










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