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A rare and important blue and white garlic-mouth vase, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period. Sold for HK$ 76,280,000 (€7,884,074). Photo Bonhams

HONG KONG – Bonhams’ auction of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art achieved spectacular results with more than 90 percent sold by value on 27 November 2014 in Hong Kong/

The sale was led by the extraordinarily rare blue and white garlic-mouth vase from the Yongzheng Period of the Qing Dynasty, which sold for HK$76,280,000, more than 12 times the pre-sale estimates (HK$6,000,000-8,000,000). As soon as the vase went on the block, frenzied bidding in the saleroom and on the telephone led to a rapid escalation in the bid price in a matter of seconds. The most expensive piece of Chinese ceramics sold at auction at Bonhams Hong Kong eventually went to a private collector from mainland China.

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A rare and important blue and white garlic-mouth vase, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period. Sold for HK$ 76,280,000 (€7,884,074). Photo Bonhams

Superbly potted with tapering sides rising to a steep shoulder, the waisted neck ending in a bulbous garlic mouth, the main body decorated with interlocking lotus, pomegranate, peony, camellia and seasonal flowers alternating in two tiers, brilliantly drawn with spiraling tendrils and resting between a band of stiff lappets and a frieze of classic waves, the shoulder exhibiting a chain of alternating flower heads encircled by circular and ruyi-head borders, above a band of twelve stylised lotus sprays and keyfret scrolls, the neck rendered with further interlocking lappets and downward ruyi-heads ending in a collar of interspersed circular flower heads with curly tendrils, all in various tones of rich cobalt blue above a slightly milky-white ground, the base with a six-character zhuanshu seal mark, wood stand. 55cm (21 5/8in) high (2).

Provenance: From the collection of Yoneo Sakai (1900-1978)

Notes: Yoneo Sakai (1900-1978) was one of Japan’s most highly respected journalists and foreign correspondents. Born in Saga prefecture, he studied literature at Kansai Gakuin and Meiji Gakuin, and joined the Kokusai joho sha as an editor of motion pictures and drama (eiga to engi). He moved to San Francisco in 1926 where he contributed to Japanese language newspapers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. From 1931 he worked as a foreign correspondent for Asahi shimbun, covering the civil war in Spain in 1937, and traveling to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Palestine and China from 1937 to 1939. He was interned at the Granada Relocation Center during World War II, and taught Japanese at the University of Colorado until 1948. In 1949 he and his family moved to Washington D.C., where he resumed his journalism career, working as a foreign correspondent for major newspapers, wire services and magazines in Japan during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations until his death in 1978. He hosted a radio show, America dayori (News from America), where he interviewed Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Ernest Hemingway, and covered the Vietnam war during the Johnson and early Nixon administrations. He became a U.S. citizen in 1956.

Information courtesy of the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections.

This magnificent garlic-head vase is extraordinarily rare and the only other known example is in the Palace Museum, Beijing from the Qing Court Collection: see a very similar blue and white garlic-mouth vase, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Beijing, 2010, pl.93. The Qing Court Collection vase and the present lot demonstrate slight variations in the distinctive descending lappet band below the shoulder and in the choice of moulded decoration in the key-fret band below the neck. This form is further recorded by Geng Baochang in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.236, fig.12.

This form and design continued onto the Qianlong period; compare a similar blue and white garlic-mouth vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated ibid., pl.121.

The present vase arguably encapsulates the very finest of imperial Yongzheng period porcelain production painted in underglaze blue and white. The relatively short Yongzheng period was a peak of innovation in form and refinement in design and execution. The garlic-mouth section of the vase is clearly inspired by early Ming dynasty blue and white moonflasks, bianhu of the Yongle and Xuande periods; the high-walled body is similar in shape to fishbowls; the wide shoulders would have been a necessity in combining the two former features; altogether accomplishing a striking and elegant form, creating a decorative canvas both around the imposing body, the wide shoulders and neck. The distinctiveness of the three main sections of the vessel, i.e. body, shoulders and neck, has been emphasised by the two moulded borders portioning the parts and decorative schemes, between the body and shoulders and the shoulders and neck, with the additional result of creating a further layer of three-dimensionality in the vessel.

The importance of the vase and intricate design is illustrated in the unusually large number of different borders – 11 different bands (excluding the double lines). These like the garlic-head form, are inspired by Yuan and early Ming dynasty designs: the crashing waves can be seen on Yuan guan jars and Yongle flasks (showing related whirl designs), see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Beijing, 2010, pls.5 (Yuan guan), 36 (Yongle flask); for a related composite floral scroll, painted with 12 main blooms, see ibid., pl.5 (Yongle flask); compare related floral scrolls below the rim of a blue and white zun, Yongle, illustratedibid., pl.46; and a lotus scroll on the exterior of a Yongle shallow bowl, ibid., pl.55; see also the double-lined lobed lappets, illustrated ibid., pl.94 on a Xuande flask. However, the almost ‘baroque like’ border around the shoulders of alternating circular and lobed cartouches would appear to be a distinct innovation of the Yongzheng period and arguably a unique feature exclusive to this type of vase.

The decorative triumph of the vase and its design lies not only in the exceptional quality of the painting and extravagant design, but also in the ‘negative space’, allowing a breathing space to admire the various borders and importantly the lustrous glaze over the porcelain body, underlining the pure feat of successful firing of what is a highly complex form of imposing proportions.

The Yongzheng emperor with his aesthetic sensibility, assertive taste, demanding standards and personal interest and involvement in the arts, pushed them to unprecedented levels of refinement and sophistication. His era, though relatively short and certainly in comparison to those of his father and son, established the identity of what is perceived as Qing art, leaving little for his successors to develop, with his son the Qianlong emperor, concentrating on increasing the scale of production and ostentation and connecting himself with a patrimony that he had inherited; see R.Krahl in « The Yongzheng Emperor: Art Collector and Patron », E.S.Rawski and J.Rawson, eds., China: The Three Emperors 1662-1722, London, 2006, p.245. This innovative drive was made possible by the direction of Tang Ying (1682-1756) who became Vice Director of the Imperial Household Department, Neiwu fu upon the accession to the throne of the Yongzheng emperor. He was sent to Jingdezhen in 1726, starting a new era of porcelain production under imperial patronage, combining both archaic forms and designs as models for inspiration as well as developing new and fanciful ideas. The present vase is such an example of combining elements of earlier forms and designs to create a new innovative shape and elaborate yet highly refined decorative scheme.

Important jade works also made waves in the sale. A magnificent Imperial pale green jade archaistic vase, hu, from the Somerset de Chair Collection sold for HK$19,160,000(estimate:HK$12,000,000-15,000,000) while an Imperial white jade vase and coverachieved HK$10,600,000 (estimate: HK$2,000,000-3,000,000).


A magnificent Imperial pale green jade archaistic vase, hu, Qianlong four-character fang gu mark and of the period. Sold for HK$ 19,160,000 (€1,980,320). Photo Bonhams

The single piece of rich celadon-toned jade deeply hollowed and elaborately carved on the exterior with two bands each containing finely delineated fish, tortoises and birds, some of birds proudly bearing a worm in its beak, and all marching in procession to encircle the rounded body, the front of the vase embellished with a single mythical-beast head suspending a loose-ring handle and matching the two handles flanking the neck also encircled with decorative bands with pairs of archaistic stylised confronted chilong in the major band and delicately incised whorls and carved S-shapes in the minor bands, the high foot with a single band of plaited rope. 41.8cm (16 1/2in) high

Provenance: Eskenazi Ltd., London and Milan, circa 1960-1961
Spink & Son Ltd., London
Sotheby’s London, 21 November 1961, lot 164 (frontpiece illustration), where it is noted it was acquired by Marshall
Property of a Nobleman, sold at Christie’s London, 16 December 1987, lot 472
Spink & Son Ltd., London, 1989
Somerset de Chair (1911-1995)

Illustrated: Oriental Art Magazine, Summer 1962, pp.88-89, fig.7
G.Wills, Jade of the East, New York, 1972, pp.93, 116-117
G.Eskenazi and H.Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, p.237, pl.157

Notes: The Somerset de Chair archaistic jade hu vase is an exemplary imperial work of art representing the Qianlong Emperor’s idea of archaism manifested by the lapidary workshops into a magnificent and monumental jade vase imitating archaic bronze vessels of the late Spring and Autumn period.

The Qianlong Emperor proposed to ‘restore ancient ways’, referring to the view of ancient culture as having intrinsic qualities of sincerity, simplicity and happy exuberance. For this purpose the Emperor instructed the court to collect drawings of antiquities, such as the Xi Qing Gu Jian (Catalogue of Xiqing Antiquities), which were in turn provided to the craftsmen for inspiration. See Chang Li-tuan, The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch’ing Court, Taipei, 1997, pp.49-50.

The prototype in form and design for the Somerset de Chair hu would have been a bronze hu of the late Spring and Autumn period, such as the one from the Shanghai Museum, unearthed in 1923 at Liyucun, Shanxi Province, and illustrated by Chen Peifen, Ancient Chinese Bronzes in the Shanghai Museum, London, 1995, pp.84-85, pl.53. The Spring and Autumn hu is of similar though not identical form with similar rope-twist border in relief as well as animal borders. However, as noted by Chang Li-tuan, the Qianlong Emperor granted the craftsmen a large degree of flexibility, allowing them to altar traditional design combinations and to introduce new themes. In the present vase this is demonstrated in the continuous relief borders enclosing fish, tortoises and ducks carved in pairs and in singles and in the more stylised relief-carved mask loose-ring handles.

A near identical hu vase from the Qing Court Collection, bearing an inscription around the neck reading 詠和闐玉鳧魚瓶 Yong He Tian Yu Fu Yu Ping, ‘Ode to the Hetian green jade Hu with fish design’, with a six-character Qianlong fanggu mark, is illustrated by Zheng Xinmiao, Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade, Qing Dynasty, vol.10, Beijing, 2011, pl.3. See also a very similar greyish-green jade hu vase, illustrated by G.Savage, Chinese Jade, London, 1964, pl.13. Another related hu vase, but carved in spinach green jade and of smaller size (26.7cm high) is illustrated by R.Kleiner, Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996, pl.135 and by T.T.Fok,The Splendour of Jade: The Songzhutang Collection of Jade, Hong Kong, 2011, pl.149. It is also interesting to note that the present lot is said to have come from the collection of Admiral Humman, commander-in-chief of the French naval forces in China in the late nineteenth century, as mentioned by G.Wills, Jade of the East, New York, 1972, p.116; however no other supporting evidence for this provenance is known.

The Somerset de Chair vase and the Palace Museum vase are both carved with registers enclosing tortoises, fish and ducks. The tortoise is one of the four revered ancient animals of China, representing the direction North, as well as the creation of all beings and longevity. Fish, one of the earliest decorative motifs, are associated with the dragon as well as symbolising an ideal secluded and peaceful life. Due to the homophonous relationship, fish came to symbolise abundance and carp in particular represent profit, power, strength and ability. Ducks represent peace, prosperity and fidelity. Their combination may also be construed to represent as noted by G.Wills in Jade of the East, London, 1972, p.116, life in the water, in the air and on land. These registers are carved below the narrow whorl design symbolic of air and the confronted stylised dragons.

Also impressive was an Imperial famille rose turquoise-ground vase, which flew past its pre-sale estimate of HK$2,000,000-3,000,000 to sell atHK$5,440,000.

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An imperial famille rose turquoise-ground vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period. Sold for HK$ 5,440,000 (€562,262). Photo Bonhams

The main faces carefully enamelled with an iron-red bat suspending a pair of fish above a blossoming lotus, all beneath a gilt shou character between a further bat and a lotus flower on the neck, all surrounded by elaborately scrolling foliage, the narrower side each with a bat above a lotus flower and a ruyi-shaped beaded tassel on the body and a flower with six petals opening to reveal a ruyi-shaped centre on the neck beneath each handle formed as a stylised chi dragon in iron-red and gilt, all on an even turquoise enamel ground above a band of lappets at the foot and ruyi-head border beneath the gilt rim. 22cm (8 5/8in) high

Provenance: A British private collection

Notes: The rich complexity and elegance of the enamel decoration on the present vase is a familiar marker of the imperial style that reached its height during the reign of the Qianlong emperor. To fill the space with perfectly balanced and harmonious scrolls and decorative motifs represents a significant challenge to even the most highly skilled craftsman, and porcelain pieces of this type were treasured within the Imperial collections. See for example, several vases with similarly elegant scrollwork on a coloured enamelled ground from the Qing Court Collection illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, nos.112, 118 and 123.

The green-ground vase illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, no.123 also shows the motif of the bat suspending the double-fish, which is also depicted on the present lot. The bat, 蝠 fu, is homophonous with wealth, 福 fu, while the double-fish, 雙魚 shuangyu, symbolise conjugal bliss and fertility, since they are believed to swim in pairs, and it is also renowned as one of the Eight Buddhist Symbols. Together with the gilt shou character representing longevity, the enamelling on the present lot shows an intricate but playfully harmonious interweaving of auspicious symbols.

The shape of the present vase is exceptionally rare. However, Geng Baochang illustrates a vase of related rectangular section in Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.262, no.18, as well as various rounded vases with related shoulder lines: Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.268, nos.3, 12 and 17.

Rounding out the sale’s highlights was a rare Imperial lacquered and enamelled Yixing stoneware teapot and coverwhich brought HK$ 3,040,000 (estimate: HK$900,000-1,200,000) and a Huanghuali folding horseshoe-back armchair, Jiao yiwhich took in HK$1,480,000, well ahead of an estimate of HK$100,000-200,000.

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A rare Imperial lacquered and enamelled Yixing stoneware teapot and cover, Qianlong seal mark and of the period. Sold for HK$ 3,040,000 (€314,205). Photo Bonhams

The elegantly curved rectangular body set with a prominent C-shaped squared handle opposite a tapering squared spout, the slightly domed cover with a pronounced knop, brilliantly gilt and lacquer decorated with flowing scenes of butterflies in flight amidst bamboo, peony, narcissus, plum blossom and chrysanthemum issuing from rockworks, framed between a band of down-hanging leaf lappets at the shoulders, the cover similarly decorated with additional ruyi-head motifs, the base undecorated revealing the reddish brown body, the base with a gilt-incised six-characterzhuanshu seal mark. 16.6cm (6 1/2in) wide (2).

Provenance: A French private collection

Notes: Both the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors were known to share great appreciation for fine Japanese aesthetics, in particular to the Japanese lacquer wares decorated in gold and silver, also known as maki-e technique. As such, many Japanese lacquer boxes with such designs were offered as tributes to the imperial court during the 18th century. Most of these lacquer wares would have been kept in the Yangxindian or Hall of Mental Cultivation and Qianqinggong or Palace of Heavenly Purity as the emperors’ personal playthings. Some of these mentioned examples are still preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, published in the exhibition catalogue Qing gong maki-e. Yuan cang Riben qiqi tezhan (Gold and silver lacquer work (maki-e) in the Qing palace, Special exhibition of Japanese lacquer wares held by the Museum), National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002. It is also noted in the catalogue that the Yongzheng emperor not only encouraged the imitation of the Japanese lacquerware technique in the imperial factories, but also promoted the implementation of lacquerware styles and designs on other mediums, see ibid., p.20.

There are several Yixing teapots in the Qing Court Collection with similar designs, preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, including a related square teapot dated to the Yongzheng period where similar gilt decorations can be found on the spout and handle, and other two similarly decorated teapots also with gilt-incised Qianlong seal marks and of the period, illustrated by Geng Baochang, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Purple Sandy Ware, Shanghai, 2008, pp.5, 32-33, nos.4, 25 and 26.

See a very similar imperial Yixing stoneware teapot coated in black lacquer, sold at China Guardian, 14 May 2013, lot 3998. Compare also with an enamelled Yixing teapot with impressed Qianlong seal mark and of the period from the Mr and Mrs Gerard Hawthorn Collection, sold in these rooms on 28 November 2011, lot 251, where the quality and tone of the Yixing clay used were found similar to the current teapot.

Dessa Goddard, Vice President and Director of Asian Art at Bonhams, who sourced the vase in the US EastCoast, noted: « It was a triumph for the global Chinese art department that this magnificent vase was sourced by Bonhams US, sold in Hong Kong and bought by one of our regular global collectors. »

Asaph Hyman, Director Chinese Art, said: « We are delighted with the highly successful results, demonstrating the continuing strength of the Chinese art market for the finest and rarest objects. »

Commenting on the sale, Colin Sheaf, Chairman of Bonhams Asia said: « This auction was a fittingend to an impressive year of consistent high prices and fine objects offered at our prestige Hong Kong permanent year-round auction gallery. We look forward to an equally productive and expansive series of top quality auctions in Hong Kong in 2015. »

The next Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction will take place at Bonhams Hong Kong in May 2015.