At Sotheby’s | Imperial Vase Sells for €16.2million

Posted in Art Market by Editor on June 14, 2018

Jingdezhen Imperial Workshops, Yangcai Famille Rose Vase Depicting Five Cranes and Nine Deer, Qing Dynasty, eighteenth century, reign of the Qianlong emperor. Details are available here.

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Press release (12 June 2018) from Sotheby’s:

Arts d’Asie: PF1837, PF1807
Sotheby’s, Paris, 12 June 2018

The summer Sotheby’s sale dedicated to Asian Arts ended with a total of nearly €30 million ($35.4m), triple the June 2017 results and the highest total ever for an Asian art sale in France. The sale got off to an explosive start with the auction record achieved in France by the extraordinary recently-discovered treasure of Imperial China: a unique Imperial 18th-century yangcai famille rose porcelain vase, bearing a mark from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795). After a 20-minute bidding battle, the vase sold for €16.2 million ($19m) against an estimate of €500,000–700,000.

Olivier Valmier, specialist in Asian Art, said: “The discovery of an imperial treasure like this, found in a French attic for nearly a century, was an extraordinary adventure culminating in the record price achieved today. France is full of lost treasures just waiting to be discovered. As specialists, our work is to reveal them to collectors the world over.”

Sotheby’s had unveiled this extraordinary rediscovered treasure of imperial China during a press conference in Paris. Discovered by chance in the attic of a French family home, this magnificent vase was brought into Sotheby’s Paris by its unsuspecting owners in a shoe box. When Sotheby’s specialist Olivier Valmier, opened the box to examine the vase, he was immediately struck by its quality. Further research revealed the vase to be a unique example produced by the finest craftsmen for the Qianlong Emperor.

The vase is of exceptional rarity; the only known example of its kind, it was produced by the Jingdezhen workshops for the magnificent courts of the Qianlong Emperor. Famille rose porcelains of the period (or yangcai porcelains) are extremely rare on the market, with most examples currently housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei and other museums around the world.

The second session (sale PF1807) continued with the sale of a group of twenty-eight Chinese paintings, calligraphies, and rubbings. Originally part of a large and important collection of Chinese art formed in China in the early 20th century, these works were only recently rediscovered. They had been passed down in the family and were originally collected by their great uncle, a prosperous German businessman and prominent member of the international foreign community in Beijing and Tianjin in the early decades of the 20th century and probably in the circle of Duan Fang (1861–1911). The collection totals €10.6 million ($12.5m), an auction record for a collection of Chinese paintings in France. During this session, two lots fetched prices of over one million euro. The most sought-after consisted of ‘regulated’ poems by Empress Yang, assembled by Qian Fu, with thirty-four collectors’ stamps (lot 34). Estimated at between €10,000 and €15,000, they inspired a battle all the way up to €2,465,450 ($2,901,761).

From the time of the First Emperor, an item bearing witness to the unification of Chinese writing, one of the most important pieces in this collection with a Duan Fang provenance is a very rare rubbing of an inscription taken from the Taishan Twenty-Nine Character Stele, mounted as a scroll and with a frontispiece by Duan Fang (lot 18). Bidders chased it all the way up to €1,929,000 ($2,270,375). It is extremely rare to find a rubbing of the Taishan stele with twenty-nine characters. Only a few have come down to us, including the example on sale today.

The day ended with a sale dedicated to Asian art works belonging to various amateurs and European collections. Bids were competitive for a carved Zitan ‘dragon’ cabinet, Qing dynasty, a masterpiece of cabinetmaking illustrating the splendour of Qianlong imperial furniture (lot 144). Rediscovered in the collection of film producer Serge Sandberg, it was sold for €393,000 ($462,549). An important polychrome stucco figure of Guanyin, Ming dynasty, 15th century (lot 184), fetched €237,000 ($278,942). Last, an impressively large blue and white bajixiang moonflask, Qianlong seal mark and period (lot 155), provided further proof of imperial artists’ talent. Its decoration of bajixiang, the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, framed by lotus petals, clearly appealed to collectors, who took the bidding up to €237,000 ($278,942).

New Book | Luxurious Networks

Posted in books by Editor on June 14, 2018

I’m a year late, but in the event that it might still comes as news to some readers, from Stanford UP:

Yulian Wu, Luxurious Networks: Salt Merchants, Status, and Statecraft in Eighteenth-Century China (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2017), 320 pages, ISBN: 9780804798112, $65.

From precious jade articles to monumental stone arches, Huizhou salt merchants in Jiangnan lived surrounded by objects in eighteenth-century China. How and why did these businessmen devote themselves to these items? What can we learn about eighteenth-century China by examining the relationship between merchants and objects? Luxurious Networks examines Huizhou salt merchants in the material world of High Qing China to reveal a dynamic interaction between people and objects. The Qianlong emperor purposely used objects to expand his influence in economic and cultural fields. Thanks to their broad networks, outstanding managerial skills, and abundant financial resources, these salt merchants were ideal agents for selecting and producing objects for imperial use. In contrast to the typical caricature of merchants as mimics of the literati, these wealthy businessmen became respected individuals who played a crucial role in the political, economic, social, and cultural world of eighteenth-century China. Their life experiences illustrate the dynamic relationship between the Manchu and Han, central and local, and humans and objects in Chinese history.

Yulian Wu is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.


Introduction: Merchant culture in the Material World of Eighteenth-Century China
1  Courting the Court
2  Furnishing the Court
3  Collecting as a ‘Collector’
4  Luxury and Lineage
5  Materializing Morality
Conclusion: Cultured and Cosmopolitan Men (tongren): Objects, Merchants, and the Manchu Court in High Qing China

New Book | The Social Life of Inkstones

Posted in books by Editor on June 14, 2018

I’m a year late, but in the event that it might still comes as news to some readers, from the University of Washington Press:

Dorothy Ko, The Social Life of Inkstones: Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 330 pages, ISBN: 9780295999180, $45.

An inkstone, a piece of polished stone no bigger than an outstretched hand, is an instrument for grinding ink, an object of art, a token of exchange between friends or sovereign states, and a surface on which texts and images are carved. As such, the inkstone has been entangled with elite masculinity and the values of wen (culture, literature, civility) in China, Korea, and Japan for more than a millennium. However, for such a ubiquitous object in East Asia, it is virtually unknown in the Western world.

Examining imperial workshops in the Forbidden City, the Duan quarries in Guangdong, the commercial workshops in Suzhou, and collectors’ homes in Fujian, The Social Life of Inkstones traces inkstones between court and society and shows how collaboration between craftsmen and scholars created a new social order in which the traditional hierarchy of ‘head over hand’ no longer predominated. Dorothy Ko also highlights the craftswoman Gu Erniang, through whose work the artistry of inkstone-making achieved unprecedented refinement between the 1680s and 1730s.

Dorothy Ko is professor of history at Barnard College. She is the author of Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding and coeditor of The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory.


Chinese Dynasties and Periods
Map of China

1  The Palace Workshops: The Emperor and His Servants
2  Yellow Hill Villages: The Stonecutters
3  Suzhou: The Crafts(wo)man
4  Beyond Suzhou: Gu Erniang the Super-Brand
5  Fuzhou: The Collectors
Epilogue: The Craft of Wen

Appendix 1: Inkstones Made by Gu Erniang Mentioned in Textual Sources Contemporary to Gu
Appendix 2: Inkstones Bearing Signature Marks of Gu Erniang in Major Museum Collections
Appendix 3: Members of the Fuzhou Circle
Appendix 4: Textual History of Lin Fuyun’s Inkstone Chronicle (Yanshi)
Appendix 5: Chinese Texts

Glossary of Chinese Characters



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