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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Late Spring Chinese Art Highlights in Hong Kong - Porcelain, Buddhas and Jades

I finally made it back to Toronto! If you have been following my Instagram, you probably saw that I was in Hong Kong for two weeks. In addition to eating some amazing food, I also checked out the numerous Chinese Art events taking place at the end of May. Not only was there the large International Antiques Fair, but there were also auction previews at Bonhams, Sotheby's and Christie's.

Christie's occupied the largest venue at the Hong Kong Convention Centre so most the photos I selected for this blog came from their exhibition. I focused primarily on the Chinese works of art, but there was also fine jewelry and watches, 20th Chinese modern paintings and contemporary art on display. Here are some of my favourite pieces:

A Magnificent and Extremely Rare Polychrome Wood Figure of Water Moon Guanyin, Liao to Jin Dynasty (907-1234)

This graceful figure of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is one of the best examples I have seen come up for auction. It was featured in Christie's sale of 'Contemplating the Divine: Fine Buddhist Art' which contained (as you guessed) about twenty pieces of Buddhist art including sculptures, paintings and ritual objects.

The figure shown here is seated in the rare pose of royal ease and is carefully decorated in red lacquer and gold leaf. The LED halo in the back is NOT included but creates a really cool contemporary effect! Against an estimate of USD equivalent 2/2.6 million, this Buddhist figure realized a price of USD 3.834 million.

An Important and Extremely Rare Imperial Yellow Jade Hanging Vase and Cover, Heting You, Qianlong Mark and of the Period (1736-1795)

From the sale 'Leisurely Delight of a Transient Life' was this elegant vase carved from yellow jade. These days, yellow jade is quite in-demand, and in some cases even more desirable than the historically popular white jade carvings. The base bears a four-character Qianlong imperial mark and its shape imitates archaic bronzes from over 2000 years ago. The handle is very unique in that it emulates twisting rope, and there is a very cute ram's head on the side. With a USD 1.6/2.3 million estimate, this jade vessel sold for USD 2.32 million.

A Fine and Extremely Rare Doucai and Famille Rose 'Anbaxian' Vase, Tianquiping, Qianlong Mark and of the Period (1736-1795)

This vase was by far the highlight of the Christie's Chinese works of art sales and toured the world extensively while leading up to the Hong Kong auctions. The design is extremely rare as it showcases the Eight Daoist emblems intertwined with lotus balls and scrolling vines, and it is decorated with both doucai and famille rose enamels. The name of the vase's shape adds to its significance - the form is a tianquiping, 天球瓶, which loosely translates to a 'heavenly sphered vase'.

The vase was donated to the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, Oklahoma) in 1960 by the heirs to the prestigious Taber Family. It was originally acquired by George Hathaway Taber Jr (1859-1940), an oil executive with the Gulf Oil Company who was also a fervent collector of Chinese porcelain.

'Conservatively' estimated at USD 9.1/12 million, the vase sold for an outstanding USD 16.64 million!!! The buyer was purportedly the prestigious Shanghai-born Hong Kong dealer/collector.

At Christie's there was also a display of Chinese Classical Furniture from the Raymond Hung Collection. This included domestic furniture such as daybeds, chairs and altar tables constructed from rare zitan and huanghuali wood.

Here's a photo of my hand examining An Important and Extremely Rare Iron-Red Decorated Blue and White 'Mythical Sea Creatures' Stem Cup from the Christie's sale 'Leisurely Delights of a Transient Life'. You can see also see part of a really rare Kangxi Period (1664-1722) blue and white brushpot in the background.

Here I am carefully checking out the stem cup's base...

... and then the stem cup's interior with its six-character 大明宣德年制 mark, daming xuande nianzhi (made in the year of the Xuande reign) which corresponds to 1426-1435.

Finally, I was comparing the red stem cup to a similar blue and white example from the same period side-by-side. The blue one is described as A Very Rare Blue and White Reserve-Decorated Stem Cup, but unfortunately did not sell (estimate USD 260/380,000). The red one ended up selling for USD 1.55 million which is within its estimate of USD 1.3/1.9 million.

I also managed to wander around the modern art galleries at Christie's and saw many of the important paintings in their sale of 'Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art'. One of the most talked about works was this masterpiece by Chinese-French artist Zao Wouki 趙無極 (1921-2013) titled 141259 (14 December 1959).

This was one of the most important paintings by the artist to come up for auction this year and it sold for an astounding HKD 176,725,000 (equivalent of USD 22.657 million)!!! The painting is one the best examples from his early abstract expressionist style with its intense layers of red, white and black.

Another painting I was particularly fond of was this oil on board by Wu Guanzhong 吳冠中 (1919-2010)

titled Side of the Li River (I) (1977). He is one of the most popular Chinese artists at the moment with his synthesis of Chinese and Western painting styles.

Here, he depicts a traditional Chinese landscape of mountains, trees, a river and houses, but with the use of Westernized perspective and application of oil paints. Against an estimate of HKD 12/20 million this painting sold for HKD 10,660,000 (about USD 1.366 million). I have to admit I stared at this painting for a solid ten minutes.

Christie's wasn't the only auction house to feature spring sale in Hong Kong. At Bonhams I was able to examine this Imperial White Jade 'Phoenix' Vessel, Gong, from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

With a height of 18.8 cm, this carving was one of the largest pieces of 18th Century jades I have ever handled. Estimated at USD 1.0/1.5 million, it sold for USD 1.42 million. The carving depicts a well-carved archaistic phoenix surmounted by a drinking vessel. This example showcases the 18th Century Qing Court's fascination with reviving forms and motifs from the ancient Chinese bronze age.

Over at Tokyo Chuo Hong Kong Auctions I was abe to see this delightful Turquoise-Ground Famille Rose Boy's Vase with Qianlong Mark and of the Period (1736-1795). I wasn't able to confirm the final price, but against an estimate of USD 884,000/1.274 million, I heard the vase sold for just over the high end estimate.

The vase depicts five young boys holding auspicious objects while climbing on top of the porcelain vessel. This motif is supposed to represent fecundity for the owner - preferably an abundance of male heirs. The many bats on the vase's surface represent 'good fortune'.

A view of the gilt painted six-character reign mark on the base 大清乾隆年製, daqing Qianlong nianzhi (made in the year of the Qianlong reign).

The International Antiques Fair organized by Chak's Investment featured dozens of dealers from East Asia and around the world. Included in the fair's admission ticket was access to a special exhibition titled 'The Perfect Match - Boxes Exhibition', 天作之合 - 持式盒展 (tianzuo zhihe - chishi hezhan). This exhibition focuses on Chinese storage boxes from the 17th to the early 20th Century constructed of various mediums including porcelain, jade, cinnabar lacquer, bronze and silver.

The highlight on display (and used in all of the fair's advertising) was this wonderful pair of porcelain wares described as A Pair of Yangcai Firecracker-Shaped Boxes, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795). Decorated in famille rose enamels, each of these rare boxes imitate a grouping of ten multicoloured firecrackers bound together by a silk ribbon.

They were originally from the collection of Brooke Astor (1902-2007), the New York philanthropist, author and socialite, and sold through Sotheby's New York in 2012 for USD 495,500. The value of these boxes have probably increased significantly over the past six years!

The accompanying catalogue to the exhibition 'The Perfect Match - Boxes Exhibition', 天作之合 - 持式盒展.

That's it for this round of updates. I should be settled in Toronto for the rest of the summer and (hopefully) won't be traveling until the Chinese Art auction season restarts in mid-September. I'm still trying to catch up with all my art appraisal and advising work, but feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or comments about the Asian Art world. I'm also taking ideas for future blogs too!

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