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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Chinese Jade Carvings from my Personal Collection in Toronto!

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

I hope everyone is having a terrific summer! I recently finished a long work trip to Vancouver where I sourced artworks for the upcoming Heffel Asian art online auction. Hopefully I will remain in Toronto for the next couple of weeks.


My next trip will be a one week stop to Ottawa and Montreal in the beginning of September followed immediately by a flight to Asia Week New York for the Asian art previews and auctions. It's going to be busy!


Last August, I put together a blog on my Japanese woodblock print collection featuring a couple of shin hanga (new wave prints) by the legendary Kawase Hasui (1883-1957). This post proved to be quite popular and I received a lot of positive feedback.


This summer, I decided to showcase a selection of Chinese jade carvings I have been collecting for over fifteen years. Some of these are quite wonderful and have been great assets for my research.


Altogether I have about twenty Chinese jade carvings at the moment - the majority of these being 'scholar jades'. These are carvings meant for studying and are often found on a desk or relatively close by.


There are so many different type of Chinese jade carvings, from the Neolithic period (over 4,000 years ago) to 21st Century pieces by contemporary masters. The ones in my collection are mostly from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty and include carvings of fruits and vegetables, figures and animals.


When I am examining these jade pieces (sometimes with a glass of wine), I am usually looking at the quality of the stone, the overall quality of the carving, the finer details and the colour. The questions I ask myself is the qualities that help me date them. And I also rank them in terms of significance and value.


So here are some examples! And please note that the objects may be much larger than their actual sizes depending on the screen you are using.


Chinese Pale Celadon Jade Peach Carving, 19th Century

Image 1a. This well-carved pale celadon peach-form paperweight was one of my first (and expensive!) jade purchases. I bought it from Marchant in London during their '85th Anniversary Exhibition of Chinese Jades from the Tang to the Qing' in 2010.


As many of you know, Marchant is one of the most important dealers of Chinese porcelain from the Ming and Qing. Every five years, they will put together a jade exhibition as well.


This piece is from the 18th/19th Century and depicts a robust peach with branches and leaves on one side, and a bat and prunus sprig on the other. There's a lot of symbolism in this carving. In Chinese culture, the peach is a symbol for longevity, the prunus flower for perseverance, and the bat for fortune.


As a result, this carving hopes to embody all of its qualities for the owner!


Chinese Pale Celadon Jade Peach Carving, 19th Century

Image 1b. Here's an image of the reverse of the carving. You can see the longevity bat to the far right and the prunus branch in the middle. Also present is the Marchant gallery label!


Chinese Ming Dynasty Brownish Celadon Jade Boy Carving, 16th/17th Century

Image 2a. The next jade carving holds a lot of meaning to me. This was a gift from a dear friend and mentor Doris Dohrenwend (1931-2019). Doris ('Dorie') was a curator of Chinese art at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) until her retirement in the late 1990's.


Post-retirement Dorie still visited the ROM a couple of times a week, and that's when I met her. I was still a student at the University of Toronto when I would be volunteering each Friday at the ROM's Far East Asian Department. She would teach me about jade carvings, museum politics, and tell me countless stories about her forty years in the field of Chinese art.


When I joined my first auction house in 2005, Dorie followed my career quite closely and would often visit the previews. About a decade later when I became an independent Asian art consultant and appraiser, she was one of the few people who actually read my international Chinese art market reports in Orientations Magazine! It was Dorie's way of staying connected with the Chinese art market. At that time, she only traveled between Toronto and her family home in the Bronx NY, so reading my articles gave her an opportunity to remember the exciting days when she traveled all over the world looking at Chinese artwork at auction previews, galleries and museums.


When she was very sick, Dorie gave me this jade carving - a very endearing late Ming Dynasty mottled brown jade carving of a boy holding a large lotus leaf. She acquired this carving in the early 1980's and felt that I should keep it before she moves on.


This was such a sweet gesture and I have treasured this piece of jade ever since.


Chinese Ming Dynasty Brownish Celadon Jade Boy Carving, 16th/17th Century

Image 2b. A reverse view of the jade boy and the large lotus leaf. This view also shows some areas of calcification.


Chinese 16th/17th Century Greyish Celadon Jade Carving of a Catfish

Image 3. This next piece of Chinese jade is a more recent 2022 purchase. I acquired it in a UK auction and I just really liked the carving. It depicts two catfish, nian 鯰, holding onto a branch of longevity fungus. The jade dates to the 17th Century of the late Ming to early Qing .


The Chinese word for catfish nian (鯰), sounds like the word for year, which is also nian (年). In consequence, this jade carving with the large nian and the small nian (in addition to the branch of longevity fungus) has the symbolism of bestowing the owner year after year of longevity.


Chinese Mottled Celadon Jade Carved Five Bats Brushrest, 17th Century

Image 4a. The next Chinese jade carving in my collection also has a lot of symbolism. This is a 17th/18th Century mottled celadon scholar's brushrest depicting five bats.


I acquired it from the sale of 'Robert Youngman Collection of Chinese Jades' that was offered at Sotheby's New York in March of 2019. Robert Youngman (1940-2019) was an American businessman who collected jade carvings from the Neolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty over a period of fifty years.


I just love the carving on this piece! The bats actually look like they are just mice with wings. The word for five bats in Chinese sounds like the word for the five blessing, wufu 五福. The wufu are wealth, health, longevity, virtuous life and a natural death.


In addition to the quality of the jade carving, this piece used to belong to my cherished mentor H. H. Pao Xie.


Mr. Pao was one of Canada's most prominent Asian art dealers and taught me so much during the beginning of my career. He sadly passed away in 2009 just before the peak of the Chinese art market. But from 2015 to the present day, I have been working on Mr. Pao's vast estate with his descendants.


Robert Youngman purchased this jade brushrest at the Peking Gallery in Toronto in March of 1976. This was Mr. Pao's first gallery in Toronto before he moved to his more recognized Yorkville locations during the 1980's. It was then that his store changed to the more familiar Pao & Moltke name.


Chinese Mottled Celadon Jade Carved Five Bats Brushrest, 17th Century

Image 4b. The base of the jade brushrest where you can see three more bats (the third bat is facing downwards on the right side). The Sotheby's gallery sticker is also present.


Chinese Yellow Jade Carved Cover with Mythical Beast Finial, Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

Image 5. And speaking of Mr. Pao, this jade piece has been sitting in my office for the past 7 years! While I was working on his estate, I came upon this random yellow jade cover. I looked everywhere but I cannot find the associated vase!


The stone is extremely well-carved and the stone is a rare yellow tone. The top is surmounted by a detailed mythical beast finial. This piece is definitely from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) and may have been made for the Imperial court.


Obviously this isn't my personal jade piece, but I have been using it as a study object with the rest of my collection. I'm still on the lookout for its matching vase, and I know that originally, this vase and cover would have been quite significant with respect to importance and value.


Some of my research for this yellow jade cover has led me to examples of potential types of associated vases including:

  • a Qianlong Period Chinese yellow jade double vase that sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2014, lot 3683 for HKD 1.84 million (approximately CAD 320,000). The vase has an archaistic design of mythical beasts, and has a similarly decorated finial on its cover

  • a yellow and brown jade vase and cover dated to the Qianlong to Jiaqing period (1736-1820) that sold for USD 581,000 (approximately CAD 800,000) at Christie's New York, 19 September 2014, lot 1246.

So hopefully one day this yellow jade cover can be reunited with its original vase!


Thank you for reading this blog and hopefully you enjoyed seeing some examples from my Chinese jade collection. I'll be featuring more jades in an upcoming post too, since I was able to secure a very important collection of Chinese archaic jade carvings from a Hong Kong estate for my next Heffel auction.


In the meantime, please follow me on Instagram to keep up with my Asian art adventures!

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