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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Porcelain @ Eskenazi London

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

I'm now in London for the Asian Art in London events! I'll be here for approximately ten days of auction previews and sales, museum visits and gallery openings!

This will be very exciting for me, and even though I did visit London for the first time since the pandemic for the spring 2022 series of auctions, the more notable events are showcased during the month November.

One of my first destinations while visiting Asian Art in London is always Eskenazi at 10 Clifford Street in Mayfair. They are the world's most prestigious dealer in Chinese art and have sold to major collectors and museums from all around the world.

Eskenazi just came out with their new exhibition (aptly) titled '50 Years of Exhibitions: Five Masterpieces on Loan from a Private Family Collecton'. It is on view from October 27, 2022 - February 3, 2023.

There were only five objects on display - three porcelain wares, one stoneware dish, and a steatite seal. Many of these pieces were acquired through auction over the past 35 years through Eskeanzi and are all instantly recognizable. These pieces were the types of items that made international headlines before and after their respective sales.

Currently, the five objects all belong to one private family. And of course, since these objects were all on loan and probably insurance for millions and millions of GBP, I was not able to handle or examine them. I would be too scared to touch these pieces anyways!

Yuan Dynasty Blue and White Guan Vase, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 1a. The major piece to this exhibition is by far one of most recognized and important Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) guan jars to ever existed. It belongs to a series of eight related jars of this large size - each featuring a narrative scene.

Known now as the 'Guiguzi Zia Shan' guan jar, this piece was found in an European home (where it was storing DVDs!) and was said to have been brought to Europe by their ancestor, a Captain in the Dutch Marine Corps stationed in Beijing from 1913 to 1923.

The guan (large and wide bodied jars with high shoulders) depicts bold figures, with the sage Guiguzi 鬼谷子 (sage of the ghost valley) as its focal point. He was a historical writer who wrote books on military strategies during the Warring States period (3rd Century BC). Here he is seen being pulled on a two-wheeled cart by two ferocious two tigers.

Not only is this one of the most famous objects to appear in a Chinese auction, but it set the record for any Asian work of art when it sold at Christie's London on 11 June 2005 for GBP15.666 million.

Yuan Dynasty Blue and White Guan Vase, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 1b. Another view of the guan jar with two soldiers bearing spears.

Yuan Dynasty Blue and White Guan Vase, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 1c. And another view of the guan jar with a horseback military figure.

Chinese Kangxi Period Imperial Falangcai Bowl, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 2a. The next item I admired in this stunning exhibition at Eskenazi is this extremely rare falangcai floral bowl from the Kangxi period (1664-1722). The base bears a Kangxi Yuzhi 康熙御製, which means that it was specifically made for the Kangxi Emperor.

Falangcai, meaning 'foreign colours', means that this bowl is part of a rare group of enamel wares made for the Chinese Court. These items were influenced by the Jesuit priests who brought new enamelings technology with them that allowed for a wider range of colours and shading.

In this particular example, you can see the incredible painting and bold florals. The blue flowers really contrast with the rare pink background, a new colour that was invented by the visiting Jesuits.

This falangcai bowl also had incredible provenance as well. It was formerly from the collection of Sir Percival David (1892-1964), the famed London financier and collector of Chinese porcelain, and the important Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropist T. T. Tsui (1941-2010).

Rare book by Hugh Moss titled By Imperial Command,

Image 2b. This Chinese falangcai bowl was also notably featured on one of my old reference books written by Hugh Moss - By Imperial Command: An Introduction to Ch'ing Imperial Painted Enamels (1976).

Hugh Moss is an eminent dealer and Chinese art writer (and now painter!). Over 40 years ago, he wrote one of the first publications in English focusing on Chinese Qing Dynasty imperial enamel wares. I've had this book for about ten years now and it's still a very important reference in my library!

Imperial Chinese Falangcai Bowl, Qianlong Period, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 3a. Another Chinese imperial famille rose bowl that I saw at the Eskenazi is one of the bowls that I have been 'oohing and ahhhing' for the past 15 years. I never thought I would ever be able to see this in person!

This was a record-breaking bowl when it sold at Hong Kong Sotheby's back 1988. It came from the prestigious Bernat family from Boston, owners of a family-run textile business and also Chinese art collectors who I have been writing about over the last couple of years. Some of their donations form the foundation of the Boston Museum of Fine Art's porcelain gallery.

The exterior of the bowl is magnificent with its rare puce painted landscape scenes framed in window vignettes, influenced by 18th Century European paintings. The base bears a four-character mark Qianlong Yuzhi 乾隆御製, which was made by order for the Qianlong Emperor.

Imperial Chinese Falangcai Bowl, Qianlong Period, Eskenazi Gallery (interior)

Image 3b. Here's the interior of the bowl with depictions of gentle floral sprays in famille rose colours. It's just a marvel to look at!

Sotheby's Catalogue - The Paul and Helen Brent Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain

Image 3c. This Qianlong bowl is on the front cover of one my favourite Sotheby's Hong Kong. The sale is titled 'The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain and Works of Art' and sold on 15 November 1988, in Hong Kong.

Rare Chinese Song Dynasty Guanyao Lobed Dish, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 4. One of the non Chinese porcelain pieces in this exhibition is this extremely rare guan ware dish from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). It is only 14.6 cm across but so graceful with its crackles and subtle bluish-green glaze.

Guan wares are exceptionally rare and considered one of the five imperial kilns of the Song Dynasty. This dish was once part of the collection of the generational Shanghai-Swiss dealer/collector Edward T. Chow (1910-1980) and the Shanghai/Hong Kong collector and philanthropist J. M. Hu (1911-1995).

Rare Chinese Kangxi Period Imperial Soapstone Seal, Eskenazi Gallery

Image 5. And finally, at the Eskenazi exhibition is the only non-ceramic objects, a rare steatite (a formal term for soapstone) imperial seal from the Kangxi period. It was found in an old French house back in 2008, and sold for an incredible EUR 4.7 million at a small Toulouse auction house.

This seal is amazingly detailed with all the ferocious dragons and enormous size - the weight is 3 kg! Records of this seal can be traced back to the late 18th Century of the Qianlong reign and it was probably used by the Kangxi Emperor himself to signal his authority on imperial documents.

Eskenazi Gallery Catalogue of 50 Years of Exhibitions

Image 6. And yes! There was an exhibition catalogue to accompany this exhibition that is available for purchase at GBP 70.00! I picked up a couple of copies to give to friends for Christmas.

Thanks again and I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. I'll keep up with posting my adventures in this edition of Asian Art in London. I'll soon be visiting various museums, auction previews and galleries. You can stay up to date by following me on my Instagram feed!


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