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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

USD 2.45 Million Chinese Falangcai Vase and other Highlights from September NYC Asia Week 2021!!!

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

And as promised, here are some highlights from my trip to Asia Week NYC in September! This trip had a lot of meaning for me because it was the first time I traveled back to New York since the beginning of the pandemic. My last trip was in March of 2020, which was just about the time the pandemic started encroaching onto North American soil.

It was definitely surreal being in New York again - New York was a city I used to visit four to five times a year prior to the pandemic, so I did have butterflies in my stomach when landing in Laguardia (which by the way has a completely new terminal!).

Just being able to attend the previews at the major international Asian art auction houses Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's once more was such an exhilarating feeling. This is all in addition to seeing so many old colleagues and friends in the field that I've missed for two years. Noticeably though, there definitely wasn't as much traffic from overseas visitors this time.

Anyways, onto the Asian art!

One of the most anticipated lots to go up for auction this past Asia Week was at Doyle, located in New York's Upper East Side.

Doyle Falangcai European Subject Qianlong Vase

Image 1a. Here they offered A Partial Chinese Imperial Falangcai European-Subject Porcelain Vase from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795). This impressive piece came from the Estate of Sarah Belk Gambrell (1918-2020). Her father was William Henry Belk (1862-1952), founder of the Belk department store empire. In addition to being a major philanthropist, Sarah Belk Gambrell was also an important collector of English and Continental porcelain.

This vase is especially rare. It was made during the Qianlong period (1736-1795) specifically for the Qianlong Emperor. The falangcai 琺琅彩 enamels translates to 'foreign colours' which was introduced to China during the first quarter of the 18th Century by visiting Jesuit priests. It is decorated with a scene of two European ladies and a young child amongst rockery, showcasing the Qianlong Emperor's interest in Western aesthetics.

Even though the vase only measures 12 cm (4 7/8 in) in height and the neck is noticeably cut down, it was still estimated at USD 100,000/300,000. In the end though, the estimate was extremely conservative with the final price realizing USD 2.5 million!

Doyle Falangcai European Subject Qianlong Vase Mark

Image 1b. A view of the vase's reign mark 乾隆年製 (Qianlong nianzhi), 'made in the year of the Qianlong reign'.

Percival David Foundation Falangcai European Subject Qianlong Vase

Image 1c. The Sarah Belk Gambrell vase has one very famous comparable at the Percival David Collection in the British Museum. This example has the full neck and depicts a similar scene of two women in a pastoral setting with a young boy. I took this photo during a trip to London back in 2017.

Sotheby's New York had an impressive array of Chinese works of art this time. In particular, their strengths were with Chinese archaic bronzes, porcelain, ceramics from the Tang to Song Dynasties and jade carvings.

Sotheby's MacLean Collection Pair of Shang Bronze Vessels

Image 2. One of the major collections consigned to Sotheby's was a selection of important Chinese archaic bronzes from the MacLean Collection in Chicago. These objects were collected over the past fifty years and housed in their own private museum. (I put together an introduction to this collection in September's blog which you can read by clicking here).

The highlight from this collection was A Pair of Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessels, Late Shang Dynasty (12th to 11th Century BC). They were estimated at USD 200/300,000, but because of their collection provenance and the fact they were exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago's major show 'Mirroring China's Past: Emperor's Scholars, and their Bronzes' (2018), they sold for USD 1.895 million.

Sotheby's Chinese Archaic Bronze Ding Vessel

Image 3a. Another impressive Chinese archaic bronze vessel at Sotheby's was this Bronze Ritual Food Vessel, Ding, from the Western Zhou dynasty (c. 827 - c. 782 BC).

Extensively published and exhibited, its provenance can be traced back to 1890 when it was unearthed at the famous Ren village site in Shaanxi province. This location is where many of most important Chinese bronze vessels were located. The bronze's former owners include the renowned bronze collector Duan Fang (1861-1911) and Yamanaka and Co.

This bronze vessel was estimated at only USD 300/500,000, but eventually sold for USD 1.835 million.

Sotheby's Chinese Archaic Bronze Ding Vessel Inscription

Image 3b. Detail of the archaic bronze vessel's seventeen-character inscription which dedicates its eternal use for future sons and grandsons.

Sotheby's Gilt Bronze Buddha Kangxi Period

Image 4a. Still with the bronzes, another object I really liked at Sotheby's was this Large Gilt Bronze Figure of Dipankara Buddha from the Kangxi Period (1664-1722). Dipankara Buddha is known as the 'Buddha of the Past' and is shown usually with one hand in the gesture of teaching (right hand) and the other in meditation (left hand).

This Buddha is large in size at 13 cm high (13 3/8 inches) and exceptionally cast. He ended up selling for USD 352,800 against an estimate of USD 250/350,000.

Sotheby's Gilt Bronze Buddha Kangxi Period Base Plate

Image 4b. Detail of the base of the above Buddha. Half the base plate is missing, exposing some of the sacred scriptures inside. The tissue paper was used to prevent all the contents from falling out.

Sotheby's Pale Celadon Jade Buddha and Stand

Image 5. In the Chinese jade category at Sotheby's was this incredible Pale Celadon Jade figure of Buddha from the Qianlong Period (1735-1796). I particularly liked the large size, the very fine colour of the stone, and the fact it still has the original spinach green base and mandorla (sacred flame).

This was another object with a low estimate, this time at USD 80/120,000. In the end, it sold for many times more at USD 685,500.

Sotheby's Ru Type Rothschild Qianlong Vase

Image 6a. Porcelain was a top seller at Sotheby's New York and as you can see in this photo, I was crazy enough to examine all the ru and guan-type vases in one shot! I think I had over USD 1.5 million worth of monochrome vases with me.

The vase I am handling here is a Ru-Type Meiping Vase from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795). It came from the Rothschild Collection and was estimated at USD 50/70,000. This vase sold the most out of the three with a final realized price of USD 806,500.

Sotheby's Ru Type Rothschild Qianlong Vase Mark

Image 6b. The base of the Ru-type vase and its mark 大清乾隆年製 (daqing Qianlong nianzhi), 'made in the year of the Qianlong reign during the Qing Dynasty'.

Sotheby's White Glaze Stem Cup Sui to Tang Dynasty

Image 7a. One of the major sleepers at Sotheby's sale was this unassuming White Glazed Stem Cup from the Sui/Tang Dynasty (518-907 AD). It is one of the few examples of this type of cup still in private hands and the shape was influenced by Central Asian exampled transmitted through the Silk Road.

This stem cup previously sold at Christie's New York, 19 March 2009, lot 685 for USD 20,000. This time, it was estimated at 'only' USD 6,000/8,000 but ended up selling over 140 times the low estimate at USD 842,800!!!

Base of Sotheby's White Glaze Stem Cup Sui to Tang Dynasty

Image 7b. Detail of the base of the white glazed stem cup.

Christie's New York also had many great Chinese art pieces including Tang Dynasty silver, Imperial porcelain, scroll paintings, jade carvings and classical furniture.

Christie's Carl Kempe Silver Rhinoceros Dish Tang Dynasty

Image 8. The cover lot at Christie's was this Rare and Important Parcel-Gilt Silver 'Rhinoceros' Dish from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Depictions of rhinoceros on Chinese vessels are extremely hard to find, and this example would have been made for the Tang Court. It was probably influenced by examples of silverware from Iran during the Sassanian period (224-651 AD).

This silver dish was part of the legendary collection of Dr Johan Carl Kempe (1994-1967) and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC from 1954-1955. It was also published in Bo Gyllensvärd seminal volume 'Chinese Gold & Silver from the Carl Kempe Collection' (1953). The dish was estimated at USD 1/1.5 million and ended up selling for USD 1.05 million.

In the above photo, you can see there was another silver vessel on the examination table at Christie's (just behind the rhinoceros dish).

Christie's Carl Kempe Silver Animal Bowl Tang Dynasty

9. This other silver vessel is quite important as well. Titled a Silver 'Animals' Bowl and dated to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), it was also formerly part of the Carl Kempe Collection, exhibited at the Smithsonian and published in Bo Gyllensvärd's book.

This example was estimated at USD 900/1.2 million and you can see that within all the the leafy tendrils, it actually contains miniature animals throughout. These figures include camels, birds and elephants. This silver dish eventually sold for USD 1.11 million.

If you have been following my blog posts over the past couple of years, you will know that I love Chinese porcelain wares, especially those with a very interesting provenance.

The next three highlights from Christie's weren't the highest sellers (relatively-speaking of course!), but all came from incredible collections that can be traced back to at least thirty years. Often times, an object's value will be enhanced quite significantly if they have a strong provenance.

Christie's Yale Famille Rose Daoguang Medallion Bowl

Image 10a. This first item is a Famille Rose Pink-Ground Sgraffito 'Medallion' Bowl' from the Daoguang Period (1821-1850). The design of these bowls pay homage to medallion bowls of the 17th and 18th Century (a selection of which are in the Bernat Collection in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts).

The Daoguang versions were considered quite common up until about fifteen years ago. Now, they are viewed as major official wares for the Daoguang Court and highly collected. Still, these bowls would only sell in the USD 20/40,000 range on a typical day.

For this current example it was consigned by Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven Connecticut for the benefit of their acquisitions fund. In addition to the prestigious university name, the object can also be traced back to owners during the 19th Century:

Samuel Wells Williams (1812-1884) Collection.

Frederick Wells Williams (1857-1928), by descent.

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, accessioned in 1928.

Without a doubt, the impressive provenance impressed collectors, and thus pushed the estimate of USD 20/30,000 up to USD 93,750.

Interior of Christie's Yale Famille Rose Daoguang Medallion Bowl

Image 10b. The interior of the bowl and an attractive blue and white design of florals with a central medallion of a rabbit drinking from a pond.

Base of Christie's Yale Famille Rose Daoguang Medallion Bowl

Image 10c. The base of the medallion bowl and its mark 大清道光年製 (daqing Daoguang nianzhi), 'made in the year of the Daoguang reign during the Qing Dynasty'.

Christie's Pair of Copper Red Bowls Yongzheng

Image 11a. Another of my favourite pieces from Christie's with great provenance was this Pair of Copper Red Glazed Wine Cups from the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735). The wine cups were small with a diameter of 7.3 cm (2 7/8 inches), but they had such a graceful profile and its glaze was such a perfect example of Yongzheng copper red. This piece would have been perfect for collectors who admired the best examples of Yongzheng monochrome wares.

In addition, the provenance was quite outstanding:

Sotheby's Hong Kong, 25 November 1987, lot 135.

Private Collection, Long Island.

Christie's New York, 24 March 2004, lot 232.

S. Marchant & Son, London.

So not only did it have two layers of Christie's provenance, but it was also acquired by Marchant, one of the most famous dealers in Chinese porcelain from the past eighty years. There was so much interest in this set of wine cups that they were bid from the conservative estimate of USD 20/30,000 all the way up to USD 131,250.

Mark of Christie's Pair of Copper Red Bowls Yongzheng

Image 11b. The base of the pair of copper red glazed wine cups and its mark 大清雍正年製 (daqing Yongzheng nianzhi), 'made in the year of the Yongzheng reign during the Qing Dynasty'.

Christie's Simon Kwan Iron Red Dragon Wine Cup Xianfeng Period

Image 12a. Finally at Christie's is another of my favourite porcelain pieces with outstanding provenance. This Iron Red Decorated 'Dragon' Cup from the Xianfeng Period (1851-1861) is quite unassuming. Upon a closer inspection though, the dragon is painted so well for such a tiny cup.

The cup is also a rare surviving porcelain piece from the Xianfeng period. For those who know their Chinese history, the Imperial porcelain kilns at Jingdezhen were mostly destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion from 1850-1864. As a result, the porcelain pieces coming out during this period were considered extremely rare.

This cup was also owned by S. Marchant & Son, London, 2007 and before that, Simon Kwan, a well-respected architect and Chinese art scholar from Hong Kong. The book was published in his book 'Imperial Porcelain of the Late Qing from the Kwan Collection' (1983), one of the books I refer to quite often.

This simple cup ended up selling for USD 75,000 against an estimate of USD 8/12,000.

Mark of Christie's Simon Kwan Iron Red Dragon Wine Cup Xianfeng Period

Image 12c. The base of the dragon cup vase and its mark 大清咸豐年製 (daqing Xianfeng nianzhi), 'made in the year of the Xianfeng reign during the Qing Dynasty'.

Over at Bonhams, I will always make a point to check out their sale of ‘Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian’.

Bonhams New York Gilt Bronze Yamantaka Vajrabhairava Tibet

Image 12. One of their highlights was this very impressive Sino-Tibetan Buddhist bronze figure of Yamantaka Vajrabhairava from the 16th/17th Century. Yamantaka is the Buddhist 'destroyer of death' and is seen with his consort Vajrateli. This incredible figure sold for USD 687,812 against an estimate of USD 600/800,000.

So what's next on the agenda for me? I've been (slowly) putting an article together for Orientations Magazine that reviews the Toronto Gardiner Museum's latest show Renaissance Venice: Life and Luxury at the Crossroads. I also have an upcoming lecture at the Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York as part of their online course 'Art Market Research and Valuation'. This Zoom talk will focus on how I value and appraise objects in the Chinese art field.

Finally, I will be visiting Chicago at the beginning of December for a week-long business trip at Hindman, and driving to Ottawa and Montreal for a few Asian art appraisals. Looks like its getting busy again, which is great! I'll keep everyone posted!


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