Is It Baggage? Is It a Teapot? Both? Neither? Regardless, Christie’s Could Sell This Piece By Zhou Dingfang for $2,500


What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.


The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.


The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.


So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.


What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.


Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.


Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.


Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.


What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.


Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.


Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.


Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.


And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.


I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.


Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.


What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.


I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.


Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.


Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.


Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].


Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.


How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.


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RECORD! The Supreme Grade Number One Qianlong Imperial Firearm Reigned Supreme at Sotheby’s in November 2016, Commanding $2.4 Million

Imperial musket

What you see: A “Supreme Grade Number One” Imperial matchlock musket, made for the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century. Estimated at £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million), Sotheby’s London sold it for £1.98 million (or roughly $2.6 million) in November 2016. It set a world auction record for any Chinese Imperial firearm.


The expert: Henry Howard-Sneyd, chairman of Asian art, Europe, and Americas for Sotheby’s.


First, could we talk about how genuine Imperial Qianlong items, regardless of what they are, cause excitement at auction? The Qianlong Emperor is real, but he’s a sort of mythical-type figure in terms of Chinese psychology. In English terms, you might liken him to King Henry VIII. He’s represented as a great emperor. He reigned for 60 years–a very long time, and China had a golden age [then]. The affection he holds in the Chinese mind is pretty much unmatched, and it’s [his time is] not so far in the past to be a myth. As China came into the 21st century, and began to be a wealthy, developed country, the Qianlong Emperor became one of the poster children of popular culture.


How did the Qianlong Emperor view guns? Were they important to him? He clearly admired guns and thought of them as an important element of what he did. Excelling at the hunt was very important to his legitimacy as Emperor. It shows he can look after his people by shooting straight, in effect. In an essay online, there’s a quote from the Qianlong Emperor, [who wrote of a different weapon]: “the ‘Tiger Divine Gun’ is a marvellous appliance for military accomplishment inherited from my grandfather and is used for killing fierce beasts … the Mongolian tribes of the Forty-nine Banners and Khalkha [participating in the imperial hunts] all excel in archery and stress martial art. If I have nothing to show them, I am hardly a worthy heir to my ancestors. Whenever I learn of tigers in the hunting preserve, I go hunting with no exception. Where bows and arrows cannot reach, I always use this gun, and unfailingly get the target … an Emperor must rely on divine appliances to hone martial skills and demonstrate masculine magnanimity, and the musket is wonderfully efficient and pleasing…”. It gives you a sense of how personal it is about being a worthy ruler.


Did the emperor handle this gun? There’s a chance this gun was held and used by the Emperor. There’s also a painting of him using a very similar gun [scroll down and it’s the second image on the right]. This is as close to the emperor as anything we’ve ever sold.


This gun is inscribed with the phrase te deng di yi, which translates to “Supreme Grade Number One”. Is there any explanation in the archival materials that goes into detail about what, exactly, Supreme Grade Number One might mean beyond it being obviously high praise? It seemed to be only used for guns. It’s not recorded on any other known, extant gun. The assumption is it’s the best of the best. It’s hard to imagine what would be above Supreme Grade Number One.


Does it work? The firearms specialist we consulted said yes, it should work. There’s nothing to stop it working.


Do we know when the Imperial workshops made it? We were not able to pin down a time. There’s just not enough information.


Is it possible to know anything about how this gun came to be? We don’t know exactly how it happened. We were never able to find a specific order.


What makes this gun a work of art? It has, very typically of the taste of this emperor, designs based on archaic elements. He was probably the single greatest collector, and one thing he accumulated were archaic Chinese bronzes. The archaic look appealed to him very much. It was like the Neoclassical period in Western art, looking back at a great classic period of early antiquity, from 1,000, 1,200, 1,300 B.C.


How did Sotheby’s decide to sell the gun in a single-lot auction? In our view it was obvious to sell it as a single lot. It stands out as a completely unique object.


With no other directly comparable items having gone to auction, how did you arrive at the estimate of £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million)? There are other pieces that are somewhat comparable. The seals of the emperor are very personal and specific [to him], and we sold a sword in Hong Kong a number of years back. By calibrating all the things selling around the same time, we came to a figure that was a well-placed estimate, very strong. Bidders pushed it further, but not much further. I think we put it exactly right.


What was your role in the auction? What was your experience of the sale? I was the auctioneer. Specifically, I have a fairly clear visual memory of the room in front of me and one of my colleagues taking bids from a client, and because the reception was not great, he had to go out of the room and come back in to make a bid. I don’t recall if that was the successful bidder in the end. It was very tense and quite drawn out. A lot of consideration went into each bid. It was something that garnered a lot of interest and intrigue because it was a unique thing.


With the first bid, you had a world record because it was the first gun of its type to come to auction. Were you surprised by the final result? I wasn’t surprised. I felt it was a fair price, a competitively reached price.


What factors drove it to the final price of £1.98 million (roughly $2.6 million)? Its uniqueness, and the combination of it being the best of its type and the potential touch of the emperor combined to make a hugely desirable object.


How long do you think this record will stand? Is there anything out there that could approach this piece? There’s no evidence that there’s any other piece like this anywhere. This record could stand forever. As an object itself, it’s hard to beat this one.


Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a unique thing–that’s always something that stands out. And it was enormous fun to work on. It was slightly starting from scratch, but it was [it involved searching] archival material, original [Chinese] court documents. It was a slightly Sherlock Holmesian game of following a trail that made it a fascinating and somewhat exciting journey.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.


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RECORD! Skinner Sells a Monumental Fencai Imperial Qianlong Period Vase for $24.7 Million

Monumental Fencai Flower and Landscape Vase sold for $24,723,000

What you see: A monumental Fencai Imperial vase dating to the Qianlong period. Skinner sold it in 2014 for $24.7 million– a record for any Chinese work of art sold in the Western world.


The expert: Judith Dowling, director of Asian works of art at Skinner.


Can you tell us what we know about how the vase came to be? Why might it have been made? The theory, and I say theory because in China there are no actual documents, comes from observation of a vase in the Palace Museum in Beijing called the “mother of porcelain.” The Qianlong Emperor wanted a compilation of accomplishments the Chinese had made up to that point in porcelain. By repute, the superintendent [of the Imperial porcelain works] was supposed to be quite extraordinary. We believe he had to fire the vase [put it in the kiln] at least 14 times. It’s very large, with fine enamel work. It had to illustrate different techniques from different centuries–celadon, Ming blue and white–sort of like a sampler of porcelain technology. That’s why they had to fire it so many times, because the clay is fired differently [at different temperatures] for different applications. But there are no diaries that say, ‘Here’s what we did and how we did it.’


So this was an exceptionally challenging piece for the Imperial porcelain works to make? Especially with the ancient firing techniques. It could have exploded. It could have sagged. That’s why the one in the Palace Museum is the “mother of porcelain.” When ours was discovered, it was ‘Aha! There’s another one.’


And would the Emperor have kept it for himself? Yes, he would have been very proud of it. He would have rejoiced in the success of it. We know at least two survive. We don’t know if they came out of the kiln on the same day. It was so famous, even at the time, that reproductions were made. When we discovered our piece, it was listed as a reproduction. Since our sale, people have offered three or four reproductions done in the early 19th or 20th centuries.


How are you sure the vase is not a reproduction? It was deaccessed from a very small museum. I was there. They said, ‘We have a very large vase that’s had some small repairs. Want to have a look?’ They dragged it out. It was dirty. I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I didn’t put it in the [Skinner] warehouse, I put it in my office. It sat here for a few months. One day I got a rag and bucket and cleaned it. I thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’ I didn’t know about the ‘mother of porcelain’ until I saw it in a book. Then I started to deconstruct the whole thing. I began to think the vase was from the same time period, and believe maybe it was one of a pair. It is identical [to the one in the Palace Museum]. With all the effort involved in producing this, it’s not conceivable that they’d only do one. We started to get information on the mark on the one in the Palace Museum, and it was identical. We had no one to confirm it. We had to publish it. It went viral in 48 hours. People flew in from Beijing to see it. That’s when we decided to do a preview during Asia Week in New York. It was thrilling to see excitement from people who knew what they were looking at.


How did you put an estimate on it? We had no idea what to put on it. Nothing like it had sold. [Bidding opened at $150,000 to $250,000.]


Did it set an auction record for Chinese porcelain? When it sold for $24 million, that was the most paid for any work of Chinese art in the Western world. The only porcelain that sold for more was the Meiyintang Chicken Cup, which sold in Hong Kong for $36 million. It was thrilling to see the excitement of people all over the world. It was all about the ‘Wow’ factor of finding a second vase.


What was your role in the auction? Our CEO was the auctioneer. I was standing next to her. We had bidders on the phone and some in the room. We limited it to people who could give us a retainer. The only people who bid were qualified. There were 20 at the start. It went very quickly, but it started very slowly, going up by $100,000. Finally someone in the audience yelled, ‘$5 million.’ Then it just started, back and forth and back and forth. Then it slowed down to one person on the phone and one in the audience. The person in the audience won. People jumped up and clapped. It was very exciting.


What is the vase like in person? [Laughs] We had several very important people come and look at it and say, ‘I think it’s ugly.’ It’s very ornate, and it’s big–38 inches tall. If you don’t like enameled, fancy, big vases, you won’t want to live with such a thing. The Emperor was making a statement. He wanted to have a piece that surpassed anything else in size and technique. That’s what makes it so special.


Why will this vase stick in your memory? Because there it was, hidden away for many years and sort of ignored. It was like Cinderella coming out to finally be appreciated and heralded for accomplishments done at the time. It was wonderful to be able to discover it. It kept speaking to me, in the corner of my big office. It wasn’t until I got a bucket of water that I thought, ‘Wow,’ then that was it. And I think everybody rejoiced [at its discovery]–it was special and touching for me to see. We are a mid-level auction house. Representatives from London, New York, and Hong Kong all came to see the vase. It’s an example of what a masterpiece it is. It speaks to everyone.


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This post for The Hot Bid debuted on the Skinner blog on September 10, 2018.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.


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SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 Commands $4.8 Million at Phillips


Update: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 sold for HDK $38,350,000, or $4.8 million.


What you see: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang. Phillips estimates it at more than HDK 30 million, or around $3.8 million.


Who is Zhang Xiaogang? He is a contemporary Chinese artist who is best known for his Bloodlines paintings. His parents were government officials, and at one point during his childhood, they were forced to attend a re-education camp for three years. He graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, but it was a three-month stay in Germany in 1992 that transformed his approach to art. He embarked on the Bloodlines series soon after. Zhang turns 60 this year.


The expert: Wenjia Zhang, Phillips’s regional director in Shanghai.


The lot notes for Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 as an “extremely rare rendition.” What makes it an extremely rare rendition? Because this painting is directly based on a family photo of his parents and his older brother, the first child in the family, celebrating his 100-day birthday. It’s directly based on a family picture, but it’s more of a fantasy picture.


How many of the works in the Bloodlines series are based on photos of Zhang’s own family? I think this is one of very few. It may be the only one directly based on a picture of his family. In China, the previous generation all has this kind of family photo. It’s a generational thing, not just his family. I remember my parents’ wedding photo was very similar. And we didn’t have color photos. We only had black and white.


Do we know when that photo of Zhang’s parents and eldest brother was taken? I can’t say the exact year, but I think it was 1955, 1956, or 1957. [Zhang was born in 1958 and was the third of four children, all boys.]


Zhang painted this in 1996, which is about in the middle of the timespan given for the Bloodlines series. Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors? I personally don’t really think of the year as the most important year. I think it’s the work itself, and I think it’s the most important of his Bloodlines: Big Family series. This work is very romantic, reflecting a romantic part of his character. On the other hand, for the technical part, the brushstrokes and the drops of water on the face [the pink splotches on the right of each face] are very delicate. It makes me feel it’s very special.


When you say that the painting reflects a romantic part of his character, what do you mean? It’s because of the smoothness of the colors, the way that he painted, and the light on the painting. I can’t say more. It’s just a feeling.


Can you talk a bit about the imagery he’s using here that would have meaning to Chinese viewers? The immediate meaning to us Chinese people is our memories and our family. We all have this kind of photo for special occasions–birthdays, weddings. For him, the image of every figure in the Bloodlines series is a variation on his mother.


Why did he use the phrase ‘Big Family’ in the title when the family shown consists of only three people? I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It’s about the whole generation [in China] as a big family. For his generation, and less for mine, everyone was part of a big family. We share everything, we work together like a big family. Also, he was not part of the generation where they could have only one child per family. It does not have that meaning. He was not from the only child generation.


Where does this painting rank among those in the Bloodlines series? I think he started this series in 1994, after traveling to Germany. He was inspired by Gerhard Richter a lot. I think he came back to China and saw pictures in a library and from that time, he started painting the series. In 1996, his technique becomes more mature. He found the way to paint–this concept of the photo and trying to technically express his thinking of his memory. It’s very delicate. The colors are so beautiful and reflections of the lighting is extremely beautiful. Those things make this painting very different and very important. Also, in 1994 and 1995, his paintings are being chosen for the Venice Biennale [and other important shows]. For him it was a turning point.


Bloodlines: Big Family No. 9 explores ideas that Chinese people will recognize right away, but you don’t really need to know anything about Mao or the Cultural Revolution or 20th century Chinese life to fall under its spell. Why do you think it’s so powerful? Good question. What I can say is to share my experience of going to his studio. We’re not exactly the same generation. He was born in 1958, and I was born in 1974. I have no direct experience with the Cultural Revolution. I’m almost 20 years younger than him. When I first entered his studio, I was attracted to the color and the atmosphere of the painting. If it’s a good work, it can attract you. If it’s strong, you can feel it. For me, the work speaks for itself.


What’s the auction record for a work by Zhang Xiaogang? Might this work set a new record? I think the record is Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2014 for HKD $94.2 million, or $12.1 million. Whether it will set a new record, we can’t say. Of course if it can make a record that would be so exciting for us, but we can’t say now. It really depends on the market and on the collectors.


What is the painting like in person? It’s very quiet. I think you can be immediately attracted by the painting when you enter a room.


How to bid: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 is lot 12 in Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, taking place May 27, 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.


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Surprise! A Chinese Cloisonné Vase Estimated at $400 to $600 Fetches More Than $812,000 at Quinn’s


Chinese Cloissone vaseJPG(1)

What you see: A 10-inch-tall Chinese cloisonné bottle vase, initially believed to date to the 18th or 19th century, and estimated at $400 to $600. In April 2017 it sold for $812,500 at Quinn’s Auctions, via the iGavel online platform.

How did you arrive at the $400 to $600 estimate? “The first thing we did was look at the condition. It was heavily restored,” says Matthew Quinn, executive vice president of Quinn’s Auction Galleries. “We try always to have super-conservative estimates. We didn’t know the full extent until we watched it play out. We thought the vase might be 18th century. We didn’t know it was 14th century.”

Why did you describe the vase as dating to the 18th or 19th century? “It looked like it had sufficient age to fit that category. We were still wrong. That’s the beauty of the marketplace,” he says, laughing.

What marks it as being from the 14th century? “The form more than anything. The bottle form, and the colors of the enamels. We were told it’s from the late 14th or early 15th century. The bottle form was only done then, and it wasn’t copied until late in the 20th century. And the yellow and red–those particular colors were only used in that time frame,” he says.

Were you the auctioneer during the sale? “We sold it through iGavel, an online-only site,” he says. “Bidding comes in on iGavel every five minutes toward the end. It mimics what goes on in a sale room. With the five minute extensions, it took a long time to sell the vase–an hour, an hour and a half at least. It was fascinating to watch it go.”

Where were you as you watched the sale? “I was on the road. I expected it to do OK. A minute to close, it was at $12,000, then $15,000. I thought, ‘Eh, it’s doing OK.’ It got close to close. Then it was $30,000, and it went pretty handily up to $50,000. I called Lark [Mason, founder of iGavel] at that point. It kept going and going and going. It was wild. Bidders were taking two to three minutes to place each bid. They were taking their time, not like the high pace of an auction room, where the bids come in two or three seconds. I’m not sure if it was part of their strategy or not.”

Did the vase set an auction record? “We haven’t been able to find much [corroborating information],” Quinn says. “Lark thought it might have been in record territory for a bottle vase, but there are so few of them [reflected in auction archives] we weren’t able to find much. Rarity is not always a good thing. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable, but in this case, it was.”

What else makes this vase interesting? “Everybody wants to know how we find these treasures. You find them in the places you least expect. This vase was stuck up in a barn, in the back of the butler’s pantry,” he says, explaining he was called in to sort through the contents of a family farm to prepare it for sale.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries.

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SOLD! The Qianlong Chinese Vase Decorated in Europe Commanded More Than $224,000 at Christie’s


Update: The vase sold for £173,000, or about $224,300.

What you see: A Regency ormolu-mounted Chinese flambe-glazed vase and cover. The porcelain vase has a Qianlong incised seal mark of the period (1736-1795). The ormolu mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, circa 1806. Christie’s estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000, or $153,000 to about $229,000.

Is flambe glaze a Qianlong-era Chinese invention? Was it difficult to make a flambe-glazed vase? Yes and yes. “It was a development of the late 18th century and it was desirable almost from the moment it was developed. It must have been very experimental at the time. This is probably one of the rarer types of glazes,” says Marcus Rädecke, director and head of the department of European furniture and works of art at Christie’s, explaining that the viscous glaze slowly ran down the curving body of the vase during the firing process, and the heat of the kiln caused a chemical change that created the multi-color effect.

The lot notes say the vase has a “Qianlong incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795).” Could you explain that aspect in more detail? “The six-character reign mark identifies it as an Imperial piece,” he says. “In three rows, from right to left it gives the dynasty, the emperor, and the reign. It lets us date it precisely, and it gives the vase extra value.”

How many flambe-glazed vases managed to leave China in the 18th century? “Few made it over to Europe at that time,” Rädecke says. “They must already have been incredibly valued then. When they [the European artisans, known as bronziers, who added the ormolu] mounted it, they took great care not to damage the porcelain or pierce it. You cannot lift the vase by the handles. They’re purely decorative. They’re not attached to the vase.”

The mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, an elite British clockmaker that would have had an ormolu workshop. Why would this have been a challenging commission for them? “It must have been quite complicated to construct this without drilling holes in the porcelain to hold the bottom ends of the handles,” he says. “If you carefully pull and turn the lid, it comes off with no marks on the porcelain. The stopper [not visible in the picture] comes out completely and you can look into the mount. The handles are attached to the neck and sit loosely on it. The mounts are so precisely made. The neck fits without any gaps anywhere. It reflects the quality and precision you’d only find with a clockmaker.”

This vase was made in China and has European decorations that were added later, perhaps decades later. Does it appeal equally to Asian and European bidders? Oh gosh yes. “We sold it five years ago when it came from Harewood [House] and there was great interest at that time,” Rädecke says. “The winner and the underbidder were Chinese clients, but we had bids from English and American clients. It appealed to an incredibly wide audience.”

What else makes this vase special? “To me, as a specialist, there are items I like because they’re beautiful and items I like because they’re incredibly well-made. Sometimes it all works together. I’d love to take this vase home,” he says. “The porcelain is fantastic and enriched in Europe, but not too much. Both cultures do their bit. The harmonies are perfect, I feel.”

How to bid: The vase is lot 8 in The Exceptional Sale, scheduled at Christie’s London for July 6, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! Christie’s Sells a Chinese Zitan Bed with Bodacious Legs for $3.6 Million


Update: Christie’s sold the 18th century Chinese Luohan bed for $3.6 million.

What you see: An 18th century Chinese Luohan bed, made from Zitan wood, estimated at $2 million to $3 million. (A Luohan is someone who is enlightened, but has yet to become a Buddha.) Though it’s at least three centuries old, the three-rail bed is as sleek and as modern-looking as anything you’d find in a Holly Hunt showroom.

What is Zitan wood? It’s a dense, slow-growing Chinese hardwood that was prized by the wealthy, and by scholars. It has a tight wood grain and a wine-purple color.

It’s called a “bed”, but did its 18th century Chinese owners use it like a bed? It might have had pillows on it, and owners and guests might have napped on it, but the bed served as an indoor-outdoor couch, according to Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng: “It’s so expensive, it would have been used for various activities throughout the day–sitting on it to look at antiques, discuss poetry, and contemplate scenery.” Servants would have moved the heavy bed around at the bidding of its owner.

What else made this bed a status symbol with the Chinese elite? “Zitan wood is a prestigious, luxurious material, and the carver had to waste a lot of it to get to this form,” Cheng says.

What sets the bed apart from other Chinese furnishings of the time? “It’s unusual for the dramatic curve of the legs, and their sheer chunkiness,” Cheng says. “It seems like they can’t support the bed, they’re so curved. They are bodacious legs.”

Why is the bed estimated at $2 million to $3 million? “This is a great example of the type, and the quality of the material is extremely high,” Cheng says. “And it’s a very elegant object. It’s really stunning. When you stand in front of it, you’re overcome by its subtle quietness.”

How to bid: The bed is lot 643 in The Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection of Asian Art: A Family Legacy, which takes place at Christie’s New York on March 16, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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