n celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sotheby’s in Asia and its extraordinary legacy, we take a look at some of the most illustrious collectors of the past and present whose collections have been home to the finest and rarest Chinese works of art known to the world. Together, these collectors galvanised the market in Asia and helped to put Sotheby’s Hong Kong on the map as a destination for the most discerning collectors and connoisseurs from around the world. This article presents 26 of the collections and personalities to know.
Known as one of the greatest connoisseurs in the field of Chinese ceramics, Edward T. Chow’s (1910–1980) exacting taste, as the French historian Michel Beurdeley recounted, “had three fundamental tenets, namely the rarity of the piece, the quality of the decoration, which had to be without the slightest infelicity, and the state of preservation, which had to be quite perfect”. Born in Yangzhou, Chow was sent to Shanghai at the age of 13 to study Chinese art with the dealer Zhu Heting, and was mentored by the Danish collector Jacob Melchior. By the age of 20 he already possessed a small collection. Generous with his time and knowledge, Chow mentored many other collectors. His greatest pride of joy lay in his successful lifelong quest to assemble an unrivalled collection of Chenghua porcelain chicken cups. In 1949 Chow moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong, where he lived in Happy Valley until his retirement to Geneva in 1967. The record-breaking auctions of Chow’s legendary collection in 1980-81 represented the first of Sotheby's Hong Kong's famous single-owner sales and aroused unprecedented interest worldwide. The Edward T. Chow Collection remains one of the most coveted provenances for a piece of Chinese art.
The T.Y. Chao Private and Family Trust Collections
Chao Tsong-yea (1912-1999), shipping magnate and real estate developer, graduated from Soochow University, Shanghai, with a law degree. Instead of pursuing a legal career however, he became a comprador in a reputed Shanghainese trading firm, settling in Hong Kong in 1948 where he later established Wah Kwong. Over four decades, he built an outstanding collection of Chinese classical paintings and calligraphies, ceramics and jades, first concentrating on Qing wares and jades, and then adding a splendid series of early 15th-century blue-and-white porcelains. Parts of his collection were exhibited in the 1970s under the names T.Y. Chao Family Foundation and Wah Kwong Collection. In 1978, an exhibition of 100 Ming and Qing porcelains from his collection was held at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Many of his ceramics were dispersed in two major auctions in 1986 and 1987 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, a move which galvanised the market and brought the kind of stellar opportunity to collectors previously seen at the Edward T. Chow Collection sales in 1980-81.
Born in Shanghai to a family of celebrated antique dealers, Dr Alice Cheng (b. 1932) settled in Hong Kong in her forties, becoming a successful businesswoman in the fields of petroleum, real estate, IT technology and transportation in the city and Mainland China. Cheng is a notable philanthropist, generously supporting causes such as commerce, education, health, and culture. With impeccable taste and a discerning eye, since the late 1990s Cheng has assembled a formidable collection of imperial Chinese porcelains, mostly focused on the finest wares of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong periods, the Qing dynasty’s greatest emperors. When asked what motivates her acquisitions, Cheng said, “I buy what I like.” Most famously, this included a unique peach-decorated Qing famille rose vase of the Yongzheng period, which after fierce bidding Cheng bought for a then-world record of HK$41.5 million in 2002, the highest price ever reached for Chinese Qing imperial porcelain at auction. Motivated by a strong desire to return the vase to Mainland China and give more people the chance to appreciate its beauty and charm, Cheng donated the vase the following year to the Shanghai Museum, in the city of her birth.
Robert Chang’s (b. 1920s) love of Chinese art runs in the family – his grandfather was a well-known carver whom Empress Dowager Cixi of the late Qing Dynasty once commissioned, whilst his father was a celebrated antique dealer, in whose shop Chang encountered famous collectors including C.T. Loo and Sir Percival David. He is the older brother of Dr Alice Cheng. Born in Shanghai, Chang moved to Hong Kong in 1948 and built a stellar career in antique dealing from scratch, spending his formative years on Hollywood Road and running five antique stores by the 1960s – whilst becoming a driving force in the flowering of the Hong Kong art market in the process. Although originally drawn particularly to rare ceramics, he eventually dealt in all types of Chinese antiquities as well as modern paintings. A philanthropist as well as a dealer, Chang has generously donated vast holdings of his formidable collection to the Suzhou Museum. When Julian Thompson, the late chairman of Sotheby’s Hong Kong, brought groundbreaking auctions to the city in 1973, his first port of call was Chang, who supplied hundreds of pieces to his early sales. Bonus fun fact: to this day paddle 001 is reserved for Chang at Sotheby’s.
The Alan Chuang Collection
The outstanding collection of Chinese imperial porcelain assembled by the Hong Kong tycoon Alan Chuang Shaw Swee (b. 1952) is among the most important to have been formed in recent decades. The collection includesspectacularmasterpieces from the 14th to the 18th centuries, focusing on the greatest periods of imperial patronage during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Chuang’s taste is highly individual – upright vase shapes and cups are always preferred to dishes and bowls, whilst flower and landscape subjects take precedence over more formal dragon decorations. Praised by specialists for the refinement and rarity of his collection, which was catalogued and published in 2009 by Julian Thompson, the late chairman of Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Chuang’s collection includes one of the few Chenghua porcelain chicken cups still in private hands today. Chuang began collecting Chinese ceramics at the age of 27, encouraged by his father’s enthusiasm for all aspects of Chinese art and culture. “Collecting for me is a kind of spiritual relaxation, where I am able to find peace and satisfaction,” Chuang has said of his passion.
The De An Tang Collection of jades is regarded as among one of the best-known in the world, characterised by the mellow quality, vibrant lustre, richness and pureness of colour, as well as the finessed lines and curves, of its jade pieces. Thematically, the collection has a predilection for landscapes and human figures, such as miniature mountains or brush pots, which change scenery from different angles. The collection concentrates on Qing dynasty pieces, especially from the Qianlong era – the zenith of Chinese jade craftsmanship. In 2004 more than 130 jades from his collection were selected for exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The Tianminlou Collection
Ko Shih Chao, better known as S.C. Ko (1911-1992), began collecting Chinese ceramics in around the 1970s, mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties, under the name of “The Tianminlou Collection”. It is most famous for porcelains from the Jingdezhen kilns of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The Tianminlou name derives from a short autobiographical piece by one of Mainland China’s most revered poets, Tao Yuanming, who praises the Daoist ideal of a modest, reclusive but free life and harks back to the simplicity and happiness of the mythical Emperor Getian’s reign. Thus “S.C. Ko Tianminlou” (Getian min lou) may be understood as “The Pavilion of one of Getian’s People”. Formerly serving as Chairman of the honourable Min Chiu Society, Ko valued education highly and always made his collection readily available to students, the scholarly community and fellow collectors, as well as generously lending to many exhibitions. The Tianminlou name became internationally known through a special exhibition of the collection at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1987-8, which featured one of the star lots of this season, Dr Alice Cheng’s falangcai bowl.
Born in Istanbul in 1939 and nicknamed “The Godfather of Chinese Antiques”, Giuseppe Eskenazi’s London-based gallery has sold to over 80 of the world’s major museums, including more than 30 pieces to the Cleveland Museum of Art and supplying almost the entire Chinese collection of Japan’s Miho Museum. Starting out as a medical student, Eskenazi stepped into the breach to help with the family’s antiques business after his father’s premature death. A connoisseur first and foremost, Eskenazi’s phenomenal success came down to certain principles: “We don’t give up. If there is something we think is the best and really want, we will buy it, even though it may take some time to sell.” Influenced by Japanese tastes, whose culture revered early Chinese works of art, Eskenazi collected works ranging from neolithic pottery and Shang bronzes to early Ming blue-and-white porcelain, which dominated the market in the 1960s. Eskenazi credits Edward T. Chow as one of his key mentors, whom he met in Hong Kong soon after he started visiting the city in around 1965. He also credits a large part of his early education to auction houses, where he could personally handle objects, and attended Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s first sale in 1973.
The Meiyingtang Collection
The Meiyingtang Collection has been hailed as one of the most renowned collections of Chinese art outside of Asia, encompassing early pottery, stoneware and ceramics from the Neolithic period to the Han, Tang and Song dynasties, as well as porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and archaic bronzes from the Shang, Zhou and Warring States period. Exhibitions dedicated to objects from the Meiyingtang Collection have been held at the British Museum in London (1994), Asia Society (1995) and the China Institute (2001) in New York, Musée Cernuschi (1999) and Musée Guimet (2013) in Paris, and Musée du Président Jacques Chirac in Sarran, Corrèze (2009), amongst others. In 2011 and 2012, a substantial portion of the Yuan, Ming and Qing pieces of the Meiyingtang Collection was sold in a series of auctions by Sotheby's in Hong Kong. In 2014, a Chenghua porcelain chicken cup, once part of the Edward T. Chow Collection, was sold for HK$281 million, setting a world record price for Chinese porcelain.
In a career as an antiques dealer, collector and connoisseur spanning almost seven decades, Sakamoto Gorō’s (1923-2016) life has been a true tale of rags to riches. At barely a day old, the Great Kantō Earthquake destroyed his family home, fatally injuring his father. The postwar years were difficult for Sakamoto, who struggled to get by in the used clothing business before turning to antiques. The first painting he bought turned out to be fake but, undaunted, he studied harder and sought advice from renowned dealers, who were impressed by his pluck and courage. Aged 24, he set up his first shop in Tokyo. One of his first successful purchases was a Southern Song guan piece shaped like a jade cong that Sakamoto sold to the connoisseur Hirota Matsushige and was later donated to the Tokyo National Museum. Sakamoto honed his eye in the tricky market of archaic Chinese bronzes, in 1968 making the largest post-war donation to the Tokyo National Museum of 10 Shang and Zhou bronzes, and 380 archaic bronzes to the Nara National Museum in 2002. Memorably, Sakamoto broke the world record for Chinese porcelain in 1972, for an underglaze-blue and copper red Yuan dynasty wine jar. For this, he wrote in his memoir, he had been willing to sell his entire shop and inventory. His purchase increased the appreciation for quality in this market, causing prices for Chinese ceramics to rise immediately afterwards. Sotheby's has had the privilege of selling works from the famed Sakamoto collection, including an exquisite collection of Song dynasty ceramics at Sotheby's New York in 2015.
In 1936, Ryoji Hirano founded Hirano Kotoken, an independent Chinese works of art dealership in Osaka, having studied under the great Chinese antiques expert Umekichi Asano. In 1971, Ryoji’s eldest son Tatsuo joined the company and expanded its network to New York, London, and Hong Kong. They were subsequently joined by Tatsuo’s eldest son, Ryoichi. Focusing on Song dynasty ceramics, the most difficult category for collecting, the famed Hirano family of dealers has been responsible for advising many important Chinese art collectors and institutions both in Japan and around the world, including the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics in Osaka. Tatsuo’s purchase of an exceptional Ming dynasty blue-and-white jar at Sotheby’s London in around 1990 for £720,000 set a new world record, and his father remortgaged the family home to pay for it. The jar is now housed in the Idemitsu Museum.
A permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal from 2012 until his retirement in 2018, and Chair of the Min Chiu Society from 2007-09, Robert Tang Kwok-ching (b. 1947) has been building his collection of outstanding Chinese antiquities with his wife since the 1980s. It started after Tang dropped into a little shop run by a husband-and-wife team in Prince’s Building in Hong Kong’s Central district. He purchased Song ceramics but later turned to jade, and then moved into other categories, including metalwork, furniture, paintings and Buddhist art. Describing himself as a collector afflicted by the “I must have it!” bug, Tang went to incredible lengths such as flying to New York in order to purchase back a group of intricately carved Western Zhou pendant ornaments that had just been sold in Hong Kong to the dealer Robert Ellsworth. The collection also goes by its studio name “Xiwenguo Zhai” (喜聞過齋, or “the studio of the master who is pleased to be told his mistakes or faults”) which reflects Tang’s desire in collecting, as in life, “to know and learn from my mistakes”. Part of the collection is on long term loan to major US public institutions such as the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Denver Art Museum. The Tangs’ outstanding jade collection was exhibited by the Art Museum of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2015-16.
The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection
Encompassing some 4,000 years of Chinese art history, the collection formed by the Chinese diplomat and collector Dr Wou Kiuan (1910-1997) ranges from utilitarian storage vessels made by the first Neolithic cultures that emerged along the Yellow River to dazzling porcelains commissioned to adorn the palaces of the Qing emperors. As one of the very few Chinese collectors active in the London salerooms from the mid-1950s to late 1960s, Wou had the distinct advantage of being able to read the inscriptions found on some important bronzes, jades and sculptures. As a result, his collection of more than a thousand pieces is particularly rich in epigraphical works. At the heart of Wou’s drive to collect was a burning desire to preserve the relics of Mainland China’s rich historical past scattered across Europe, and to promote Chinese art and culture. In 1968 he opened the doors to the Wou Lien-Pai Museum in the heart of the English countryside, named in honour of his father. Its extraordinary scope set it apart from all other private collections formed in the mid-20th century, making it one of the last great collections of Chinese art in Europe until it was sold at Sotheby's in 2022.
The Collection of Sir Joseph Hotung
A Hong Kong businessman, art collector, and philanthropist, Sir Joseph Hotung’s (1930-2021) legendary collection of Chinese art, including Chinese jades, porcelain, bronzes, and Ming furniture, reflected the cosmopolitan life of the grandson of Hong Kong tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung, "the grand old man of Hong Kong". Hotung’s passion for jade was sparked by chance in the early 1970s, when a delayed flight resulted in a pivotal encounter with a pair of identical Qing dynasty jade bowls in a San Francisco gallery. As a patron of the arts, Hotung was the first chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the British Museum, to which he donated the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia, as well as the lion’s share of his jade and porcelain collections – one the most significant bequests in the British Museum’s history. In 2022, more than 400 items from Hotung’s personal collection were auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong and London, including a huanghuali folding horseshoe-back armchair which fetched HK$124 million, setting the world auction record for a Chinese chair and becoming the second most expensive item of Chinese classical furniture ever sold.
“There are people who go through their whole lives without art, I nearly did. But their lives are perhaps not as dimensional or as full of colour as it could be.”
Sir Joseph Hotung
The J.M. Hu Collection
Hu Jenmou, or Hu Huichun (1911-1995) was one of Mainland China's great connoisseur-collectors in the traditional sense of the word. Best known for his collection of ceramics from the imperial kilns of the Ming and Qing dynasties, Hu equally appreciated the sophistication and individuality of Chinese paintings and calligraphies – in particular the subtlety and wit of items made for literati-scholars. Treasures from his collection are rarely seen in auctions.
A noted cultural philanthropist, Hu’s large donations of ceramics to the Shanghai Museum, his generous patronage of the Art Museum of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and other institutions, his founding of the Min Chiu Society for collectors to share and discuss art, his own support of exhibitions and research projects helped to disseminate knowledge and to shape the tastes of a new generation of connoisseurs. Important Chinese ceramics from the J.M. Hu family collection were presented by Sotheby’s New York in 1985, and in 2012, Sotheby’s Hong Kong presented a selection of outstanding Qing imperial porcelains from Hu’s collection that formed part of the grand legacy of a man who was passionate about Chinese porcelain and was determined to share it with others.
Dr S.Y. Yip Collection
Dr Yip Shing-yiu (b. 1933) began collecting Chinese art in 1969, beginning with paintings and calligraphies, ceramics and jade wares. In 1988, Yip took a deep interest in Ming dynasty furniture and began assembling his world-class collection, a great majority of which were acquired from Grace Wu, owner of her eponymous gallery, and a leading Ming furniture expert and dealer. Renowned for its superior quality and rarity, 68 sets of furniture pieces from his collection were exhibited at The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1991, with a substantial three-part catalogue published on the occasion. The collection is famed for being evaluated and praised by renowned Ming furniture connoisseur Wang Shixiang who claimed it to be the first private Chinese furniture exhibition in the world to have a dedicated catalogue. Many of these pieces have since been exhibited in museums around the world. In 2015, Sotheby’s Hong Kong hosted a selling exhibition showcasing 38 sets of furniture pieces to great success, and in 2022, finding joy and gratification in sharing his collection, Yip – who has served three terms as Chairman of Min Chiu Society – donated a set of 17 silk brocade thangkas depicting Panchen lineage to the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection
Philanthropists, benefactors and collectors, the Bernats’ story began when Paul (1902-1998) emigrated to the United States from Hungary as a child with his brother Eugene. Both brothers became deeply interested in Chinese art from a young age, and it was decided that Eugene would collect Ming and earlier ceramics while Paul would specialise in Qing, thus avoiding any familial competition. Paul began to collect seriously from the 1940s onwards, while working for his father’s Boston-based textile business, buying not only in New York but also from C.T. Loo in Paris. He was also a frequent visitor to Hong Kong and well known to local collectors and dealers. He chose to concentrate on 18th-century imperial porcelains, which he admired for their highly refined beauty and technical perfection. No other comparable collection of Qing porcelain remains in private hands outside of Asia; where the finest Bernat pieces are only matched by those in the Sir Percival David Foundation in London. The Bernats donated many pieces to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and after Paul’s death a large part of their exceptional collection was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1988, including a Qianlong pouch-shaped glass vase made for the Qianlong Emperor which sold for HK$3.63 million, a record for Chinese glass at the time.
J.T. Tai & Co.
Tai Jun Tsei (1911-1992) was an important dealer of ancient Chinese art who was instrumental in forming several major American collections, including those of Avery Brundage and Arthur M. Sackler. The Smithsonian ranks him second only to C.T. Loo in defining the meaning of Chinese art for Western institutions and scholars alike. Tai began his career at his uncle’s small antique store in Wuxi, before opening his own gallery, Fuyuanzhai Guwandian (福源齋古玩店), in Shanghai. Together with his wife, Tai moved to Hong Kong and eventually settled in New York in 1950, where he opened a gallery on Madison Avenue. The New York Times heralded the grand opening of J.T. Tai & Co. with the comment: “Two-thirds of a fabulous group of porcelain vases, bronze bowls and figurines fashioned from precious stones have arrived from Hong Kong and the remainder is expected in less than three months.” Determined to buy the best of Chinese art, on at least one occasion, Tai’s purchases required the sale of a building in his property portfolio to complete the transaction. A group of porcelains from his collection, including one of the star lots of this season, Dr Alice Cheng’s falangcai bowl, was sold at Sotheby's in 1985, for the benefit of the J.T. Tai Foundation, to support medical research.
The Collection of Joseph Lau
The very private collection of Chinese art of the Hong Kong property developer Joseph Lau (b.1951) ranks among the very finest ever assembled in the field. Whether modern art, wine, gemstones or in this case Chinese art, Lau has only ever pursued the rarest and most beautiful pieces. In 1978, at the age of 27, Lau walked for the first time into a Sotheby’s preview, just before a time many consider to be the first golden age of Sotheby’s Hong Kong when the celebrated collections of J.M. Hu, T.Y. Chao, Paul and Helen Bernat and the British Rail Pension Fund came to market. During the following decade, Lau assembled one of the finest collections of Chinese imperial porcelain, articulated around masterpieces, each representative of the best of a certain period and type, and handpicked from the most prestigious collections. Lau has periodically sold items from his collection of treasures, including a 15th-century blue-and-white 'lotus scroll' Yongle period meiping vase that sold for HK$24.5 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2022.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection
Born into a family of respected Austrian industrialists who resettled in Shanghai in the late 1930s, George (1920-2009) became a successful businessman in Hong Kong. His marriage to Mary, who was born in Tianjin, the daughter of White Russian émigrés, was a meeting of minds: George had already formed a major collection of stamps and Mary, who was fluent in Mandarin Chinese, had been surrounded by Chinese culture all her life. The newlyweds settled into a pattern of searching for works at auctions and trusted galleries. Over four decades, the couple formed several collections of importance, including a world-renowned collection of more than 1,700 Chinese snuff bottles, which was widely exhibited and eventually sold after George’s death, as well as assemblages of Southeast Asian art, Japanese ivory and lacquer, Old Master prints and 20th-century Western art. “Mary and I had no definite assembly criteria in mind. Our only requirement, from the outset, was that we both had to love the object,” explained George. That love could go to great lengths: in one famous story George was bidding on a lot at auction when he noticed that his rival bidder was sitting in front of him. Tapping her on the shoulder, he explained that Mary really wanted the work. Elizabeth Taylor turned around, smiled at George, and promptly stopped bidding.
The Speelman Collection
The Speelman Collection began three generations ago in 19th-century Holland. The Speelman brothers arrived in England at the turn of the 20th century, and set up a gallery dealing in European and Chinese antiques. The next generation, Alfred (1907-2004), followed in their footsteps, and was joined by his son Jules (b. 1945) in 1964, who pivoted the London-based gallery towards Asia. A&J Speelman now specialises exclusively in Asian antiques, with an eclectic but exquisite taste that prizes quality, style and rarity over any particular field or medium. The Speelman Collection is particularly strong in Chinese works of art, as well as Chinese decorative arts such as cloisonné and Canton enamels, lacquer, ivories, soap stones, hard stones, carvings in wood, bamboo, porcelain, pottery and Chinese export ceramics and works of art. A speciality is figurative sculpture, from the terracotta tomb figurines of the Han and Tang dynasties of the first millennia AD, to bronzes depicting figures from the Buddhist and Taoist pantheon. The Speelman Collection sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018 encompassed the full scope of objects created for the Ming and Qing imperial courts, including arguably the most comprehensive assemblage of Qing imperial hardstone carvings ever to appear at auction.
The H.M. Knight Collection
With a most discerning eye, the Dutch collector Henry M. Knight (1903-1971) assembled one of the finest collections of Chinese ceramics and other works of art from 1930, at the age of 27, until his death in 1971. Focusing mainly on Ming and Qing porcelains, Knight largely acquired from Bluett & Sons in London. In Provenance. Collectors, Dealers and Scholars: Chinese Ceramics in Britain and America, Roger Bluett wrote of him: “Henry Knight, who built up perhaps the best collection of 18-century porcelains in Europe as well as magnificent early pieces, was fond of telling how it was my late father who told him to buy ‘Chinese taste’ porcelains. Their time would come, my father used to say, and how right he was.” Among the many extraordinary pieces once owned by Knight that have come through Sotheby’s Hong Kong is a puce-enamel gold-pink falangcai bowl inscribed with a deep pink yuzhi mark of the Kangxi period, which sold for more than HK$238.8 million in a single-lot auction in 2018.
The Pilkington Collection
The collection of Chinese porcelain assembled by Roger Pilkington (1928-1969) over a decade from the late 1950s until his untimely death in 1969 was of unparalleled quality, one of the greatest that remained in private hands until its sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2016. Spanning the heights of a millennia of Chinese porcelain production, from the Tang through to the Ming and on to the Qing dynasties, the Pilkington Collection represented a golden period for the Chinese art market in Britain. Purchased through Bluett & Sons in London (and often ultimately from Sotheby’s), many of Pilkington’s chosen objects bore an illustrious pre-war provenance, including Edward T. Chow, the Viceroy of India and Wu Lai Hsi. His first Chinese item is said to have been a snuff bottle purchased for his wife Maureen (1928-2011). The outstanding strength of the collection lay in its imperial Ming porcelains, with some extraordinarily rare items that could not be found on the market, in museums or private collections. Several porcelains from the collection featured on the cover of Adrian Joseph’s important survey of Ming porcelain in 1971, and the collection was also exhibited at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
The Le Cong Tang Collection
The renowned Le Cong Tang collection covering archaic jades, bronzes, Song and Ming ceramics and Buddhist sculptures, have been meticulously amassed with a discerning eye that prizes aesthetic quality above all other factors such as academic importance, rarity and provenance (although the collection has come to include the finest items with significant provenances that are rare and important as well as beautiful). Particular treasures from Le Cong Tang included an extremely rare and exquisite Ru guanyao brush washer from the Northern Song Dynasty which sold for HK$294.3 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2017.
The Collection of Sir Quo-Wei Lee
A distinguished Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist, Sir Quo-Wei Lee (1918-2013) was one of the earliest and most senior members of the Min Chiu Society. Lee applied the same diligence and integrity to collecting as in his professional life. The greater part of his collection was personally assembled on weekends visiting Cat Street’s antiques shops, where Lee built relationships with local Hong Kong dealers. His taste was for fine Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain, in keeping with the Cantonese tradition of art collection. Lee’s passion for collecting was sparked at a young age by a neighbour in the same Happy Valley building – the legendary Chinese art dealer Edward T. Chow, who guided the young Lee. The Chinese art collection Lee assembled consisted of the finest imperial porcelain and jade, many acquired at Sotheby’s London and Hong Kong in the 1970s-80s. The highlights of the sales of Lee’s collection at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018-19 included a pair of Jiajing blue and white ‘ram’ bowls and a white jade washer finely carved in the form of a lingzhi fungus from the Yongzheng to Qianlong period, as well as a Yongle blue and white ‘rose’ conical bowl.
The Dr Carl Kempe Collection
The celebrated Swedish businessman and Olympic silver medallist Dr Johan Carl Kempe (1884-1967) was, amongst many achievements, a renowned collector and connoisseur of Chinese art. Kempe and his wife travelled to Mainland China for the first time in 1935, where he reportedly purchased around 250 objects. Initially attracted to Qing dynasty polychrome porcelains, Kempe developed a particular interest in white porcelains from the Tang and Song dynasties. His second preoccupation was Chinese gold and silver, ranging from the Bronze Age Zhou dynasty to the Qing dynasty, which would become one of the foremost collections of Chinese gold and silver in private hands. Kempe’s third area of specialised collecting was Chinese glass, although he also acquired fine examples of Chinese lacquer, enamels, bronzes and other items. Pieces from Kempe’s collection were included in the famous 1935-36 International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London, as well as a touring exhibition to the United States of 150 items of gold, silver and ceramics after Kempe’s passing. Kempe’s collection was eventually dispersed, including through sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong; the Museum of Art and Far Eastern Antiquities in Ulricehamn received ceramics, gold and silver; Chinese glassware had already been presented by Kempe to the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm; and the British Museum's Carl Kempe Collection was donated by Giuseppe Eskenazi.