Chinese Works of Art

The €16.2 Million Chinese Vase Discovered in an Attic

By Sotheby's

A recently-discovered unique Imperial 18th-century ‘Yangcai’ Famille-Rose porcelain vase has sold at Sotheby's in Paris for €16,182,800, setting a new record for any Chinese porcelain sold at auction in France.

The vase, which was discovered by chance in the attic of French family home and brought into the Paris office by its unsuspecting owners in a shoe box, sold for more than 23 times the high estimate value of €700,000 after an intense 20 minute bidding battle.

When specialist Olivier Valmier opened the box to examine the vase, he was immediately struck by its quality. Further research revealed the vase to be a unique example produced by the finest craftsmen of the time for the Qianlong Emperor.

Left to the grandparents of the present owners by an uncle, the vase is listed among the contents of the latter’s Paris apartment after his death in 1947. It is recorded alongside several other Chinese and Japanese objects including other Chinese porcelains, two dragon robes, a yellow silk textile, and an unusual bronze mirror contained in a carved lacquer box. This mirror will be offered in the Sotheby’s sale of Asian Art in Paris immediately after the sale of the vase.

While the exact provenance of the vase and the other Chinese and Japanese pieces before 1947 cannot be traced, the receipt of a Satsuma censer acquired as a wedding gift in the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris by an ancestor of the family suggests an active interest in Asian art at a very early date. Similarly, this vase may well have been acquired in Paris in the late 19th century when the arrival of Asian works of art initiated a fashion for Japanese and Chinese art.

Interestingly, the only other vase of this shape and similar design, now in the collection of the Musée Guimet, Paris, was acquired by Ernest Grandidier (1833-1912) about the same time, around 1890 from Philippe Sichel, an Asian art dealer in Paris active in the late 19th century, and an early advocate of Japanese art in France.

The vase is of exceptional rarity: the only known example of its kind, it was produced by the Jingdezhen workshops. Famille-Rose porcelains of the period (or ‘yangcai’ porcelains, as they are known) are extremely rare on the market, with most examples currently housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei and other museums around the world.

On the rare occasions when pieces of this kind do come to auction they are the subject of fierce competition: earlier this year in Hong Kong a Famille-Rose porcelain bowl sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for HK$239 million (£21.7 million; US$30.4 million).

The vase has a body encircled by a magnificent landscape with deer, cranes and pine trees, all auspicious symbols of health and longevity: a genuine painting on porcelain showing nine fallow deer and five cranes in a rocky landscape with a tumbling waterfall, surrounded by gnarled pines and mist-covered peaks expressing all the artist's dazzling talent. Only one other similar vase, although with slightly different subject matter and decorative borders, now in the Guimet museum in Paris, is known.

Our specialists are travelling through Europe, Hong Kong and Australia over the summer to value Chinese treasures you may discover hidden away in the recesses of your home.

To make an enquiry or to arrange a free valuation with no obligation please contact the Sotheby’s representatives listed below or contact your local office by clicking here

Various locations throughout France
25 June–27 July
Please email for exact dates and locations

18–19 June

Hong Kong
3–6 July

Brussels, Belgium
4 July

Sydney, Australia
9–10 July

Melbourne, Australia
11–12 July

Demark, Copenhagen

Switzerland, Geneva / Zurich

Italy, Milan / Rome

Netherlands, Amsterdam   

Spain, Madrid  

Portugal, Lisbon   

Greece, Athens

You can also request an estimate online by clicking here


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