E dward T. Chow, one of the most renowned collectors in the realm of Chinese ceramics, left an indelible mark on the world of art with his astute taste anchored in rarity, quality, and impeccable preservation. Chow's journey into the world of Chinese art began when he was just 13 years old and sent to Shanghai for studies under the guidance of the esteemed dealer Zhu Heting. Also mentored by the Danish collector Jacob Melchior, Chow rapidly cultivated a discerning eye, amassing a small collection by the age of 20. A significant figure in the postwar Chinese art scene, Chow navigated both the realms of a collector and a dealer with finesse. His early training and mentorship laid the foundation for a remarkable network that included prominent collectors such as Sir Percival David and George Eumorfopoulos.
After more than two decades of diligent study and dedication, Chow mounted his first exhibition in 1946 under the name Kangxi Zhai (The Hall for Disciplined Learning), which showcased mostly Ming porcelain. The exhibition saw resounding success, cementing his place in the discourse of Chinese art. In 1949, Chow relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong, residing in Happy Valley before retiring in Geneva in 1967. However, his legacy was far from retirement; in 1980-81 the record-breaking auctions of Chow's legendary collection marked the inception of Sotheby's Hong Kong's famed single-owner sales. A few years later, in 1988, more than 8,000 treasured pieces from the collection were exhibited in Geneva. The Edward T. Chow Collection continues to this very day to be one of the most coveted provenances in the realm of Chinese art.
Today, a small portion of his extraordinary porcelain collection which has been passed down within his household, carefully preserved by descendants and hidden from public view, is set to captivate the world once again as it comes up for auction at Sotheby's. A Selection of Chinese Art from the Edward T. Chow Collection will take place from 26 November through 6 December. This exclusive offering presents a rare opportunity to own a piece from the collection of a true icon in the world of Chinese art.
Among Chow’s most notable pieces include his assortment of Chenghua Doucai ‘chicken cups’. These tiny porcelain cups are charmingly hand painted with roosters, hens and chicks, and were created during the Chenghua reign (1465-1487) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), a time when incredibly limited quantities were produced, hence their rarity. In 2014, a Chenghua cup was sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for US$36 million dollars, setting a record for Chinese porcelain. Two pairs of doucai cups hailing from the Kangxi reign (1662-1722) of the Qing dynasty are exceptional highlights in the present sale, including a pair of imperial doucai 'butterfly and lily' wine cups and a pair of imperial doucai 'scholars' wine cups. Although crafted during the Kangxi reign, both pairs feature apocryphal Chenghua marks. This was not uncommon as many considered the Chenghua reign as the epitome of Chinese ceramics craftsmanship, and many future creations often attempted to mirror those from the Chenghua period as closely as possible.
This vibrant pair of famille rose trompe l’oeil persimmons feature decorated leaf applique and were crafted during the Guangxu era. Famille rose refers to a type of Chinese porcelain introduced during the Kangxi reign (1662-1722) of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), while these persimmons are from the Guangxu reign, which spanned from 1875-1908.
A Southern Song dynasty Longquan celadon lobed tripod incense burner is another exceptionally rare and unique item offered. Crafted with an undulating mouth rim to mirror the blooming mallow, this incense burner stands out for its unusual choice of form. While the mallow shape itself is more commonly found on bowls and dishes, it rarely appeared on an incense burner. The kinuta glaze is a feature highly prized in Japan where incense holds particular cultural significance.
A set of seven sancai-glazed wine cups from the Tang dynasty feature a vivid, almost watercolour effect. Sancai-glazed cups from this period were thought to have been used in funerary rituals.
Other highlights from A Selection of Chinese Art from the Edward T. Chow Collection are a variety of pieces crafted with zitan, a particularly dense variety of rosewood that is dark red in colour, often dyed with deep red pigment. A Junyao blue-glazed ink palette comes in a zitan box signed by Deng Er'ya, a renowned scholar, calligrapher, engraver and painter of the Qing dynasty. A rare imperially inscribed and inlaid zitan ruyi sceptre from the Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, boasts a ruyi-shaped head inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a cluster of lychees. The upper shaft is inscribed with the characters Yu zhi alongside a three-column inscription written in lishu.