Lot 70
  • 70


200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • 30.3 cm, 12 in.
Imperial Ceramics and works of art from the Detring/Von Hanneken Collection (Lots 70-91) The collection was formed during the late Qing period by two of the most influential Germans living and working in Tianjin in the late 19th century: Gustav Detring (1842-1913) and his son-in-law Constantin von Hanneken (1854-1925). Individually both men operated at the highest levels of the Qing bureaucracy and played historically significant roles in the politics, diplomacy and military of the tumultuous late Qing period.   Gustav Detring (1842-1913) Born in the Northern Rhine-Westphalia, Gustav Detring moved to China in 1865 to join the Customs Service, working under Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service. By 1872 Detring had risen to become a Customs Commissioner in Tianjin and, six years later was appointed to serve as the private and trusted advisor to Viceroy Li Hongzhang, a position he held for twenty seven years.  During his time in China, Detring rose to have one of the most senior positions in the Qing bureaucracy, including in the Zongli Yamen (Foreign Ministry) and as Commissioner for the Northern Ports. His achievements in China are nothing short of staggering. He negotiated a series of treaties and trade agreements on behalf of the Chinese government; was used by Li during various diplomatic missions in the 1870s-80s; and was relied upon to deal with German arms manufacturers and in hiring military experts. During the Sino-Japanese War, an Imperial edict ordered Detring ‘to proceed to Japan to effect a settlement’. In 1896, Detring was conferred with Dingdaihauling ‘Rank One’ by the Dowager Empress Cixi, making him the highest ranking Westerner in China, as memorialized by a painting at the Astor Hotel in Tianjin. Detring’s contributions to Tianjin - the city he made his home - were no less commendable: he founded Tianjin University, co-published the Chinese Times, constructed the Tianjin racecourse, paved the roads of the foreign settlement, and was instrumental in the construction of the City Hall, named ‘Gordon Hall’ after Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon. At the time of his death in 1913, a Chinese newspaper wrote: “His Influence upon the permanent prosperity of [Tianjin] is incalculable. We can hardly find a stage of public life in our present society which has not been associated with the great and valuable contribution made by Detring. Constantin von Hanneken (1854-1925) Born in Trier on the Rhine, and described by his family as a ‘patriot of China’, Constantin von Hanneken (fig. 4) had served as a Captain in the Prussian Field Artillery before being hired as one of Detring’s military advisors. He moved to China in 1879 to take up the position and quickly established himself as a close friend and advisor to Li Hongzhang, whom he worked for until 1887. Li put von Hanneken in charge of reorganizing and modernizing the Chinese army and in designing and building several naval forts including, most significantly, Port Arthur (Lüshun gang). Von Hanneken was highly decorated for having established Port Arthur in 1881, eventually rising to the rank of Chinese general, and later tasked with the fortification of Talienwan and Weihaiwei by Japanese forces. During the Sino-Japanese war, in November 1894, the Guangxu Emperor issued a decree making von Hanneken commander in chief of China’s armies with ‘ample funds and power’, in the hope that a Western general could defeat the Japanese army. Under pressure from xenophobic factions within the court, the plan was later reversed, eventually leading to the capturing of Port Arthur and Weihaiwei. Together Detring and von Hanneken also oversaw the vast British controlled Kaiping Mining Company, which was the first successful large-scale effort to introduce Western technology and methods into industrial production in China. Von Hanneken married Detring’s eldest daughter, Elsa, in 1895, thereby uniting these two prominent families. Whilst Detring and von Hanneken’s professional endeavours in China are well documented, their collecting activities are less known. Collecting Chinese art appears to have been something for a hobby for both men - no doubt facilitated through their close working relationships with Li Hongzhang as well as their access to the Qing court, including to the Dowager Empress Cixi and to the Guangxu Emperor. Certain works from the collection were likely personally gifted to them by the Qing court, but collecting may well have also been a means of decorating their palatial Tianjin homes (fig. 6). Furthermore, both men moved in the same professional and social circles in China as some of the most legendary Chinese art collectors of the time, including Alfred E. Hippisley (1848-1939), commissioner of the maritime customs between 1876 and 1884, who formed one of the greatest collection of the Qing dynasty porcelain; Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), a mining engineer who worked at the Kaiping Mining operation, later becoming the 31st President of the United States, who collected Chinese blue and white porcelain; and von Hanneken’s brother-in-law Ernst Ohlmer (1847-1927), a maritime customs officer better known for providing one of the earliest photographic records of the remains of the Yuanming yuan in 1872, and whose extensive collection of Chinese porcelain is today housed in the Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim. Von Hanneken returned briefly to Germany in 1895, bringing a large quantity of porcelain from his collection back with him for safekeeping. In 1899, approximately 160 pieces from his collection were loaned to the Roemer Museum in Hildesheim, and returned to the heirs of Constantin and Elsa von Hanneken in 1959. In 1919, the family left Tianjin settled in Hannover, Germany. Against the backdrop of the post-war economic depression in Germany, von Hanneken returned to China with his family in 1922 hoping to regain his influence and position in the Kaiping Mining Company. In March 1925 he died in Tianjin, and Elsa and their children returned to Germany in 1926. Most of the collection remained in Germany through the first half of the 20th century, with a number of works going with their son when he emigrated to the United States in the 1930s and the remaining part exhibited together with the newly presented Ohlmer collection in the Roemer- und Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim from 1932 until the evacuation of the Museum‘s collection in 1944. Since the pieces from the von Hanneken Collection were restituted to the heirs in 1959, they have remained with Detring and von Hanneken’s descendants to this day. Several of the porcelains and works of art from the von Hanneken Collection in this sale and in the SGS sale illustrate the close ties between Constantin von Hanneken, Gustav Detring and Ernst Ohlmer. For example, the rare Ding-type handled vase (lot 73 and the blue and white dragon double-gourd vase (lot 70) are illustrated together in a photograph taken in the 1890s depicting the salon of the Detring home in China. (Check which city). These two pieces were listed by Chinese customs among other porcelains and works of art from the Detring Collection when his wife Eva Detring returned to Germany in 1928 After her death, they were passed down to Gustav Detring’s daughter, Elsa Detring, Constantin von Hanneken’s wife. Other pieces, such as the ruby-ground famille rose bowl (lot 72), were on loan to the Roemer-P Museum as early as 1899 and may have been included in selection of porcelains including a green and a blue ‘dragon’ meiping (lots 74 and 75) from the von Hanneken Collection exhibited alongside the Ohlmer Collection of Chinese porcelains and works of art donated to the Roemer-P Museum in 1928 and exhibited in 1930. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- the upper bulb of slightly compressed globular form rising to a circular mouth, the large lower bulb of globular form and separated by a curved waist, finely painted in meticulous detail with a five-clawed dragon shown in full-frontal position encircling a 'flaming pearl', flanked by a further eight dragons amidst flames and swirling clouds and above turbulent rolling waves around the foot, their undulating scaly bodies prancing around the sides and captured in various poses, all below a ruyi band at the mouth rim, the base inscribed with the six-character seal mark in underglaze-blue


Collection of Gustav Detring (1842-1913) and thence by descent.


This rare double-gourd vase is in very good condition with the exception of some very minor and light glaze scratches.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Magnificently painted with nine dragons leaping through clouds above crashing waves, this vase boasts the formidable power of the Qing Empire. In its dynamic composition and skilfully painted design, it belongs to the early years of the Jiaqing Emperor’s reign, when the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen were still heavily influenced by the imperial patronage of the preceding Qianlong period. The vivacity of the cobalt blue, superbly rendered dragons and the impeccably finished body emphasise both the craftsmanship of the time and the splendour of the period. In its complex design, it also epitomises the importance of manipulating negative space in the overall composition to achieve balance and harmony.  

Jiaqing vases of this type are rare and only two closely related examples appear to be known, both sold in our Hong Kong rooms, one, 11th April 2008, lot 2831, and the other, 31st October 1974, lot 199.  


Vases decorated with a central frontal dragon in pursuit of a flaming pearl, and surrounded by secondary dragons, appear to have been a popular motif during the Jiaqing reign, appearing on a variety of pieces of various shapes; for example see two blue and white vases in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, one with a long cylindrical neck, included in the Museum’s exhibition Lord Jiaqing and the Journey to Taiwan: A Special Exhibition on Cultural Artifacts of the Qing Emperor Renzong, 2016, cat. no. III-36, and a globular example, published in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. 2, Tokyo, 1981, pl. 93; and another one sold in these rooms, 2nd May 1995, lot 86.


Double-gourd vases painted with front and side facing dragons in copper-red from the Qianlong period may have served as the inspiration for the present vase. See a closely related Qianlong example sold in these rooms rooms, 20th June 2001, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1216; and another from the collection of T. Y. Chao, included in the exhibition Ming and Ch'ing Porcelain from the Collection of the T. Y. Chao Family Foundation, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1978, cat. no. 781, and sold three times in our Hong Kong rooms, 17th November 1975, lot 222, 18th November 1986, lot 71, and 3rd April 2018, lot 3203.