5000 Years of Chinese Colours
Auction: 5 June 2020 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong

CHINA / 5000 YEARS 5 June 2020 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong
"Colour is a power which directly influences the soul."
― Wassily Kandinsky

S otheby’s ‘5000 YEARS’ is five millennia of heritage. It is 5000 years of Chinese colours, showcasing five millennia of archaic jades, ceramics and works of art. Within this broad spectrum, each of the colours narrates a storied past and evokes a long tradition of poetry. While the icy celadon glazes of the Song dynasty may bring to mind the sound of melted snow, the peachbloom glaze from the Kangxi period holds the promise of spring in the mountains, and a heart free of care. Discover 5000 years of colour in Chinese history in this season’s auction, beginning from the tones of the Neolithic period which emerge as whispers from the earth and culminating in the full kaleidoscopic range of the Qing dynasty.

Silent Tones of the Earth

“Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”
—Oscar Wilde
A Small Jade Scraper Blade
Neolithic Period, Longshan Culture
Estimate: HKD 20,000-30,000

The translucent colours and warm tones of the Longshan culture jades provide a tantalising glimpse into the history of the earth from which ritual and utilitarian pieces were unearthed, and suggest the mysteries of a long vanished culture that flourished in Neolithic northeast China.

Expansion and Cultural Ascendancy
“Green is the soul of Spring. Summer may be dappled with yellow, Autumn with orange and Winter with white but Spring is drenched with the colour green.”
― Paul F. Kortepeter

A Sancai Incense Burner

Tang Dynasty
Estimate: HKD 40,000-60,000

Earthenware figures and vessels boldly glazed with splashes of verdant green and autumnal amber on a golden straw-coloured ground, the brilliant sancai colours evoke a sense of seasonal rhythms and the dazzling, cosmopolitan life of the Tang dynasty. It was a period of expansion, seeing unprecedented flourish of culture and artistic advancement.


Songs of the Literati

  • Ivory Snow
  • Partridge Feather
  • Moonwhite
  • Celadon
  • Lavender Blue
  • A Carved Dingyao 'Lotus' Dish
    Northern Song Dynasty
    Estimate: HKD 100,000-150,000

    “I hear the sounds of melting snow outside my window every night and with the first faint scent of spring, I remember life exists…”
    ― John Geddes

    Ding ware is and always was one of the most admired ceramic wares of Song dynasty China. The translucent and vitreous tactile ivory-tinged glaze, with its characteristic 'tears' of a deeper tone, preserves its snowy-cream lustre.
  • A Cizhou 'Partridge Feather' Glazed Bowl
    Song Dynasty
    Estimate: HKD 26,000-40,000

    “Beneath the stars the lake lay dark and sombre, but on its shores gleamed and glowed in golden radiance the ivory city, beautiful as a poet's dream, silent as a city of the dead.”
    ― Erik Larson

    Somber and elegant, the northern blackwares of Cizhou kiln bear a lustrous black glaze, and from the deep bottomless black emerge russet streaks or mottles reminiscent of hare’s fur, tortoiseshell, or partridge feathers.
  • A Junyao Moonwhite-Glazed Lotus Bud Waterpot
    Jin Dynasty
    Estimate: HKD 60,000-80,000

    “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
    ― Anton Chekhov

    The essence of Jun ware derives its beauty from their contrasting luminous thick glaze of varied moon-white colouration that becomes almost transparent where the glaze thins. The glossy glaze may be a hazy blue sky, milky-lavender-blue, a pale bluish-white glaze.
  • A Rare Reticulated Longquan Celadon Arrow Vase
    Yuan - Ming Dynasty
    Estimate: HKD 150,000-200,000

    “When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”
    – William Blake

    In southwest Zhejiang province, artisans had established the Longquan glaze's signature colour, admired for its ethereal, bluish-green glaze of the Song dynasty, becoming thick and vigorous in Yuan dynasty, and later during the Ming dynasty the green appeared almost unctuous with yellowish or milky tones.
  • A Junyao Purple-Splashed Blue-Glazed Dish
    Song - Ming Dynasty
    Estimate: HKD 30,000-40,000

    “The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural … The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.”
    – Wassily Kandinsky

    Jun ware, with its ravishing purple-and-blue combination, is one the most daring creations in the history of Chinese ceramics. The effect is part optical illusion and part happenstance, combining to unique patterns and tonal variations.

Age of Imperial Patronage

“How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.”

A Yellow-Glazed Dish

Mark and Period of Zhengde
Estimate: HKD 300,000-500,000

The striking rich yellow was strictly reserved for wares for the imperial court, produced at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen throughout the Ming dynasty and a direct descendant of the yellow lead glazes of the Tang dynasty.


The Kaleidoscopic Boom of Polychrome
“You ask me why I dwell in the green mountains; I smile and make no reply, for my heart is free of care. As the peach-blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown, I have a world apart that is not among men.”
― Li Bai
A Fine Peachbloom-Glazed Washer
Mark and Period of Kangxi
Estimate: HKD 500,000-700,000

Variegated tones of red flirt occasionally with youthful green, the beguiling peachbloom holds all of the promise of spring in the mountains, and an unencumbered spirit.

  • Copper Red
  • Lemon-Yellow
  • Turquoise Blue
  • Teadust
  • Flambé
  • Turquoise-Matrix Imitation
  • A Fine Copper-Red Glazed Yuhuchunping
    ESTIMATE: HKD 250,000-300,000

    “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
    ― Isaiah 1:18

    Pulsing with life and celebration, reds were unpredictable and tempestuous in the kiln, only to be revived and perfected during the Qing dynasty.
  • A Lemon-Yellow Glazed Cup
    ESTIMATE: HKD 250,000-300,000

    “The yellow glistens.
    It glistens with various yellows,
    Citrons, oranges and greens
    Flowering over the skin.”
    ― Wallace Stevens
  • An Inscribed and Carved Turquoise-Glazed 'Landscape' Bowl
    ESTIMATE: HKD 8,000-12,000

    “More varied than any landscape was the landscape in the sky, with islands of gold and silver, peninsulas of apricot and rose against a background of many shades of turquoise and azure.”
    ― Cecil Beaton

    It wasn't until the Qing dynasty that turquoise glaze realised such spectacular depth and vibrancy than ever before, inspiring dreams of a heavenly landscape.
  • A Fine Teadust-Glazed Bottle Vase
    ESTIMATE: HKD 400,000-600,000

    “When you hear water splashing into the stone bowl, the dust of your mind is washed away.”
    ― Sen no Rikyu

    The lustrous, dark green of the teadust glaze evokes the warmth of the vessel as the water swirls together with rich, bittersweet leaves. Perfectly fired vessels in this glaze have many small stipples that make the glaze appear particularly rich and velvety to the touch.
  • A Flambé Glazed Moonflask
    ESTIMATE: HKD 80,000-120,000

    With colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.”
    ― Henri Matisse

    The striking flambé glaze reflect the Qing dynasty Emperors' desire to conjure the purple, crimson and blue fire of Song dynasty Jun wares.
  • A Turquoise Matrix-Imitation Vase
    ESTIMATE: HKD 30,000-50,000

    “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”
    ― Rabindranath Tagore

    The Qianlong emperor's predilection for the idiosyncratic paved the way for a flourishing palette of rich colours and intriguing trompe-l'oeil of ceramics.
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
A Taihu Scholar's Rock With Original Stand
Qing Dynasty
Estimate: HKD 50,000-70,000

Water, sand and stone coalesce into abstract and physical form, attuned to the deafening force of nature and in harmony with the whisper-soft tones of the earth.


More Highlights from 5000 YEARS

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

Sell with Sotheby's

Sell with Sotheby's

Curious to know if your item is suitable for one of our upcoming sales?

Provide information and share images to request an online estimate now.

Start Selling
arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top