T he name Joseph Lau resonates with collectors around the globe and it is one that stands for excellence. Chinese art stands at the genesis of Joseph Lau’s adventure with art and it is on Chinese art that he cut his exacting eye before expanding his horizons. At the age of 27, Lau walked for the first time into a Sotheby’s preview in 1978, 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 ten years, Lau assembled one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain ever, articulated around masterpieces, each representative of the best of a certain period and type, and handpicked from the most prestigious collections.
This season’s offerings include two very fine blue and white porcelains dating from the Yongle period in the early 15th century, the pinnacle of underglaze-blue decorated wares and a period much celebrated for imperial patronage in the arts. The first one is a meiping decorated with a lotus scroll, which is remarkably elegant in its potting and represents the epitome of that classic shape. Similar examples are known in the palace museums in Beijing and Taipei as well as in the Middle Eastern Royal collections of the Ottoman sultans which attest to their universal appeal and high status. The second piece, a type similarly popular at the Chinese and foreign courts, belongs to a group of vessels which were inspired by Persian metalwork prototypes. Moonflasks of this type are typically decorated with star-shaped rosettes derived from an amalgamation of archaism and Middle Eastern design. The present example is superior in all aspects, from the quality of the painting, richness of the cobalt, clarity of the glaze to its pristine condition.
Moonflasks continued to be popular at the court of the Qing emperors and the magnificent circular flask brilliantly enamelled with fruit represents a particularly ambitious and unusual combination of the doucai and fencai schemes, which brings out the ripe fruit. The particular combination of three fruit has become the classic san duo (‘Three Plenties’) - duo fu, duo shou, duo nanzi (‘plenty of happiness, plenty of long life and plenty of sons’) – and this moonflask would have for many years brought blessings to the Qianlong emperor. Few similar examples survive except for one formerly in the collection of the British Rail Pension Fund.
The very private collection of Chinese art of Joseph Lau occupies pride of place among the very finest ever assembled in the field and will delight connoisseurs of Chinese porcelains. This selection of beautiful pieces is an opportunity for the most discerning collectors to acquire a piece from his celebrated collection.
Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia