Important Chinese Art

Live Auction: 4 November 2020 • 11:00 AM GMT • London
Important Chinese Art 4 November 2020 • 11:00 AM GMT • London

T his November Sotheby’s London Important Chinese Art sale brings together a wide range of Imperial porcelains, ceramics and works of art ranging from early dynastic periods to the 20th century. Many of the works presented in the sale have been hidden in English and European private collections and are fresh to the market.

Among the highlights are three magnificent Imperial porcelains of the Yongzheng period led by a wonderful rare famille rose charger from a European noble family, a magnificent large Ge-type moonflask from an Irish private collection and an exquisite Ming-style blue and white vase formerly in an Austrian collection. A large group of classical Chinese furniture from a European collection, paintings by modern masters lead by a Scenery of Huanghan by Li Keran (1907-1989) from an English collection, as well as a strong group of paintings by Lin Fengmian, and an early work by Zhang Daqian from the collection of a former Dutch ambassador to China present another focus of the sale.

The auction will also feature a wonderful group of Tang sancai and blue-glazed ceramics, among these a rare figure of a blue and amber-glazed buffalo, formerly in the collection of Susan Chen, and a small collection of Song black and white wares from a German private collection.


Pottery in the Tang dynasty became richer in colour, mainly through the use of a white slip over the dull beige clay, which not only brightened up the basic green and brown glaze tones, but also – covered with a transparent glaze – added a near-white glaze colour to the repertoire. That the resulting colour scheme is known as sancai (‘three colours’) obscures the fact that it covers a fairly wide range of tones, from near-white over yellow and amber to brown and from a pale pastel-green to a deep leaf green.

Sancai proved such a successful colour scheme that it became a staple for Chinese ceramics and remained popular long after many additional glaze colours had become available. Still, in the eighth century, the palette was dramatically enriched by the introduction of a deep cobalt blue, a rare and valuable pigment that itself was apparently imported from Persia.

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Classical Furniture from a European Private Collection

Following the very successful sale of ‘Classical Furniture from a European Private Collection’ offered in London on 11 November 2015, we are delighted to offer the second part from this collection.

Formed by a private European collector, facilitated by frequent trips to Asia via Hong Kong in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and being advised by one of the leading experts in the modern Chinese furniture world, Hei Hung Lu, they were able to build an important collection of predominantly huanghuali furniture of the late Ming period. The growing collection was both displayed and used in the collector’s house and on view in their private museum. As his daughter remembers that ‘year after year Father would return to Hong Kong, visit the Hei family and acquire a table, a bed or a cabinet....and gradually we had to do without our wardrobes or bookcases to create space for something less utilitarian but definitely aesthetically more pleasing’.

Hei Hung Lu started his gallery in 1949 and was the driving force behind the Robert H. Ellsworth collection of Chinese furniture. A particular highlight in this second part of the collection an impressive pair of large huanghuali continuous yokeback armchairs of late Ming Dynasty date. Their characteristic elegant lines and generous yet balanced proportions are representative of chairs of this type made for high-ranking officials in the late Ming Dynasty.

Within the collection there are several good examples of miniature furniture in the classical Ming style, including a miniature huanghuali altar table, dating to the later Qing Dynasty table .

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Looking to the Past to create the Present:Three Magnificent Imperial Porcelains made under the Yongzheng Emperor

Under the Yongzheng emperor the arts flourished. Being an accomplished scholar, excelling in all areas from calligraphy and painting to art appreciation, as well as being well-versed in all important Chinese classics, the Yongzheng emperor looked to the past to envision the present and the future. He was especially interested in ceramics and took a deep interest in all porcelain wares produced in the imperial workshop, commenting on their forms and dimensions and even their decoration and glazes.

Official records also included his notes such as “refine (to achieve) an elegant presence” and to “make thinner”, hence Yongzheng ceramics are handsome, delicate and refined. The fine potting, exquisite lightness, gentle and elegant forms of porcelains made in the Imperial workshops are all characterised by a shared refined subtlety that reflected the temperament and personality of the emperor himself. Under his patronage, a diverse range of different wares was produced in the Imperial workshops during this period including wares decorated in blue and white, famille rose, doucai, monochrome and archaistic glazes marking an unprecedented peak in porcelain production.

A Magnificent and Very Rare Large Famille-Rose "Dragon" Dish, Yonghzheng Mark and Period
Estimate: 260,000 - 360,000 GBP

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  • The impressive charger embodies all the elements that characterised the most accomplished of Yongzheng period famille rose-decorated porcelains which mastered mature techniques, a strong three-dimensional sense and a rich variety of colours.

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  • Notoriously difficult to fire, famille rose enamels, known as yangcai or ‘foreign colours’ to the Chinese because they were first introduced from Europe in the late 17th century, were perfected under the Yongzheng emperor.

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  • On this superbly painted dish, the vibrant and colourful design mirrors the Yongzheng emperor’s aesthetic sensibility, distinctive taste and fondness for traditional Chinese motifs paired with his fascinations for auspicious designs packed with potent and auspicious symbols and messages.

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A Very Rare Blue and White 'Floral' Vase Yongzheng Mark and Period
Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 GBP

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  • A rich variety of different blue and white porcelains were produced during the Yongzheng period, and the diversity and styles of blue and white designs were unrivalled in other periods of the Qing dynasty.

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  • The Yongzheng emperor was drawn to blue and white porcelains of the Yongle, Xuande and Chenghua period of the Ming dynasty and their designs were widely recreated, their spirit faithfully captured while having been adapted to suit the emperor’s specific taste. This rare vase embodies the Yongzheng emperor’s fascination with early Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain.

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  • The dense floral scroll that covers the entire surface of the vase with its subtle ‘heaping and piling’ effect is clearly inspired by early Ming blue and white porcelains. Its form, however, with its long neck and flattened body, refers to China’s revered metalworking tradition with its roots in archaic bronze shapes.

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A Rare and Large Ge-Type Moonflask, Yongzheng, Seal Mark and Period
Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 GBP

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  • This magnificent moonflask is representative of some of the most challenging porcelain shapes, sizes and glazes made under the reign of the Yongzheng emperor. The simplicity of its form and glaze is deceptive as it made the greatest demands on the technical skills that only the most sophisticated and experienced potters working in the Imperial workshops could handle. In form and glaze it embodies the Yongzheng emperor’s fascination with antiquity and his passion for archaism. Both its form and glaze are borrowed from sources in Chinese antiquity which under Yongzheng's demands served as a source of inspiration for innovation.

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  • From the first year of his reign, the Yongzheng emperor commissioned items from the Palace Workshops, whose output changed in nature as a result. Simplicity of form and absence of decoration were stylistic trends introduced by Tang Ying (1682-1756), Superintendent of the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen. Under his supervision, research into celebrated Song wares such as Ru, Guan, Ge and Jun saw the re-emergence of monochrome porcelains covered in luminous yet deceptively simple glazes which were made to simulate earlier wares on both contemporary and archaistic forms.

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Modern Masters: Li Keran, Huang Binhong, Lin Fengmian and Zhang Daqian

Works by four of the leading masters of the modern Chinese painting tradition will be offered in this sale. Born at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century, their lives faced the fast-changing world of the early 20th century. A time of unprecedented social and political change, all four artists’ work and individual style reflects their way of linking the old with the new, merging traditional Chinese ink painting with new elements and techniques and thus reinvigorating traditional Chinese ink painting and establishing it firmly in the 20th century.

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