Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Auction

LONDON – On 5 November 2008, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale an important range of sculpture, ceramics and works of art in its autumn sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. The auction will include many works from the early archaic period to the Qing Dynasty, displaying the wide variety of styles and media for which Chinese works of art are well renowned. The sale will also feature many pieces produced for the European export market, and it will also include the second London offering of part of the collection of the white, green and black wares that was formerly owned by the Swedish industrialist Dr Carl Kempe.

Discussing the sale Robert Bradlow, Head of the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department at Sotheby’s London said: “We are pleased to present many top quality Chinese ceramics and works of art in our November sale. The selection on offer demonstrates the variety of high quality pieces produced over many centuries by some of the world’s most skilled craftsmen of each era.”

The highlight of the sale is a large and very rare gilt bronze figure of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva (Lot 231, estimated to realise in excess of £2.5 million). Produced during the Xuande Period and dated 1435 it is the largest dated Buddhist gilt bronze figure from the period. The imposing piece is not only beautifully sculpted but is historically important because of the inscription that names the donor (Huang Fu) and the Xing Sheng temple which it was dedicated to. The temple is still standing in Songjiang County, Jiangsu province today.

A Magnificent Imperial Dragon Censer is another extremely rare work in the sale (Lot 108, Est. in excess of £500,000). This remarkable work is one of very few bronzes from the Xuande reign of the Ming Dynasty that have been preserved.

The superb casting on this striking and hugely significant piece is a testament to the ingenuity and workmanship of the highly skilled artisans working in 15th-century China.

A pair of magnificent and rare Qianlong period stem cups is another highlight of the sale (Lot 53, Est. £300,000 – 500,000). Only five such stem cups are still in existence with most in major museum collections; it is nearly 30 years since one of these cups was sold at auction, this sale therefore represents a rare opportunity to acquire these intricate and high quality pieces.

The cups were produced in the workshop of the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City and would therefore have been produced by the finest and most skilled lacquer carvers of the time – the Emperor personally visited the workshops to ensure that the instructions for the designs was accurately followed. The bowls have slightly rounded sides that rise from a tall hollow spreading foot to a flaring rim. Whilst being impressively sized it is the use of red lacquer that makes these objects exceptional. Designs using lacquer from this period often drew on designs found on blue decorated porcelains and these cups are no exception, echoing a design found on a Qianlong blue-and-white stem bowl housed in the Roemer Museum. The lacquer has been carved into eight lanca characters that are surrounded by ornate lotus scrolls, the result is decoration that is both bold and striking whilst subtle and delicate.

Chinese Export Art
A selection of pieces made for the export market leads the afternoon session and those on offer here were largely produced for the Portuguese market. A rare circular tureen from the Qing Dynasty, circa 1720 is a particular highlight (lot 303, Est. £40,000 – 60,000). The arms of Dom Luis Peregrino de Ataide are surrounded by colourful finely enameled floral strapwork.

Standing over a meter tall a pair of ‘Chinese Imari’ soldier vases are striking pieces, decorated with closely related hunting scenes (Lot 310, Est. £100,000 – 120,000). Production of these extremely rare vases peaked in the 1720s and 1730s when there was heavy demand from the Dutch East India Company operating in China. Accordingly an impressive selection of fine Chinese Imari pieces can be found in the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam.

Dr Carl Kempe Collection
The second London offering of pieces formerly in collection of Dr Carl Kempe will also feature in the sale. Dr Kempe (1884–1967) was a Swedish industrialist that transformed his lumber-producing family firm into a leading industrial concern in the pulp and paper business. He formed his collection in the 1920s and 30s and became one of Sweden’s most avid collectors of Chinese works of art. With its particular emphasis on gold and silver, as well as his special interest in white porcelain – areas that had largely been neglected until that time – his collection quickly became internationally renowned. It was studied in depth by Bo Gyllensvärd, whose catalogues of the precious metalwork in 1953 and of the white wares in 1964 rapidly became standard reference works on the subject. Until Sotheby’s May 2008 sale the Kempe collection had never before come on the market.

A highlight from this part of the sale is a rare ‘Ru-Tupe’ Narcissus octagonal bowl from the Yongzeheng period (Lot 601, Est. £7,000 –9,000). Other important pieces from this part of the sale are a black glazed lotus jar from the Song Dynasty (Lot 491, Est. £1,500 – 2,500) and a lotus bowl also from the Song Dynasty (Lot 530, Est. £1,500 – 2,000).

Top