Tuesday, April 8, 2014


With a diameter of 8.2 cm, this Meiyintang Chenghua 'Chicken Cup' is no chicken feed as it is the Chinese version of the Faberge Eggs. There are only 16 documented Chcken Cups and until now, there is no such cup left in China, believe it or not! Of these, most are in the most famous museums and only 4 are in private hands.
Don't drop it Nicholas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia.

Of course since it is so meek and mild and far from wild and complex, there are millions of such cups circulating in China, all reproductions. So don't scream and buy the first one you see as there are dozens more in the night markets. Measuring 8 cm in diameter such Chicken Cups are easy to manufacture and I have several which look very similar but since they were made 12 years ago and not 550 years ago, they cannot be the real McCoy. So I shall continue to use my Chicken Cups recklessly and enjoy them for the function they were made.

Of course I should have bought this very same cup back in 1999 when it was sold for...hold your breath---a mere RM 12 million! Today it is worth RM 117 million, a profit of RM 105 million in 15 short years! Back in 1999 the paltry RM 12 million shook the art world as it smashed the record and everyone thought RM 12 million was shockingly scandalous. Oh well.

These Chicken Cups, showing 2 cocks, 2 hens and chicks, reached their height of perfection during Chenghua's reign from 1465 to 1487 and has been beloved of succeeding emperors despite their tiny size, ordinary appearance and lack of precious material like jade, rock crystal or agate. The birds represent the Emperor and Empress while the chickens their subjects.

This particular Chicken Cup is so revered as not only was it used by the Wanli emperor as his personal cup and worth 100,000 gold pieces, went missing from his table! Rumour has it this is the one stolen by one of his staff 550 years ago! 

Now, this celebrated Chicken Cup will go to Shanghai's Long Museum as it was purchased by Shanghai billionaire Liu YiQian for a staggering RM 117 million who also owns the museum. As it is, RM 117 million is more than enough to buy artefacts and works of art to fill a normal museum!

At Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 8 APRIL 2014

The Meiyintang Chenghua “Chicken Cup”
Estimated RM 85 million, sold for RM 117 million
To Shanghai Collector Liu Yiqian

The Meiyintang Chenghua “Chicken Cup” is so small you can only use it to sip tea and not all at one go! Of course at RM 117 million, you may prefer to use an IKEA cup. One careless chip or crack and you can commit suicide.
Done! Sold for RM 117 million to the chinaman from Shanghai! After 600 years since it was made, this Chicken Cup will go home to China to roost!
This RM 117 million tea cup was described by the late chairman of Sotheby's Julian Thompson as "tiny, old and practically useless but an Emperor definitely drank fro it and now it is worth RM 94 million". And that was in 1999!

“Chicken Cups” are the Most Expensive, Most Sought-After and
Most Reproduced Chinese Objects Ever since the Ming dynasty. They originated from the Chenghua reign of the Ming dynasty and the 'Meiyintang' simply refers to the name of the current collection from which it came.

“During the time of Shenzong [Wanli], the emperor liked to see the Chicken cups.
A pair of Chenghua cups was already worth 10,000 cash.”
- Rong Cha Li Shuo by Cheng Che, 17th Century

“Chicken cups were not obtainable in the city for less than five pieces of white gold
and those who did have the means to buy them greatly cherished them.”
- Zhu Yizun (1629-1709) stated in the Gan Jiu Ji Xu

First created in the Chenghua
reign (1465 – 87), “Chicken cups” have been praised, desired and reproduced by Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-
1911) emperors and other discerning literati collectors. With a legendary aura that goes well beyond their immediate art historical
importance, “chicken cups” have in modern days set record prices for Chinese art in 1980 and 1999.
particular specimen offered, one of only four preserved in private hands, comes from the celebrated Meiyintang
Collection, Europe’s grandest collection of Imperial Chinese porcelain, and has the most illustrious provenance spanning
the revered collections of Mrs. Leopold Dreyfus, Sakamoto Goro, Giuseppe Eskenazi and, reputedly, Edward T. Chow.

Nicolas Chow, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and International Head of Fine Chinese Ceramics and
Works of Art, said, “It is a great privilege for us to offer this iconic ‘chicken cup’ again at auction, 15 years after it
broke a world record for Chinese art back in 1999. Ever since the Ming dynasty when they were produced, Chenghua
period ‘chicken cups’ have been praised and treasured by emperors and connoisseurs alike. Given their extreme
rarity, they are by definition the crowning glory of any collection of Chinese porcelain.”

Created in the Chenghua reign (1465-87), when quality was at its peak, “chicken cups” are outstanding in their tactile
material, their range of colours, and their charming, unmannered painting style. First seen on porcelain in the
Chenghua period, the subject matter of a cock and a hen with chicks in a garden was a well-known topic of Song
dynasty (960-1279) painting and the Chenghua Emperor inscribed a poetic colophon about the subject on a Song
hanging scroll of a hen and chicks.
Praised and desired by Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) emperors and other discerning literati collectors,
“chicken cups” have over the centuries acquired a legendary aura as a testimony to Chinese ceramic connoisseurship,
that goes well beyond their immediate art-historical importance. The Wanli Emperor (r. 1572-1620) is known to have
admired Chenghua “chicken cups” in particular, which made them expensive already at that time. Many copies of
doucai “chicken cups” including Imperial ones were made in the early Qing dynasty, varying considerably in the details
of the decoration. During the Kangxi period (1662-1722) their value rose even further and is said to have surpassed that
of the celebrated Song wares. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-95) wrote an ode in praise of “chicken cups”. To own a
Chenghua doucai cup at that time had become synonymous with enjoying a small fortune.

Chenghua “Chicken cups” were produced in extremely
small quantities. Apart from the present example, only
three others are preserved in private hands and no more
than a few of the world’s most prestigious museums can
boast an example among their collections, including
The National Palace Museum, Taipei; the British
Museum, London; the Victoria & Albert Museum,
London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the
Collections Baur, Geneva. Even fragmentary “chicken
cups” appear to be rare among the excavations at the
Ming imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen. In the auction
South China Morning Post quoting the former Chairman of Sotheby’s
Asia, the late Julian Thompson, on the sale of the Chenghua ‘Chicken Cup’
after it was sold for a record price on 27 April 1999 in Hong Kong.
market, Chenghua “chicken cups” were only ever offered for sale at Sotheby’s, setting record prices for Chinese art in
1980 and 1999.

The sensuous pleasure of the touch of a piece of Chenghua porcelain is well known, and Chenghua “chicken cups” are
no exception in this respect. Its extremely fine, clear and tactile white paste characteristic of late Chenghua wares has
a distinctive, soft sheen and has no match among those of Jingdezhen porcelains of any period.
Like characteristic porcelains of the late Chenghua period, Chenghua “chicken cups” are small and unpretentious, and
seem at first glance unassuming and modest, intended for individual appreciation and handling rather than for display.
Considering the strict supervision and precise stipulations by the court in this period, it is most remarkable that painted
decoration on these cups remained remarkably free and uncontrived, and tends to be much less formal and predictable
than in previous reigns, with an unprecedented softness and elegance.

The Chenghua “Chicken Cup” offered was painted in the doucai colour scheme, which
was refined in the Chenghua period and refers either to the contrast of the mostly
primary colours or the fact that overglaze enamels are fitted into underglaze
outlines. The present cup shows different tones of red, a light and a dark olive green
that is a result of green and yellow superimposed, yellow as well as a shaded pale
underglaze blue used as a wash. For the chickens’ plumage several enamels were
superimposed to create a rich variegated effect. The repeat firings necessary for this
process naturally would have reduced the number of successfully completed examples.

The present cup has an illustrious provenance and comes now from the Meiyintang collection. Assembled over a period of more than 50 years, The
Meiyintang Collection is world-renowned for having brought together magnificent examples of imperial porcelain,
assembled working closely with the foremost experts in the field, leading dealers E.T. Chow and Giuseppe Eskenazi.

The present cup was also previously in the revered collections of Mrs. Leopold Dreyfus, a London-based collector
who owned an important but little known collection of Chinese ceramics, legendary antique dealers Sakamoto Goro as
well as Giuseppe Eskenazi and, by repute, Edward T. Chow.
*Estimates do not include buyer”s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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