Sotheby’s London Presents Important Chinese Art
Including the Single-Owner Sale:
Classical Chinese Furniture From A European Private Collection
On 11 November 2015, Sotheby’s London will bring to the market an exemplary selection of Chinese furniture and ceramics. Alongside the biannual auction of Important Chinese Art, Sotheby’s will offer the single-owner sale of Classical Chinese Furniture from a European Private Collection.
Robert Bradlow, Head of Chinese Works of Art, Sotheby’s London, commented: “This season we are delighted with the quality and freshness of the works we have sourced, in particular the exceptional collection of huanghuali furniture which was acquired in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and has been off the market since.
"This follows our phenomenally successful recent single-owner sale in Hong Kong of Ming furniture which was 100% sold.”
Classical Chinese Furniture From A European Private Collection showcases a tastefully selected collection of huanghuali and zitan furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The 26-lot sale offers masterfully carved and constructed furniture, from a stunning bed to various types of impressive tables and cabinets, each revealing the Ming and Qing craftsman’s full repertoire.
Known for his eclectic and fine taste which ranged from Chinese to South American art, the present owner assembled this group of Ming and Qing furniture in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when pieces were readily available following the Cultural Revolution in China.
Each piece was individually acquired with the assistance of Hei Hung-Lu, the renowned collector and dealer of Chinese antiquities based in Hong Kong who began his career in 1948.
Hei specialised in classical furniture and would often passionately collect as he dealt.
Huanghuali furniture has been in popular demand in recent years.
As demonstrated in the highly successful recent Sotheby’s Hong Kong ‘white-glove’ sale, Ming Furniture: The Dr S.Y. Yip Collection, classical Chinese furniture of exceptional quality, rarity and freshness continues to be sought after in today’s market.
In their simplicity of form, excellence of material and ingenious technical craftsmanship, these pieces transcend time.
A Fine Pair of Huanghuali Square-Corner Cupboards on stands, Ligui 17th/18th Century Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000 / HK$1,800,000 – 3,000,000 / US$232,000 – 387,000*
UP TO RM 1.5 MILLION FOR THE PAIR
Monumental in size and stately in design, large cabinets in pairs were the pièce de résistance of room décor.
Known as sijiangui (‘four part wardrobes’) or dingxiangligui (‘top cupboards and upright wardrobes’) for their two lower and two upper sections, they were intended to be placed side by side to form an elegant appearance of a double mitre, opposite each other or symmetrically along a wall separated by a door or a small coffer.
The attractive curves of the cabriole legs suggest these cabinets would have been placed symmetrically in a wealthy woman’s apartment rather than side by side, and the decorative carved surfaces heighten the natural beauty of the wood on the broad flat surfaces of the wardrobes.
The structure of these cabinets reveals the traditional method of caring for Chinese garments.
For centuries garments were fashioned so they could always be easily folded into flat, rectangular piles that were ready to wear. The main vertical creases and faint horizontal creases were not considered unsightly or a detraction from elegance.
As seen in this pair, wardrobes with aprons usually contained a hidden compartment whereby a flat piece of wood was laid inside the bottom which could be lifted out and items less frequently used, or accessories, could be stored inside.
A Large Huanghuali Solid Top Altar Table, Qiaotouan 17th/18th Century Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000 / HK$1,800,000 – 3,000,000 / US$232,000 – 387,000
UP TO RM 1.5 MILLION
The use of the treasured huanghuali wood and confidently carved motifs on the spandrels and side panels make this table especially rare.
Furniture of such high quality was created in the workshops of either Suzhou or Beijing. Such long rectangular tables modelled with recessed legs were commonly placed against a wall in the main hall of family compounds where important male visitors were received and family ceremonies took place.
They became representative of their owner’s status and level of refinement. The design, known in Chinese as qiaotouan, refers to the elegrant, smooth and rounded end flanges, and derives from altar tables, zu, that were used to hold meat offerings in the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771 – 256 BC).
By the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) tables of this type were used for a variety of purposes, including the display of treasured antiques or the placement of incense garnitures.
A Rare Zitan Luohan Bed with Marble Panels, Luohanchuang Qing Dynasty, 18th Century Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000 / HK$1,800,000 – 3,000,000 / US$232,000 – 387,000
UP TO RM 1.5 MILLION
This attractive marble-mounted couch bed (luohanchang) is a striking example of the dual utilitarian and decorative role of furniture of the Qing dynasty.
The enigmatic marble panels provide a stunning contrast with the silky lustre of the dark zitan wood, which has been left largely devoid of carving on the legs and base and with only subtle low-relief carving on the interior of the panels in order to draw attention to the quality of the wood.
Due to the scarcity of the material, couch beds constructed from zitan are rare, which suggests that this bed would have graced the studio of an important member of the imperial family.
Treasured by scholars and popular from the Ming dynasty, marble panels such as these would have provided a means of inspiration for scholars as they gathered and engaged in discourse, calligraphy or painting.
Couch beds are characterised by their railings which extend over three sides of the seat, the form of which developed to a subtle stepped shape to echo the form of a throne.
Ingenious for its use as a couch during the day and a bed at night, the transformation from one to the other required minimal effort and could be enjoyed alone or in the company of a guest.
A Huanghuali Square Games Table, Qizhuo Qing Dynasty, 18th Century Estimate: £30,000 – 50,000 / HK$360,000 – 600,000 / US$46,400 – 77,500
ESTIMATED AT RM 300,000
Games tables have a long history in China, with early surviving examples used for the divination game liubo dating to the Eastern Han dynasty (25 – 220). This table is notable for its clarity of form, where the decoration has been confined to the cloud-shaped spandrels and horse- hoof feet to skilfully conceal its ingenious construction.
The table top is easily removed to reveal a complex arrangement of game boards set against a boxwood frame, two small compartments for storing game pieces and four small hidden drawers.
Practical tables of this type were used for both dining and playing games, and were frequently used by ladies, as depicted in contemporary paintings and woodblock illustrations.
A Pair of Huanghuali Yokeback Armchairs, Guanmaoyi 17th/18th Century Estimate: £30,000 – 50,000 / HK$360,000 – 600,000 / US$46,400 – 77,500
ESTIMATED RM 300,000
Huanghuali yokeback armchairs are striking for their simplicity and harmonious form.
Called guanmaoyi or ‘official hat-shaped chairs’ – the name deriving from its resemblance to the winged hat that was part of the formal attire of Ming officials – they were regarded as high chairs and retained a connotation of status and authority associated with the elite gentry in Chinese society.
Armchairs of this type were made in pairs, suggesting a symmetry that was aimed for in the Chinese room arrangement.
Characteristically, they were used at dinner tables, in receptions halls for guests and at writing tables in the scholar’s studio.
Important Chinese Art Scholar’s taste characterises this season’s sale of Important Chinese Art, which features all categories of celebrated Chinese art. Highlights include a stunning Jun narcissus bowl from the early Ming dynasty, imperial porcelain, jade and works of art together with a private collection of scholar’s objects.
The auction also comprises paintings, furniture and archaic bronzes, highlighting the breadth of artistry in China from the Neolithic age to the 20th century.
A Rare ‘Jun’ Narcissus Bowl Early Ming Dynasty Estimate: £300,000 – 400,000 / HK$3,600,000 – 4,790,000 / US$464,000 – 620,000
ESTIMATED RM 2.5 MILLION
This Jun narcissus bowl represents one of the most significant and interesting groups of ceramics ever made for the imperial court of China. Jun ware derives its beauty from the striking and thick opaque glaze of varied bright blue colouration.
'Numbered Jun' wares, the product of ceramic production in Junzhou Prefecture, Henan province, comprise a small group of flower pots which were inscribed on the underside before firing with a Chinese numeral ranging from one (the largest) to ten (the smallest).
Numbered si (four) and dating to the early Ming dynasty, Jun vessels of this type are rare, held only in important museums and private collections.
A Rare Copper-Red ‘Dragon and Phoenix’ Vase Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period Estimate: £80,000 – 120,000 / HK$960,000 – 1,440,000 / US$124,000 – 186,000
ESTIMATED RM 750,000
This vase was inspired in form by bronze prototypes of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220). It is superbly painted with the ultimate auspicious symbol of power, the five- clawed dragon, and his consort, the phoenix, denoting Emperor and Empress.
Made during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736 – 1795), one of the greatest patrons of the arts, the vase is of excellent imperial quality and extremely rare. While imperial porcelain is often inscribed with marks of the reigning emperors, court records reveal instances where Qing emperors decreed reign marks not to be used.
The vase is a remarkable example of the outstanding aesthetic and technological accomplishments of Chinese potters. The underglaze copper-red required extreme precision in the firing process to achieve the brilliance of the colour. No other vase identical in form and decoration appears to be recorded.
A Large and Finely Enamelled Famille-Rose ‘Immortals’ Vase Qing Dynasty, 18th Century Estimate: £60,000 – 80,000 / HK$720,000 – 960,000 / US$93,000 – 124,000
ESTIMATED RM 400,000
This rare vase is impressive for its magnificent size and sumptuous decoration, and the meticulous preparation invested in its overall composition. On one side is a scene of the Immortal's Paradise, and on the other, scholars in a garden engaged in leisurely pursuits.
*Sotheby’s extraordinarily successful single-owner sale on 7 October 2015 in Hong Kong of the collection of Ming furniture from Dr S.Y. Yip was 100% sold and brought a total of HK$260.2 million / US$33.4 million, more than double the pre-sale estimate of HK$110 million / US$15 million.