Qianlong Emperor's seal heads home after selling for £3.4m at Bonhams

Chinese Art at Bonhams makes over £12m amid fierce bidding

Fine Chinese Art
17 May 2012
London, New Bond Street

An important Imperial spinach green jade double-gourd 'San Xi Tang' seal, of the revered Qianlong period (1736-1795), one of the outstanding items in Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale in London today, sold for £3.4m.

It had been estimated to sell for £1m to £1.5m but after stiff bidding in the packed saleroom it was knocked down to a telephone buyer from mainland China. So this stunningly beautiful Imperial seal will be going home.

Asaph Hyman, Director of Chinese Art at Bonhams, comments: "We are delighted to have brought to light this important and long lost Imperial seal. Until this moment only the impression of the seal was recorded in the Imperial archives, but now academics and distinguished collectors can study and cherish the actual work of art. It was almost certainly commissioned and personally handled by the Qianlong Emperor himself, and provides a direct link to one of the most important Emperors in China's history."

The seal is carved in an auspicious double-gourd form, associated with longevity as well as representing Heaven and Earth. The upper section is carved with three chi dragons (chilong), analogous to the hall name.

San Xi Tang, (the Hall of the Three Rarities), is situated in the Forbidden City in the western side of the Yangxin Dian (Hall of Mental Cultivation). The Qianlong Emperor kept three prized rare scrolls in the building: Wang Xizhi's Kuaixue Shiqing Tie (timely clearing after snowfall), Wang Xianzhi's Zhongqiu (Mid-Autumn festival), and Wang Xun's Bai Yuan Tie (letter to Boyuan), amongst other important antiquities. The actual size of the San Xi Tang hall in which the seal was kept is only 4 square metres but it was an important personal space of the Qianlong Emperor.

Other top lots in the Bonhams sale included:
Lot 141, an Imperial cloisonné enamel and gilt-bronze incense burner of the Qianlong period, for £780,450.
Lot 297, a magnificent blanc-de-Chine figure of Guanyin circa 1640, for £529,250.
Lot 101, a rare and important marble figure of a Buddhist disciple from the Tang Dynasty, for £457,250.
Lot 19, a superb and very rare pair of pale green jade vases from the 18th century, for £409,250.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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