Bonhams' Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale will be held in Hong Kong on 29 November. The sale will include works that once graced the Imperial Ming and Qing palaces. Many of the items come to the market for the first time in generations, having been held in important European, American and Asian private collections.
One of the most significant collections, ranging from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) to the celebrated Qianlong reign in the Qing dynasty (1736-1795), was formed by a European collector with particular links to Russia and Japan. With the help of leading Kyoto based dealer Kusaka Shogado, this Chinese art enthusiast formed his collection in the 1930s. It has remained in the family for the past 80 years.
Three archaic bronze ritual food and wine vessels are among the most prized pieces in the collection, dating from the late Shang / early Western Zhou dynasty (c.1100-1000 BCE). Due to the cost required to cast these bronzes and the social status associated with owning such vessels, their use and distribution was confined to the ruling classes. Amongst the three vessels, the archaic bronze ritual food vessel, fangding, late Shang/early Western Zhou dynasty, estimated at HK$1,400,000-1,800,000, is particularly rare. The piece is cast with a three-character pictogram in homage to the deceased ancestor Fuyi. Ink rubbings of the inscription, either of this vessel or one belonging to the same group were previously in the collections of Zhang Xiaobin (1882-1968) and Chen Banghuai (1897-1986).
Also from this collection is an Imperial tianqi and qiangjin lacquer 'phoenix' chest and cover with six-character mark from the Jiajing period, estimated at HK$1,000,000-1,500,000. A rare item dating from the Jiajing reign (1522-1566) in the Ming dynasty, the chest is comprised ten drawers, decorated on all sides with phoenixes, the mythical bird associated with the Empress. It was likely made for the use of a high ranking lady of the Imperial family.
A further highlight from this collection is an exceptionally rare Imperial famille rose yellow-ground 'floral' bowl with six-character mark from the Qianlong period, estimated at HK$800,000-1,200,000. The bowl bears the very rare Kaishu six-character mark which appears on only three other ceramics - all held in important museums and private collections. This example is superbly enamelled in the opulent style typical of the porcelain production of the Qianlong reign.
Also up for sale are a large pair of exquisitely painted and enamelled doucai jardinières with six-character marks from the Kangxi period (1662-1722), estimated at HK$500,000 - 800,000. These come from an English stately home in Kent where they were used to hold wood logs either side of the dining room fireplace. Replete with Daoist imagery, the jardinières would have been suited to an important Imperial birthday celebration and may be those specially commissioned for the Kangxi Emperor's seventieth birthday, held on the third month of 1723.
From the period following the Kangxi period, that of the Yongzheng Emperor (1723-1735), comes an exceptionally rare Imperial doucai 'Eight Buddhist Emblems' stem bowl, Yongzheng with six-character mark, estimated at HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000. This jewel-like bowl is adorned with the auspicious Eight Buddhist Emblems and is likely to have been specially commissioned by the Emperor. Only one other example, possibly the pair to the present lot, is known to have been published. This one was in the hands of S. Marchant & Son, Ltd. (London) in 1962 and later in the Anthony Evans Collection.
A private European collection formed between 1930 and 1960 includes a selection of Imperial porcelain from the Ming dynasty Zhengde period (1506-1521) to the Qing dynasty Yongzheng period (1723-1735). These include rare yellow-glazed porcelains, a colour associated with the Emperor. Highlights from the collection include a unique pair of magnificent and rare large Imperial yellow-glazed incised 'Auspicious Emblems' dishes with six-character marks from the Yongzheng period, estimated at HK$500,000 – 800,000.
Chinese sculptures with devotional Buddhist or Daoist images were rarely carry political messages. A large pair of bronze figures of the Hehe Erxian, circa 1645-1660, estimated at HK$3,000,000-5,000,000 break that rule with powerful political, patriotic statements. Each of the towering figures of the Twins of Unity and Harmony are inscribed with a message calling for loyalty to the Ming dynasty in defiance of the Qing forces during a period of upheaval and the transfer of the 'Mandate from Heaven' from one dynasty to another
Another exceptional devotional figure is a large and rare gilt-bronze figure of Maitreya, Kangxi (1662-1722), estimated at HK$5,500,000 - 6,500,000, formerly in the Speelman collection. The magnificent figure, opulently adorned with beaded jewellery is particularly rare in its posture and superb craftsmanship.
An Imperial gilt-bronze and cloisonné enamel 'elephant' incense burner and cover, Qianlong (1736-1795), estimated at HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000, is an outstanding example of cloisonné enamelling and casting from the Qing Palace Workshops, made specifically for the Qianlong Emperor. This piece hails from an important European collection.
Also bearing impeccable provenance is a white jade incense burner and cover, Qianlong/ Jiaqing (1736-1820), estimated at HK$2,500,000 - 3,500,000, which originates from the collection of Lieutenant General John H.F. Elkington CB (1830 – 21 February 1889); and a very rare yellow jade tapir, Qianlong (1736-1795), estimated at HK$500,000 - 800,000, from the collection of Sir William Burrell (1861-1958), and thereafter by descent from the Burrell family. Most of Burrell's collection, numbering over 9,000 objects, was donated to the City of Glasgow and a portion of it is displayed in a specially established museum. This rare yellow jade tapir has remained with the family.
Asaph Hyman, Bonhams' International Head of Chinese Art, said: "It is a privilege to bring to light exceptional objects, representative of some of the best in Chinese Imperial art, which have been kept for decades and in some cases for over a century, within private collections, and which now can be admired again by Chinese art connoisseurs."
Xibo Wang, Head of Chinese Works of Art, Bonhams, Hong Kong, said: "We very much look forward to sharing these rare Imperial porcelains and works of art with collectors worldwide in this specially curated sale."