While segments of the Chinese art market cooled substantially during the financial crisis, especially once white-hot Chinese contemporary art, older paintings and imperial antiques continued to generate solid demand and prices, though fewer quality works surfaced as sellers stayed away on still fragile sentiment.
In Sotheby’s current autumn sales, however, a selection of rare works from four major private collections and a flood of free-spending Chinese millionaires, contributed to what many called one of the best sales of Chinese ceramics in recent years.
In a packed auction hall filled with applauding mainland Chinese buyers, a bidding war saw the rare Qing vase finally go to Alice Cheng, a Hong Kong collector and sister of renowned octogenarian Chinese art collector and dealer Robert Chang. “I’m very happy,” said Cheng. “As long as you like something, even if it’s expensive it’s worth it,” she told reporters.
The price was more than the about $28 million paid for a 14th century blue and white porcelain jar sold by Christie’s in 2005, though less than a calligraphy scroll by Song dynasty poet Huang Tingjian that sold for around $64 million at a June Beijing auction by Chinese auctioneers Beijing Poly.
The globular yellow-ground Qing vase, decorated with flowers and golden emblems for longevity, is an exemplar of the so-called “famille rose” family of Qing vases that have been among the most highly sought after works among wealthy Chinese in recent years.
“It’s astounding,” said veteran New York-based dealer James Lally. “I feel this is not a bubble. We’ve seen so much depth to this market. We’re stunned because there’s no precedent for it.”
Fired in the 18th century during the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty, the gourd-shaped vase has an impeccable provenance and put up for sale by longtime collector J.T. Tai.
“I can safely say there has not been a famille rose vase of a finer quality in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Sotheby’s Chow.
In other signs of the Chinese art market’s ebullience at the top end, a pair of famille rose “floral medallion” vases sold for HK$140 million ($18 million) while a Qing white jade “Xintian Zhuren” seal, sourced from a reclusive overseas Chinese collector, made $16 million, a world record for an imperial seal.