CRUMPTON, Md. – A potentially important famille rose porcelain moon flask, recently used as a lamp, raced away from its $1,000-$2,000 estimate to sell for $155,000 ($195,300 with buyer’s premium) at Dixon’s Crumpton Auction, a small saleroom in Maryland, last week. Multiple bidders speculated it was made at the imperial kilns for the Qing emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820). The winning bid came via LiveAuctioneers.
Famille-rose decorated moon flasks, or bianhu, are rarities, and the decoration to this 11in (23cm) vessel is among the most desirable in all of Chinese art. In addition to an imperial yellow ground that is both enameled and carved – the technique called graviata – the central scene shows children at a dragon boat race during the Duanwu Festival. All of the participants and onlookers in this particular celebration are boys – an auspicious theme that expresses an abiding wish for male offspring that can carry on the familial name and bring prosperity to the family.
It was offered on January 25 from a New Hampshire private collection. Following huge pre-sale interest, the auction house uploaded more than 50 additional high-resolution images of the piece to show its many qualities and its imperfect condition. It had some small chips, and had been drilled through the center of the six-character reign mark for use as a lamp.
Almost 350 potential buyers were following the sale on LiveAuctioneers when bidding began, some of them doubtless aware of the spectacular auction precedent for a similar lot. Back in 2007 a pair of moon flasks of this type – but with marks for the emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) – surfaced at a small saleroom in the south of England and sold for £760,000 ($966,385). They were later offered for sale at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong where – deemed apparently unique pieces made for the personal quarters of the Qianlong emperor – they sold for more than $3 million.