LONDON – A Chinese vase created in the 18th century for the court of the Qianlong Emperor and purchased for a few hundred pounds in the 1980s sold at Dreweatts on May 18 for a staggering £1,449,000 ($1.7 million) against a pre-sale estimate of £100,000-£150,000.
It was found in a kitchen in England. Its owner did not realize its true value, as he had inherited it from his father. It was only when a visiting antiques specialist spotted the vase that its true value and history was revealed.
The colossal vase measures two feet tall and bears the distinctive six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base. It is believed that its Imperial past and exceptional quality and craftsmanship drove the spirited bidding, drawing interest from around the world. An international buyer on the telephone was the winning bidder.
Commenting on the extraordinary result, Specialist Consultant at Dreweatts for Asian Ceramics and Works of Art Mark Newstead said: “We are delighted with this exceptional result. We saw widespread interest from China, Hong Kong, America and the UK, which resulted in very competitive bidding. The result shows the high demand for the finest porcelain produced in the world. A fabulous result and we are privileged to have sold this at Dreweatts.”
The vase is an extraordinary example of Imperial Qianlong porcelain and is significant for its highly unusual enameling techniques, with a striking palette of gold and silver against a vivid blue ground. The rich cobalt blue is often referred to as “sacrificial blue,” deriving from the fact that vessels in this color glaze were used during sacrifices at the Imperial Altar of Heaven. It is extremely rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver, probably due to the medium being difficult to control.
This vase is a testament to the skills and creativity of the craftsmen of the Qianlong period who explored and perfected enameling techniques to cater to the Emperor’s taste for the innovative and exotic. Such a vase would have required at least three separate firings in the kiln for each of the three different glazes and enamels: First at more than 1200℃ for the cobalt blue; then at a lower temperature for the turquoise green on the interior of the vase; and finally the gold and silver enamels in a special kiln designed for enamels.
The exceptional quality, monumental size and imposing presence of this vase, as well as its fine and auspicious decoration, would have rendered it suitable for prominent display in one of the halls of the Qing palace. Thrillingly, no other porcelain decorated with the same subject in gold and silver appears to have ever been documented.
As a devout Buddhist, the Qianlong Emperor was also a follower of Daoism with a wish for longevity. This desire is expressed in the silver cranes on the vase, which hold an emblem for each of the eight immortals associated with Daoism including: a flower basket, flute, fan and castanets on the vase’s body. The flying cranes and bat also carry auspicious messages for longevity and prosperity.
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.23.
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