Chinese imperial vase tops $56K at Lyon & Turnbull

This 27cm Qianlong (1736-95) mark and period painted enamel lotus vase sold for £45,000 ($56,762). Lyon & Turnbull image

EDINBURGH, Scotland – A rare Chinese imperial vase found in a Scottish country house topped the Asian Art sale held “behind closed doors” by Lyon & Turnbull on May 13.

The Qianlong (1736-95) mark and period painted enamel lotus vase sold at £45,000 ($56,762) was one of 14 lots consigned by the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres of Balcarres House in Fife. The estate, commanding a view across the Firth of Forth, has been home to the Lindsay family since 1595.

Decorated with a delicate floral design against a vibrant yellow ground, the nearly 11-inch vase is of a type made in the 18th century at the Imperial Workshops in the Forbidden City in Beijing. At Balcarres for several generations, it was probably among the collection of Chinese literature and works of art amassed by the 25th Earl (1812-1880) and his son the 26th Earl (1847-1913) and now distributed among several British institutions. It was not in perfect condition. After careful research by specialists, it was revealed that holes to either side of the neck of the vase suggested it once had a pair of bronze dragon-shaped handles, similar perhaps to those that adorn two pairs of enamel vases of this type in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The Asian art auction calendar has been much changed by Covid-19 restrictions, with the traditional May series of sales in London postponed until later in the year. However, in the wake of a successful series of “live online” sales during the lockdown period, Lyon & Turnbull chose to conduct the auction online only.

Scotland’s country houses remain the repository of important Far Eastern works of art, often the product of the nation’s key role in the 18th and 19th century China trade. Also from the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres was a textbook Kangxi (1661-1722) blue and white cylindrical form brush pot or bitong painted with a narrative scene. The composition of two kneeling figures paying tribute to a seated officer in a garden probably relates to one of the Ming epics – the literary inspiration for many ‘scholars’ objects of the period. Estimated at £500-700, it took £13,750. More antiques and works of art from Balcarres House will be offered by Lyon & Turnbull later this year.

It was during the long reign of Kangxi that the imperial porcelain factories at Jingdezhen, inactive during the upheavals of the late Ming period, were reopened and a new era of high-quality production and technical innovation begun. Hammered down for £25,000 was an exquisite Kangxi mark and period wine cup finely penciled with an underglaze blue design of five dragons, symbols of imperial power with a six-character reign mark to the base. Bowls of this “dragon medallion” type, produced in both underglaze blue and copper-red, appear in a number of well-known collections.

A Kangxi mark and period wine cup was finely penciled with an underglaze blue design of five dragons. Price realized: £25,000. Lyon & Turnbull image

The technique of applying a brilliant coral-red enamel over white-glazed porcelain was one perfected at Jingdezhen during the later Qing period. A pair of 11cm diameter bowls decorated in reserve with freely executed bamboo shoots, had six-character Qianlong marks in underglaze blue to the base and were deemed of the period. In the possession of the same London family for more than a century, they sold for £23,750.

A pair of 4.4-inch-diameter bowls had six-character Qianlong marks that were deemed of the period. Price realized: £23,750. Lyon & Turnbull image

Qing and Republic period jades remain a market strength with the fashion very much towards the lighter colored stones. Another top-performing lot in the sale was a late 19th or early 20th century white jade table screen carved on one side with a scholar and two young attendants walking in a mountainous landscape and to the reverse with two scholars and a crane gliding in the sky. Key to its appeal was its original elaborately carved hardwood stand inlaid with silver wire. It sold at £16,250.

Operating since 1826, Lyon & Turnbull is one of the UK’s premier fine art and antique auctioneers. The company’s galleries in London and Glasgow complement the historic Georgian headquarters and main saleroom in Edinburgh.