1790 The Self Strengthening of the Qianlong Emperor
2013 SOLD 67 M RMB yuan including premium
A jade seal of the Qianlong emperor coming for sale at Poly Auction in Hong Kong on April 4 at lot 3093 had previously been discussed in this column. The essay below is based of my 2013 discussion.
On 8 October 2008 Sotheby's sold imperial seals from the personal collection of Emile Guimet who also had been the founder of a major Asian art museum in Paris. The star lot of the sale was a Qianlong white jade seal of large size, 12.5 x 12.5 cm, that sold for HK $ 63M including premium in line with the estimate.
The surprise came at lot 2007 from a smaller Qianlong jade seal that sold for HK $ 37M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 5 MHK.
This little wonder, 7.5 x 7.5 x 5.5 cm, continued its career on the art market. On 4 June 2010, it was sold for RMB yuan 56M including premium by Poly in Beijing. It was later sold for RMB yuan 67M including premium on May 12, 2013 by China Guardian, lot 3108.
The theme with two entwined dragons symbolizing the power and cleverness of the emperor is classic but the sharpness of the jade carving is exceptional, with a special care to the facial expression and the whiskers of the dragons. The polishing of flat surfaces is perfect.
Commissioned by the emperor for the festivities of his 80th birthday in the 54th year of his reign, 1790 in our calendar, it is a Zi Qiang Bu Xi, promoting self-reliance and perseverance of the emperor in the creation of progress and by that way taking care not to fall into the indolence of old age before leaving the power.
1791 The Pearls of Queen Marie-Antoinette
2018 SOLD for CHF 36.4M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
During early phase of the Revolution, Marie-Antoinette who is still the Queen plans to flee to Austria. In January 1791, helped by her chambermaid, she prepares a cassette with her favorite jewelry. The jewels reach Vienna but the king and queen are arrested in Varennes in June 1791.
In 1795 Madame Royale, the only survivor of the children of the royal couple, is freed from the revolutionary prisons and goes into exile in Vienna. The emperor Franz II returns the jewels to her while keeping the rubies in compensation for a pension granted to the princess. In Madame Royale's legacy in 1851, one third of the jewelry is attributed to her niece Louise, Duchess of Parma.
Around 1930 Marie-Anne of Austria, wife of the acting Duke of Parma, describes in an inventory four jewels in pearls and diamonds of which she attests that they come from Marie-Antoinette. These pieces, which had never been published or exhibited, were included in the auction of the royal jewelry from the Bourbon-Parma collection by Sotheby's on November 14, 2018.
Lot 97, a three-row pearl necklace with a diamond clasp, was sold for CHF 2.3M including premium over a lower estimate of CHF 200K. The next two lots, a necklace and a pair of earrings, were sold for CHF 450K each including premium.
Lot 100 was a 15.90 x 18.35 x 25.85mm drop shaped pearl assembled in a pendant with a large diamond clasp and a bow of small diamonds. This interesting souvenir of a queen who had desired to live in the utmost luxury was sold for CHF 36.4M including premium over an estimate of CHF 1M to 2M.
2013 SOLD for $ 10M by Stack's Bowers
A further pair of dies is created to insert the fifteen stars in the circumference around the head of Liberty. A copper trial piece is kept at the Smithsonian.
Regarding silver, a unique coin has the characteristics of a specimen as defined by PCGS : superior minting quality and shiny appearance. It has been compared with the Smithsonian prototype : the state of the dies is exactly the same, with no added wear, and the sharpness of the line is perfect.
This coin is certainly the first federal silver dollar. It was struck in October 1794 at the Philadelphia Mint before the very last limited rework of the dies and the launch of the first production batch.
Graded SP66 by PCGS, it was sold for $ 7.85M in private sale in May 2010 and then for $ 10M at auction by Stack's Bowers on January 24, 2013, lot 13094. It passed on October 8, 2020 at Legend Rare Coin Auctions, lot 11.
1,758 units were supplied to the cashier on October 15, 1794. Technically, this lot was premature. The available press was not suitable for the required diameter, larger than the previous silver dime. The alignment of the dies did not resist, weakening the strike and limiting the output.
In the opposite the preparation of the specimen had been extremely careful. The silver planchet had been fitted with a plug and the weight of the specimen is almost perfect, only 0.24 grains (15 mg) above the 416 grains prescribed by the Coinage Act. Its splendid reflectivity has no equivalent among the 135 surviving units. It may be the sample presented to President Washington by Secretary of State Edmund Randolph. It surfaced in 1942 in the deceased estate of Colonel Green with an earlier provenance from the Virgil Brand collection.
The world’s most valuable US coin, that last sold for $10,000,000, is set to appear in an auction again later this year. @LegendAuctions has announced the sale of the Bruce Morelan Collection, an assemblage of #coins valued in total at over $20,000,000. https://t.co/418pbp9URE— PCGS (@PCGScoin) June 17, 2020
ex Strickland and Lord St. Oswald
2021 SOLD for $ 6.6M by Heritage
Ingots are bought to cover $ 2,000 in the new coinage. The production is done in one day, 15 October 1794. 1,758 pieces are released.
This yield below the target is due to a drift of the strike during the operation, in part because that coin was too large to enable a repetitive adjustment of the weight. Manufacturing is suspended. There will be no further 1794 $ 1 coin.
On September 30, 2015, Stack's Bowers in association with Sotheby's sold for $ 5M from a lower estimate of $ 3M the best silver dollar of the 1794 production batch, lot 2041. graded MS66+ by PCGS. It was sold for $ 6.6M by Heritage on August 18, 2021, lot 3021.
It had been the winner 35 years ago of a friendly confrontation by direct inspection with the only other example in the same grade.Its provenance explains its exemplary preservation.
The war with the former colonial power has been over since November 1783. English visitors are welcomed. A gentleman farmer named William Strickland later 6th Baron of Boynton arrived on September 20, 1794. This economist who comes to study prices and wages in the American agriculture is introduced in the best circles.
Strickland left back for England in July 1795 with a small collection including 35 federal coins that were most likely obtained by him directly at the US Mint.
Fallen in oblivion inside a Chippendale cabinet since the early 19th century, the Strickland collection remained in its original state without any addition. His two 1794 flowing hair dollars were among the best preserved of that type. The group surfaced in 1964 in an inventory by Christie, Manson and Woods in the property of the 4th Baron St. Oswald, descendant of Strickland's son-in-law. The dates of the coins stored in the box match the time spent by Strickland in the USA.
The 1794 #FlowingHairDollar is a storied rarity that requires no introduction. From a tiny mintage of only 1,758 coins comes his amazing PCGS MS66+ example with CAC approval.— Heritage Auctions - Coins (@heritagecoins) August 11, 2021
Lot No. 3021 I August 18 - 22 ANA WFOM #USCoins Signature Sale No. 1333 https://t.co/qcsEAGrCyw pic.twitter.com/o5QtxpmqE1
1794 The Chronicles of Feng Ning
2015 SOLD for HK$ 52M including premium
From the 35th to the 55th year of his reign, an illustrator for the Qianlong emperor is Zhang Yang (or Yang Zhang ?). The name of Feng Ning that appears immediately after him probably refers to his successor.
During the 59th year of that reign, 1794 in our calendar, Feng Ning executes a copy in ink and color from a Zhang Yang scroll that imitated a Song painting on the theme of everyday life in Jinling, the village which is the cradle of the powerful city of Nanjing, the "southern capital".
Feng Ning's scroll is 1.05 m long for 35 cm high, with no text in the image. The middle of the scene shows the bustle in the main street while the left and right parts are more rural. This work which remains complete will be sold by Poly Auction in Hong Kong on October 5, lot 996. It is illustrated in the press releasededicated to all the sessions of that sale.
Some scrolls were used as masters for albums of engravings, marking the clear intention of the Qianlong emperor to promote the dissemination of culture. For this reason, the name of Feng Ning is not unknown on the art market although his personal details are unknown.
On June 11, 2013, Artcurial sold three albums by Feng Ning and colleagues with 16, 8 and 4 engravings on three different military campaigns of Qianlong, with explanatory text in the pictures. These lots were sold for € 150K, 91K and 43K including premium.
1795 President Washington by Gilbert Stuart
2018 SOLD for $ 11.6M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2015 before the auction of another portrait by Levine (see below)
Reluctant, or for fear of losing his traditional customers, Gilbert Stuart prefers to exile in England wher he takes advantage of his knowledge of America. He paints in 1786 a portrait of the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, an ally of the British, then visiting England. This oil on canvas was sold for £ 4.1M including premium by Sotheby's on July 9, 2014.
Washington becomes in 1789 the first President of the United States. Stuart crosses the Atlantic again and settles in Philadelphia in 1795 to practice his specialty, the half-length portrait of prominent personalities. His first type portrait of Washington, from a 1795 sitting, is made in 14 known canvases.
The example from the Rockefeller collection was sold by Christie's on May 9, 2018 for $ 11.6M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 800K, lot 440.
The portrait of Washington realized by Stuart in 1796 will later be considered as the prototype of the official portraits of US presidents. Interestingly, after painting the face the artist did not finish the master work. He used it as a model to make more than a hundred copies that he sold for $ 100 each. One of them passed at J Levine on February 26, 2015.
1795 A Triumph for Louis XVI ... in 1882 !
2011 SOLD 6.9 M$ including premium
The 12th Duke of Hamilton was not an art lover, and he had a urgent need for money. The sale of his collection in 2213 lots at Christie's in London was an event that experts still quote.
The portrait of Philip IV by Velazquez, acquired by the British government for 6000 guineas, was however not the highest result of the sale.
Indeed, a Louis XVI commode and secretaire had been sold separately, and to two different clients, for a price quoted as "enormous, never before given for a piece of furniture" in the article, of 9450 pounds each. Mounted in gilt bronze by Gouthière, these two ebony furniture lacquered in black and gold are bearing the monogram of Marie-Antoinette.
The sale of the Safra collection by Sotheby's lasted four days, from October 18 to 21, 2011. A pair of furniture was sold for $ 6.9M from a lower estimate of $ 5M, lot 749. This commode and its secrétaire en suite had been included in the Hamilton sale. Like the two royal furniture discussed above, they are from Louis XVI time, mounted in bronze and lacquered. They are attributed to Adam Weisweiler.
POST SALE COMMENT
French furniture has become difficult to sell, except, of course, those of the highest quality. This set of two pieces was sold $ 6.9 million including premium.
The estimated date given in the catalog is circa 1795, after the death of Louis XVI. It is possible that this set was intended to Tsar Paul I, but it has not been been delivered to him.
Karl Lagerfeld sagte einmal: "Im 18. Jahrhundert, wenn Sie da Geld hatten, konnten Sie noch was Schönes kaufen. Heute, wenn Sie viel Geld haben, können Sie vor allem etwas Grauenhaftes kaufen". Wie gut, dass man Antiquitäten aus dem 18. Jahrhundert auch heute noch kaufen kann.— Barnebys.de (@Barnebysde) August 1, 2021
1796 The Emperor Emeritus
2011 SOLD for RMB 160M including premium by Poly
narrated before the 2010 sale by Sotheby's (see below) and again in 2021
Qianlong retires from political life but retains an intense literary and artistic activity. Three weeks after his abdication, he issues an edict commissioning a first seal with his new designation. The prototype, 22.5 cm square, is in the collection of the Palace Museum. For this new variety, he composes a poem to be engraved on the sides of the seal.
About twenty Tai Shang Huang Di seals are made. Almost all of them are square or rectangular, symbols of the earth. A seal surmounted by two dragons, in green jade 13 cm square, was sold for HK $ 91M including premium by Sotheby's on October 5, 2016.
The only shape exception is a cylinder 4.6 cm in diameter and 5 cm high, dated Bingchen. It is in translucent white jade with russet at the top of the piece engraved at this place with a pictogram between two qilings. Qianlong named such a perfect stone a Han white jade.
The poem is carved in archaic calligraphy and it can be assumed that this jade was reused from a Han seal. Such historical reminiscence is unique among Tai Shang Huang Di seals. The circle is the symbol of the sky.
It has been sold twice by Sotheby's, for HK $ 46M including premium on October 9, 2007, lot 1301, and for HK $ 96M including premium on April 8, 2010, lot 1815 here linked on the Invaluable bidding platform. I narrated it before the 2010 sale. It was later sold for RMB 160M including premium by Poly, on December 6, 2011, lot 4982.
1796 The Emperor Supreme of the Qing
2016 SOLD for HK$ 91M including premium
He thought of his retirement which he had promised to take if his reign was to exceed 60 years. His grandfather Kangxi had reigned 61 years and this period should not be exceeded for a reason of respect. The emperor must be a model of virtue and can not change a wish or express a remorse. After a transitional year named Bingchen, the Qianlong Emperor abdicated in 1796 of our calendar.
Qianlong now becomes the Taishang Huang meaning the Emperor Supreme, a traditional title awarded in the Chinese empire to emperors who left the throne, but examples of an abdication like Qianlong's without a palace revolution are of course exceptional in Chinese history.
During his reign, Qianlong was a great lover of seals that he used to put his imperial mark on the documents and works of art that he had consulted. He had now changed his own denomination and ordered the execution of the Taishang Huangdi shi Bao seals meaning the seals of the treasure of the Emperor Supreme.
A very large seal 22.5 cm square is made for the purpose to serve as a model and will never be used. It is kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Copies are made in various smaller sizes using the finest jades.
The largest of the seals actually used by Taishang Huang is 13 cm square. It was carved in a boulder of green jade from Khotan on the motif of two addorsed dragons. This prestigious piece is estimated HK $ 80M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 5, lot 3304. It is offered with its original zitan stand but its box was lost. Please watch here below the video shared by the auction house.
We may take as references three results including premium recorded by Sotheby's. A Xintian Shuren seal of Qianlong also 13 cm square was sold for HK $ 122M on 7 October 2010. A cylindrical Bingchen seal in white jade was sold for HK $ 96M on April 8, 2010. A small Taishang Huandi seal improved with a poem explaining the abdication was sold for HK $ 64,5M on April 8, 2011.
1796 Xintian Zhuren and Taishang Huandi
2011 SOLD 64.5 MH$ including premium
Gradually, the international auction houses are appreciating and accompanying the quality criteria of these new collectors who are blazing the market. In the discussion below, I focus specifically on white jade seals of Emperor Qianlong, which are a true barometer of the market thanks to the fact that they are frequent at auction.
Yesterday, March 26, at Toulouse, Chassaing et Marambat sold € 12.4M a Qianlong seal which had been estimated between 1 and 1.5 M €. Bloomberg, who was the first to forward this information, observes that buyers were interested in the beautiful transparency of the white jade and in the sharpness of his carving. This piece measures 10 x 10 cm at the base and 7.55 cm high.
On April 8 in Hong Kong, two Qianlong seals are for sale at Sotheby's.
One of them is a Xintian Zhuren (the monarch who believes in heaven), 10.7 x 10.7 cm at the base, decorated with a magnificent pair of addorsed dragons. It dates from the 25th year of the reign (1760), after Qianlong had successfully resisted a Muslim revolt.
Its estimate at HK $ 50M is low. This seal is very similar to another somewhat larger specimen, 13 x 13 cm, sold by them HK $ 120M including premium on October 7, 2010.
The other seal in the next sale is a Taishang Huangdi, 8.2 x 8.2 cm base, also with entwined dragons. Dated to the beginning of the Jiaqing era (1796), it embeds on its sides a poem in which the emeritus Emperor Qianlong explains his abdication.
The expected price, HK $ 30M, is probably taking into account some minor wear announced in the catalog. I previously discussed here a unique cylindrical Taishang Huangdi, smaller, sold twice, again at Sotheby's Hong Kong: HK $ 46M including premium on October 9, 2007, HK $ 96M including premium on April 8, 2010.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Xintian Juren, for which I thought that the estimate was too low, has not been sold.
The Taishang Huandi got a very good result: HK $ 64.5 million including premium. The inscribed imperial poem certainly helped to push its price.
This result confirms two facts.
In this market, collectors are passionate. Only the buyers decide for the price worth to be paid, the estimates are only indicative. Small differences in quality can generate huge differences in price.