Chronology : 15th century 1460-1479 1480-1499 16th century 1540-1569 1570-1599 17th century 1610-1619 1620-1629
1473 Gilt Bronze Figure of Vajrabhairava
2021 SOLD for € 14M by Nagel
It features Vairabhairava, an emanation of the bodhisattva Manjushri. With its buffalo head, 8 secondary heads, 34 arms and 16 legs, this deity is equipped to win over death.
This piece weighs 169 Kg including 10 Kg of gilding. It bears the Chenghua Imperial mark and is inscribed with its dedication date on the 2nd day of the 11th month of the 9th year of that reign, 1473 CE. It is guessed that it had been commissioned by the principal concubine of the Chenghua emperor.
Nie zuvor war auf deutschem Boden eine höhere Summe für ein Kunstobjekt erzielt worden.— Barnebys.de (@Barnebysde) June 25, 2021
Chenghua - Imperial Chickens
2014 SOLD 280 MHK$ including premium
The best period of Chenghua porcelains is the second decade of his reign. Improvements are made to the choice of materials, enabling a higher temperature. The apex of any ceramic art is then achieved with a dense paste, a transparent and robust glaze and an extraordinary tactile effect.
The doucai color, started under Xuande, also gets some dramatic progress under Chenghua. Mixing enameled colors over the glaze allows a wide range of shades.
The figures of Chenghua ceramics are simple and naive. However, his chicken wine cups had an almost mystical reputation. The rooster is the emperor, and the hen protecting her chicks is his favorite concubine. It is an opportunity fir the historian to remind that Wan Guifei herself intervened to improve the quality of imperial porcelains.
One of these wonders is in perfect condition, on a pristine white background, without any crack or scratch. This piece 8.2 cm in diameter is decorated underglaze in cobalt blue and multicolored on its surface.
It was sold for HK $ 29M including premium on April 27, 1999 by Sotheby's, purchased at that sale by Eskenazi. It is estimated HK $ 200M, for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 8.
POST SALE COMMENT
The absolute pinnacle of the art of porcelain was achieved by the Chinese Imperial pieces of the second part of the reign of Chenghua. This cup was sold for HK $ 280M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
The Palace Bowls of the Chenghua Emperor
2013 SOLD 140 MHK$ including premium
During this reign that lasted 24 years, the porcelain workshops of Jingdezhen had an intense activity, which can be divided into three phases.
The blue and white of the beginning looks similar as Yuan and early Ming styles. The first major technical innovation is then the doucai, by which other colors could be added through a second firing.
And suddenly, about the 17th year of his reign, the unique technique of the so-called Chenghua palace bowls is launched. The porcelain is back to blue and white, but its tactile quality is extraordinary, comparable only to the Ru porcelain of the Northern Song, 380 years earlier.
Chenghua palace bowls are decorated with delicacy and simplicity, with flowers or fruits of botanical accuracy. On 7 April 2011, Sotheby's sold HK $ 90M in post sale a bowl 15 cm in diameter decorated with fruit and leaves of melon.
On October 8, Hong Kong, the palace bowl to be sold by Sotheby's, similar as the above in shape and size, is decorated inside and outside with humble musk-mallows. Also same as the melon bowl, it wears the Imperial mark. Expected beyond HK $ 80M, it will be described in a separate catalog. Here is the link to the home page of the sale.
The Ru of the Song had been interrupted by the Yuan invasion after only a few years. Similarly, the production of Chenghua bowls did not survive his reign. Easier to execute, the doucai had a great future and is one of the major steps that lead to the perfection of colors of the falangcai under the Qing.
POST SALE COMMENT
Chenghua palace bowls are among the greatest wonders in the history of art. This specimen was sold for HK$ 140M including premium.
Chenghua - Perfect Tactility of Ming Bowls
2011 SOLD 90 MHK$
The "palace bowls" were produced for a very short period not exceeding 7 years, from 1481 to 1487 in our calendar at the end of the reign of Chenghua, the seventh emperor. This utensil is by nature an object to be touched. These Chenghua bowls reach a perfection of tactility that will never be exceeded.
They are very rare, and the copy for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 7, estimated HK $ 80M, takes its place among the masterpieces of Chinese porcelain.
Measuring 15 cm in diameter, it is inscribed with the six-character mark of Chenghua and decorated with melon vines including leaves and fruits.
POST SALE COMMENTS
Perfection of manufacturing and scarcity were not sufficient arguments to justify the estimate. Unsold.
A later buyer let this bowl win its rightful place in the cultural hierarchy of the results.
The press release of Sotheby's indicates that it was sold HK $ 90M privately after the sale.
Traditionally, such announcement includes fees.
Jiajing - The Carps of the Heavenly Pond
2017 SOLD for HK$ 214M including premium
The progress of Jingdezhen porcelain is restarting with the Jiajing emperor, an art lover and an adept of Taoism. Becoming emperor at the age of 14 in 1522, Jiajing reigned for 45 years. Large pieces are made under his rule, using the bright color palette identified as wucai. Wucai literally means five enamels, five having here a meaning of plurality adjusted to the five elements
This emperor liked to state that he was the fisherman of the heavenly pond. The pattern with fish swimming amidst aquatic plants enables a pleasing interweaving of the drawings on the walls of the jars and Jiajing himself promotes this theme by massive commissions. The details of the themes are related to homophonic rebuses bringing to the emperor the auspices that he so much enjoyed.
A 46 cm high jar with its cover is one of the biggest pieces of that type. It is animated by carps of two different sizes. The suspension of the fish in water allows various attitudes. The porcelain was first painted with the classical underglaze blue. The other colors were added over the glaze. Experts believe that three firings have been necessary.
Pieces which are still with their original cover are very rare in private hands. This one was sold for HK $ 44M including premium by Sotheby's on October 29, 2000, a very high price at that time for a Chinese porcelain. It will be sold by Christie's in Hong Kong on November 27, lot 8006. Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
Horseshoe Back Folding Armchair
2022 SOLD for HK$ 125M by Sotheby's
Highly appreciated by the Ming, the huanghuali is a tropical hardwood that enables to create furniture with bold shapes. Its color varies from reddish brown to golden yellow while its grains may display seductive pseudo-figurative patterns. Huanghuali literally means yellow pear tree flower.
It is believed that less that 10,000 pieces of furniture in huanghuali are still in existence. Its main source was in Hainan Island. The best pieces were made in the late Ming period and in the Ming-Qing transition. Most of them cannot be dated more precisely.
The use of folding seats, easily transformable into sedan chairs. is very convenient for garden or travel. The folding chair is named jiaoyi meaning chair with crossed legs.
The Han already used folding stools. Much later, the quality and beauty of the wood distinguish the elites of higher rank, the huanghuali being the high-end. Such brass mounted furniture is fragile and seats in soft wood did not survive.
In the Ming dynasty, jiaoyi were made in two main forms of the back, the horseshoe and the much rarer square with or without arms.
The very elegant quanyi form of armchair is characterized by its horseshoe-shaped rail that serves altogether as backrest and armrest. The quanyi is better suited than other forms of Chinese armchairs for the creation of folding models, its front rail fitting into the curved support of the arms.
The use of a jiaoyi as an occasional imperial throne is likely under the Ming but was not illustrated until the Qing. A painting by Castiglione features the Qianlong emperor sitting on a folding armchair during a negotiation with Kazakh emissaries.
A jiaoyi of comfortable proportions and simple forms was sold for HK $ 125M from a lower estimate by Sotheby's on October 8, 2022, lot 11. Its size is 71 x 67 x 103 cm.
Its damascened iron strengthening places it in the earliest examples of late Ming horseshoe back folding armchairs. Its elegant plain backrest flanked with carved geometrical borders is unique in that group while the five other surviving examples have dragon or floral carvings.
#AuctionUpdate This weekend, a rare Huanghuali Folding Horseshoe-Back Armchair- offered from the collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung- soared to $15.9 million. The price is not only a record for a Chinese chair, but is also the third highest sum paid for any chair at auction. pic.twitter.com/J8SNw0F5Gd— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 10, 2022
set of four Ming huanghuali armchairs
2015 SOLD for $ 9.7M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2019 before Christie's sale of another set (see below)
The almost square back with the top rail in the form of a yoke or of an official's hat is the guanmaoyi. A set of four folding armless chairs was sold for £ 5.3M including premium by Bonhams on November 9, 2017 over a lower estimate of £ 150K. A pair with arms was sold by Sotheby's on March 23, 2011 for $ 2.77M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 200K.
The quanyi, designating a chair with a circular back, is also known as the horseshoe-back armchair. The best craftsmen round the circle by reducing the number of elements of the crest rail, obtaining a rigidity which also makes it possible to optimize the stretchers. Despite an apparent lightness, their seats are strong.
On March 17, 2015, Christie's dispersed the Ellsworth collection. The bidders recognized the best qualities of a quanyi in the group of four that constituted the lot 41. Moreover the other two pairs that would make it possible to constitute a set of eight were identified in the catalog. Lot 41 was sold for $ 9.7M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 800K.
Another homogeneous set of four quanyi in huanghuali from the Ming period passed at Christie's on September 13, 2019, lot 878, from a lower estimate of $ 800K.
1610 Lingbi Stone by Wu Bin
2020 SOLD for RMB 510M including premium by Poly
narrated in 2021
Mi Wanzhong, a painter and calligrapher, is a passionate collector whose artist name is Youshi, the friend of stones. Around 1610 CE he acquires an extraordinary Lingbi stone 50 cm high, simulating a forest with spectacular shrinkages and branches. He considers his artistic skills to be inadequate and calls his friend Wu Bin.
Wu Bin studies the stone for a month. His ten drawings display the specimen from all angles, with great precision of line and beautiful contrasts providing a superb texture effect. Each image is flanked by text.
Each of the ten elements measures 55 x 115 cm, for a total uninterrupted length of 11.5 m. The handscroll also includes two introductions respectively 26 x 112 cm and 48 x 143 cm and an epilogue 55 cm x 11.3 m with colophons.
Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone was sold for RMB 510M including premium by Poly on October 18, 2020, lot 3922, after nearly an hour of bidding. It is illustrated with some enlarged details in the post sale report published by The Value. Please watch the much detailed video shared by Norton Museum of Art.
The Lingbi stone which served as a model only survived the ravages of time for a few decades.
1615 Eighteen Luohans by Wu Bin
2009 SOLD for RMB 170M including premium by Poly
narrated in 2021
Wu Bin, who was a very skilled landscape artist in the Wanli era, was also a caricaturist. He was a devout Buddhist while remaining secular. He loved to ridicule the Luohans, therefore assessing that they were human beings.
The MET has a 32 x 415 cm scroll with sixteen Luohans. It bears a date corresponding to 1591 CE, and is arguably one of Wu Bin's earliest works on this subject. The serious and grotesque characters are stylized, but they are all different one another.
The Cleveland Museum of Art has an undated scroll 38 x 2500 cm by Wu Bin featuring 500 Luohans with 18 assistants plus Guanyin. They exercise their powers in an endless variety of situations. They know how to tame tigers and dragons, walk on water, fly on the back of a crane.
On November 22, 2009, Poly sold a 31 x 570 cm scroll by Wu Bin for RMB 170M including premium from a lower estimate of RMB 20M, lot 5125. It is referenced and illustrated in an article published in 2020 by The Value.
A date inscribed in the work corresponds to 1615 CE. The eighteen Luohans are accompanied by grotesque animals. The Qianlong emperor, better known for his erudition than as a humorist, commented in a colophon about the quietened dragon which holds the sacred book in its claws.
Later Ming - North and South according to Dong Qichang
2015 SOLD for RMB yuan 69M including premium
Dong attributed to the North a realism in the Confucian tradition, more concerned by objectivity than by art. His Southern school promotes free forms close to the later European romanticism. The southern artistic creation invites to emotion and dream in the Taoist tradition.
On November 15 in Beijing, China Guardian sells a mountain landscape by Dong Qichang, hand scroll 26 x 146 cm, lot 1327 estimated RMB 60M.
The clean and sharp ink line defines a mountain landscape where the accumulation of rocks is beautifully exaggerated. The ground is scattered with more realistic trees, which could help the lovers of Northern art of his time to accept the romanticism of the artist. The scenery is not animated, but a discrete group of thatched cottages brings a human dimension.