A rare Ru guanyao brush washer from the late Northern Song (960- 1 127) period drew a 20-minute bidding battle on October 3. Estimated ‘in excess of’ HK$100m, it was knocked down at HK$260m (£24.9m) – the highest ever for Chinese ceramics (see table).
Just 5in (13cm) across, it is one of only four known pieces of the celebrated ‘official ware’ fired at Ru, the most revered of the Five Great Kilns, left in private hands.
Much admired for its blue-green glaze and ‘ice crackle’ pattern, it was formerly in the collection of the Chang Foundation in the Hongxi Museum, Taipei.
The price eclipsed the previous auction high recorded in the same rooms three years ago when a Chenghua chicken cup sold to Shanghai collector Liu Yiqian for HK$250m (£21.5m).
The record for a Chinese jade now stands at HK$65.5m (£5.6m) – set by a Qianlong ewer once belonging to the socialite and collector Millicent Rogers (1902-53). Fashioned in high-quality Khotan white jade with a melon-shaped body and ram’s head spout, its design is inspired by Mughal jade vessels that first arrived at the Forbidden City in 1756. After this first encounter with Mughal or ‘Hindustani’ jades, the emperor Qianlong wrote more than 70 essays and poems on the subject.
Similar vessels, sharing gilt bronze and cloisonné enamel handles, are in the collection of film producer Sir John Woolf (1913-99) and another is in the Palace Museum in Beijing.
This piece owned by Rogers, whose prescient personal taste was for Qing dynasty white jades, was last sold in Christie’s Hong Kong in 1996.
Top prices for Chinese ceramics at auction*
Sotheby’s HK, October 2017 Northern Song Ru guanyao circular brush washer, HK$260m (£24.9m)
Sotheby’s HK, April 2017 Xuande blue and white ‘fish pond’ bowl, HK$229m (£22.9m)
Sotheby’s HK, April 2014 Meiyintang Chenghua chicken cup, HK$250m (£21.5m)
Sotheby’s HK, October 2010 Fonthill collection Qianlong famille rose vase, HK$225m (£18.2m)
Sotheby’s HK, April 2012 Northern Song Ru guanyao lobed brushwasher, HK$185m (£15.9m)
Christie’s London, May 2017 Pair of Qianlong ‘butterfly’ double-gourd vases, £13m
Christie’s London, July 2005 Yuan dynasty blue and white guan, £13m
*The figures do not include the vase ‘sold’ for £43m at Bainbridges on Ruislip in November 11, 2010. After the buyer defaulted, a private deal was brokered through Bonhams two years later at a price between £20m-25m.