Rare Survival: Unique 300-Year-Old Glass Vase Set to Shatter Records
RARE SURVIVAL: UNIQUE 300-YEAR OLD GLASS VASE SET TO SHATTER RECORDS
Conceived and Created Inside the Forbidden City for the Qianlong Emperor
Measuring 18.2cm, the Pouch-Shaped Vase is One of the Most Important Examples of Enamelled Glassware to Survive to this Day
Among the Greatest Examples of Qing Dynasty Art in Private Hands
*Estimated to Bring in Excess of £20 Million*
A marvellous survival from the Qing dynasty, a 300-year-old vase made of glass, is set to shatter records when it comes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on 8 October 2019 with an estimate in excess of £20 million.
One of the most important examples of enamelled glassware to survive to this day, the pouch-shaped vase was conceived and created inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, to the direct order and under the close scrutiny of the Emperor himself. Measuring 18.2cm, this unique treasure is a masterpiece in virtually every respect – in terms of shape, design, execution and size. Its rarity and preciousness is inextricable from the difficulty of its production: to create a vessel which evokes a bottle wrapped in a cloth pouch tied with a ribbon, with a brilliantly enamelled design of phoenixes soaring amid clouds and peonies, would have required the cooperation of different palace workshops, and demanded the highest level of skill from both the imperial artisans in the Glass House and the imperial painters in the Enamelling Workshops.
The appearance on the international market of this extraordinary vase is momentous – when last offered at auction in 2000, it sold for a record price*; now, almost two decades on, it comes to auction with an estimate in excess of £20 million (US$25m / HK$200m), a figure which marks out this piece as one of the most important Chinese works of art ever to be offered for sale.
Nicolas Chow, Chairman, Sotheby’s Asia, International Head and Chairman, Chinese Works of Art, said: “This season we are particularly honoured to have been entrusted with arguably one of the finest objects ever made at the Forbidden City and one of greatest examples of Qing dynasty art in private hands. Ravishingly beautiful and superbly achieved, the importance of this Qianlong enamelled glass vase for the history both of Chinese glass and enamelling cannot be overstated. This is the finest, largest and most complex piece of imperial glass to survive.”
The vase was created during the early years of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, according to an imperial order listing of 1738. Only two pieces resulted from this order – the present bottle and a companion piece, of the same form and colour scheme, but of different design, now in the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Though complementary, they were not necessarily meant as a pair. These vases seem to be the only large pieces of their kind in existence and the only ones of such complex shape; as such, there appear to be no other vessels that could similarly document the true capability of the imperial craftsmen working in this medium. With each enamel forged at a different temperature, multiple firings were required, beginning with the highest temperature and ending with the lowest. During imperial times, craftsmen used charcoal as fuel and, without the benefit of thermometers, relied on nothing but experience to gauge the temperature. The larger the vessel, the more difficult it was to make – consequently, surviving examples of Qing enamelled glassware are predominantly snuff bottles, far smaller in size.
Having been created for the Qianlong Emperor, this bottle and its companion piece apparently remained in the Imperial House until the end of the Qing dynasty, before entering the legendary collection of Prince Gong. It later passed through the hands of A.W. Bahr (who was able to acquire many works of art from members of the extended imperial family at the end of the dynasty) and Paul and Helen Bernat (American collectors living in Boston), before being acquired by the current owner in 2000 and becoming part of Le Cong Tang Collection.
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