Nobel provenance for Quianlong 9-dragon charger

Last week, we noted in our feature on five/nine dragon chargers that in an upcoming auction in Sweden there would be offered a Quianlong charger based on the much earlier classic Ming design. We have now learned from one of our readers, and from the catalogue issued by the auctioneers, that the charger coming up at Uppsala Auktions in Sweden enjoys a most interesting provenance from the renowned Nobel family:

Apparently, it was the property of Rolf Nobel (1882-1947), who most likely received it from his elder brother Emanuel Nobel (1859-1932). Rolf and Emanuel were both nephews of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize Award. Thence it came by descent to Rolf Nobel’s son Viktor Nobel (1919-2014), and thence to the present owner.

Emanuel Nobel led the Nobel companies in Russia and was the President of BraNobel in Russia after his father Ludvig died. He was one of Carl Fabergés most important clients, besides the Russian Tsar and family. Uppsala Auctions have published a well researched piece, as well you might do with a lot estimated at around 100,000 euros.

The nine-dragon design on this charger is after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the cavetto decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of the original Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition, Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87.
Another Xuande example with four dragons around the cavetto is illustrated in The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 34 Blue and White (1) Porcelain With Underglaze Red.
On the charger offered for sale, the central side-facing dragon of the Xuande prototype has been replaced with a dragon en face. The vivacity of the central dragon depicted here is characteristic of the Qing dynasty portrayal of the Imperial dragon, which compared to the Ming dragon, is ever more boldly detailed and defined in its facial features and more elaborately represented in its general ferocity and mythological power.
The use of red heightens the contrast between the crashing waves of the background and that of the dragons, whilst heightening the scene with further auspicious meaning. The Qing craftsmen have added the crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which completes the design, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.
Early Qing rulers, particularly Qianlong, liked to see their old masterpieces of ancient designs and glazes re-interpreted, using the skills and technology available during their reigns as a way of celebrating China’s glorious past.
Dishes of this type were favoured both by the Qianlong emperor, and his predecessor the emperor Yongzheng, who first commissioned the making of these particular magnificent and impressive “red dragon” chargers. They represent a powerful re-interpretation indeed. These dishes would have been used at Imperial banquets, undoubtedly both to impress and to add a feeling of grandeur to the occasion.
A Qianlong example of the red dragon dish can be seen in the Nanjing Museum and was included in the exhibition, Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81. This red dragon dish was also illustrated on the front cover of the catalogue.
Another Qianlong dish of this magnificent and formidable size was exhibited in Sweden in 1995 in Gothenburg at Röhsska Museet on loan from the Shanghai museum and can be seen in the exhibition catalogue, Ancient Chinese Art from the Shanghai Museum, no. 61, page 63.
For a very similar Qianlong example of this dish see Sotheby’s, May 15th 1990, lot 207. This dish is further  illustrated in the catalogue Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Twenty Years,  1973 to 1993, celebrating the highlights of objects sold through them.
Further examples, one from the Qianlong period and one from the Yongzheng period are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172.
Another dish from the Yongzheng period is in The Palace Museum, Beijing and is published in The Complete Collection of Treasues of the Palace Museum, Blue and White Porcelain and under glazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Meiyintang collection published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol.4, no.1723. In this book work Krahl writes about the technical achievement that allowed for such grand objects to be made during this period.

                                   Lot 1040 Uppsala Auctions June 13 2014

Blue seal mark to base




A tale of Yongzheng dragon chargers £218,500 or £1,500?

Yonzheng charger Sold by Sotheby’s for £218,500

One of Sotheby’s best prices last week was for ‘a rare iron-red and underglaze-blue nine dragon charger Yongzheng mark and period’. It was formerly the property of collectors George and Cornelia Wingfield Digby.

Despite considerable historic damage, and an unconvincing repair job, it made £218,500, inclusive of buyer’s premium. It is, of course, not the only one around: there are almost identical ones in The Shanghai Museum in People’s Square, Shanghai, and in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There are also a few, rather later copies in circulation . . .

The charger sold last week was described in Sotheby’s catalogue as being a ‘nine dragon charger: a central dragon within the central medallion, with four to the interior, around the rim, and another four underneath to the exterior. There is a six character mark to the base within a double circle, size  47.5cm., 18 ¾ in.’
But the condition report reveals extensive historic damage. ‘The dish was broken into five pieces. It has now been repaired with the cracks still visible under the naked eye. There are large areas of overspray, possibly also concealing associated rim chips. The base is oversprayed, with the mark painted over. There are some chips to the foot, the largest measuring 0.7×0.4cm. The central interior has a 0.2×0.1cm area of paint loss (under the glaze) to the lower left of the dragon tail. Minor glaze firing imperfections such as iron spots and burst glaze bubbles.’
Of course, it is slightly surprising that such a desirable piece should have been so poorly restored but, most likely, it was a simple matter of getting the wrong person for the job. It is, indeed, a very fine piece in all its variations – and you can get one for a lot less than a quarter of a million pounds, and in rather better condition!
Yongzheng mark Yongzheng mark to base

Sotheby’s include a very good explanatory note in the catalogue. ‘Dishes of this magnificent size and formidable decoration were made to impress. Such wares were used at Imperial banquets and on special celebratory occasions, such as the ‘Thousand Elderly Banquet’ held in honour of senior citizens when thousands of invited guests were served a great feast. The Manchu custom of banqueting closely followed the Mongolian and Tibetan tradition of shared communal dining.A Yongzheng dish of this design and large size in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 223; another in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, was included in the exhibition Seikado zo Shincho toji. Keitokuchin kanyo no bi [Qing porcelain collected in the Seikado. Beauty of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns], Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006, cat. no. 53; and another in the Meiyintang collection is published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1723. Compare also a Yongzheng dish sold three times in our rooms, once in London in 1995, and twice in Hong Kong, in 2005 and 9th October 2012, lot 125, from the collection of Dr Alice Cheng; another sold in our London rooms, 6th December 1994, lot 179; and a third, with a slightly reduced rim, sold at Christie’s London, 10th April 1978, lot 49.’

This piece would have been made in Jingdezhen and the decoration is a Yongzheng  interpretation of an early-Ming pattern. The Yongzheng emperor is reputed to have sent porcelain from the palace to Jingdezhen in order to establish rather better production standards as well as to serve as models and inspirations for designs. This dragon design follows after a Xuande prototype, where dishes were painted with a side-facing five-clawed dragon amongst crashing waves in the centre, the side decorated with three dragons striding amid clouds. An example of this Xuande dish, excavated at the waste heap of the Ming Imperial Kilns in Zhushan, was included in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Kiln Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 87. (Source: Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s give some excellent well-researched background to the piece. ‘The creative ingenuity of the Yongzheng potter is evident from the successful transference of a pattern that was originally made for much smaller vessels. The different design elements on this dish are perfectly composed to give no hint of overcrowding or spatial gaps that could hinder the overall harmony. While maintaining the essence of the original design, the artist created a motif that is familiar yet fresh: the side-facing dragon has been replaced with a frontal dragon and the crashing waves no longer cover any part of the dragon’s body to give a greater sense of the creature’s dominance and strength. The use of red heightens the contrast between the dynamism of the background and that of the dragons while endowing the scene with further auspicious meaning. Moreover, the extent of the Qing craftsman’s proficiency is evident in the additional crested rolling wave band encircling the rim of the dish which frames and draws the expansive design together, an element that was not necessary for the smaller Ming dishes.

‘Yongzheng dishes of this type continued to be favoured by the Qianlong emperor who commissioned the making of very similar vessels. Examples of dishes from both periods are illustrated in Min Shin no bijutsu [Ming and Qing art], Tokyo, 1982, pls. 154 and 172; and another Qianlong example in the Nanjing Museum was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 81, and also illustrated on the dust jacket.’

Brush up on brushpots and make a fortune

Six stunning brushpots which made fortunes Re-blogged from

The brushpot that sold for £150,000 at Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet on April 29.

The brushpot that sold for £150,000 at Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet on April 29.

A £150,000 bid secured a very large ‘Hundred Boys’ Zitan brushpot at Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet on April 29. It was a stunning five-times-top-estimate price.

Rarity, craftsmanship, subject matter, material, artist, marks, seals, period and Imperial connections are all factors that can affect desirability and price. An Imperial piece from the Emperor’s personal collection created by a leading artist at the zenith of production during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-95), carved in spinach green or white jade is about as good as it gets, although rare pieces in other materials have been known to outstrip even these.

Here are five outstanding prices for brush pots in recent years. clars6½in (16.5cm) high Chinese underglaze blue porcelain brush pot, attributed to Wang Bu (1898-1968). Sold for $480,000 (£325,000) on February 17, 2012, by Clars of Oakland, California.


6½in (16.5cm) high Kangxi (1662-1722) carved ‘landscape’ bitong, or brushpot, made in China by Gu Jue, one of the most famous artists of the period. Sold for £360,000 ($554,400), May 23, 2012, by Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury, England.

christies5in (12.25cm) high Qianlong (1736-95) finely carved and pierced white jade brushpot imbued with auspicious symbols of pine and bamboo. Sold for £430,000 ($662,200), November 11, 2013, by Christie’s, King Street, London.

bonhams6¼in (16cm) high Qianlong (1736-95) Yixing stoneware slip-decorated brushpot, signed Yang Jichu. Sold for HK$5.6m/$666,500 (£430,000), May 27, 2012, by Bonhams Hong Kong.

sothebysExtremely rare 4¾in (12cm) high mark and period Qianlong (1736-95) seal famille rose heaven and earth revolving brushpot constructed in three parts. Sold for $1.7m (£1.13m), March 20, 2012, Sotheby’s New York.

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Mian Situ is a Chinese-American phenomenon

The Chinese Laundry

Chinese Family Laundry, 1880 – original oil by Mian Situ – Hand Signed Canvas Edition Size: 38″w X 25 x 38in. Edition Size:25 Reproduction courtesy Mian Situ. Image provided by Chinese Art in Scotland (

Mian Situ is no ordinary Chinese American artist – he is a phenomenon.  His talent was honed in the slums of southern China where, as a boy, he drew endless pictures of Mao Tse Tung. He came into contact with Soviet realism at an early age and this influenced him greatly.

He is now one of the most adept chroniclers of the American Old West in the footsteps of Remington and Rockwell. He is particularly at home painting historical scenes of the experience of Chinese immigrants to the US.  History, accuracy and superb draughtsmanship characterise his intricately detailed work. His original oils sell for figures well into six figures.

In 1987 he emigrated from China to the West coast. In 1998, he came from Vancouver, where he had gone in 1988, back to Los Angeles. He started painting the lives of Chinese immigrants from more than a century before: immigrants arriving in the US on the open decks of ships, railroad workers, miners and laundry workers in the Gold Rush towns. Fellow artist Howard Terpning from Tucson, Arizona, who has himself bought Man Situ’s works, told the New York Times back in 2006 that Situ’s ‘draughtsmanship,, his design, his sense of colour, his painterly approach . . . you don’t reach that level without a lot of study and effort.’

Situ himself has said, ‘You can’t just emphasise those suffering – because when you look at the big picture, it’s still optimistic. I  have to give people, courage, hope and meaning. Probably some people would say that is not real art, but I still insist on this.’

One of his best works is Chinese Laundry, 1880. Nearly 100,000 people swarmed to the California gold fields in 1849. Approximately 25% were foreign emigrants and within a few years the Chinese population, who referred to the new country as Gum Shan (Gold Mountain) had grown to over 20,000. In 1850, the infant California legislature introduced laws and taxes discriminating against the Chinese people, who were restricted in the gold mines to working abandoned claims for specks of gold. Willing to work long hours for little pay, many hired out as laborers; others were entrepreneurial and started small businesses. The family laundry was an outstanding opportunity as the entire family worked in the laundry to provide excellent service at a reasonable cost. The more affluent families supported these establishments, which allowed the business owners to grow, prosper and become part of the citizenry. San Francisco’s Chinatown was a vibrant commercial centre where goods and services between the city’s two dominant cultures were exchanged.

Situ’s turn-of-the-century historical paintings capture all the vivid energy of this period and its people with beauty and grace. For the collector of important American historical art, they also offer a rare glimpse and insight into this thriving cultural crossroad. Situ received the Gene Autry Memorial Award given in recognition of the most outstanding presentation of three or more works at the 2013 Masters of the American West Exhibition and Sale. Chinese Laundry was the featured work of this award-winning presentation.

Man Situ was born in 1953 in China’s southern Guangdong province and started painting when he was just 13. He studied at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts 1972-75. He later taught at the Academy and spent his spare time sketching and photographing rural life in the villages. He emigrated to the USA, arriving in LA in 1987.  His work is finely detailed and historically meticulous in a strong realist tradition.

Chinese Art in Scotland (email have one of just 25 signed limited edition prints for sale.

Chicken cup is far from chickenfeed . . . at US$36.3m.


When it comes to price, so-called chicken cups are far from being chickenfeed . . . as was made clear April 8 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong when a single cup fetched the equivalent of US$36.3m., exclusive of buyer’s premium. This set a new world record for a piece of Chinese ceramics. For avid and well-heeled collectors of Chinese ceramics, few pieces engender as much excitement as the small Ming dynasty-era bowls commonly known as “chicken cups.”

The bowl was bought by Shanghai billionaire property developer and collector Liu Yiqian who we have previously written about.

These bowls, quite small enough to be held comfortably in the palm of an average-sized hand, were created in a strictly limited period between 1465 and 1487, and are so-called for the chickens painted on their sides. Only 19 are known to exist, and of those just four are in private hands, with the rest in museum collections.

Part of the Meiyintang collection owned by Switzerland’s Zuellig family, this same bowl was also the last chicken cup to go up for auction, in 1999. Also at a Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong, it brought US$3.7 million—at the time, a record for a piece of Chinese porcelain.

Prices for Chinese ceramics have skyrocketed since, but reverence for these cups goes back even further. Indeed, it has lasted since imperial times during the Ming dynasty. Several works of Chinese literature refer to the chicken cups, often describing how emperors and nobles spent fortunes to obtain them – even in the 17th century.

Of 19 chicken cups known to exist, 15 are in museums. Photo courtesy EPA

“This is the crowning glory for collectors,” says Nicholas Chow, Sotheby’s Chinese ceramics expert.

The painting on the cup is a naive, almost childish, coloured depiction of a rooster and a hen taking care of a young chick—a parable for Confucian virtues that extend to an emperor’s looking after his subjects. The simplicity is what makes this cup so desirable, said Mr. Chow, and the artist’s “impressionistic” style is atypical for that time.

But, as usual with Chinese porcelain, it is a case of caveat emptor. Mr. Chow says the chicken cups are the most-copied bowls in China, and even the Chenghua examples in museums have aroused suspicion. In a Sotheby’s catalogue essay about the chicken-cup sale, ceramics expert Regina Krahl has written that former Sotheby’s Chairman Julian Thompson had maintained that the two examples at the Palace Museum in Beijing were fakes. (The museum declared in an official 1999 catalog that they are actually authentic.) Today, antique markets in China offer imitations for as little as a few yuan apiece. “It’s like hanging a copy of the Mona Lisa,” Mr. Chow said. “Everybody’s heard of the chicken cup.” But only the wealthiest of collectors will be able to enter the fray and bid for this very special offering, which is almost certainly the real thing.

Contacted today on the telephone by The Wall Street Journal, the buyer appeared a trifle indignant at being questioned about the record price. “Why do you all care so much about the price?” He affirmed that he thought the price he had paid was “reasonable”. “I bought it only because I like it.”

The under-bidder was London’s leading buyer of Chinese art, Giuseppe Eskenazi. He was the buyer the last time the cup came on the market in 1999. After that purchase he sold it on to an Italian collector.

With acknowledgement to Jason Chow, Scene Asia and European Press Agency

Unusual Chinese Art Images Number Nine

Continuing our series of images which may surprise

Giraffe from Somalia 15th c court artist wcolor Adml Zheng He 1414

Qilin brings Serenity Ode by Emperor Yongle’s court artist (1414)

It may seem surprising that there were giraffes in China in the 15th century! This watercolour from the early part of the century shows a giraffe which came from Somalia with the returning 1414 expedition of Admiral Zheng He. Bought from Somali merchants, the Admiral brought back to Nanjing two giraffes which were welcomed as the mythical beast, the qilin. Emperor Yongle declared them to be magical creatures, the capture of which reflected his greatness.

Chen Dapeng: Chinese sculptor with world vision


Accolades for Chen Dapeng at the Paris Louvre Exhibition last year

Chen Dapeng, a sculptor already enjoying wide popularity in his native China, is now firmly set for making an impact worldwide. At the end of last year, he exhibited successfully at the world famous Musee de Louvre in Paris from November 7-11 on the occasion of the 19th World Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition. He is currently making final arrangements for a US tour, the details of which will be announced next month (full details will be available here). Thereafter, he intends to return to Paris for another exhibition.


Chen Dapeng: in the footsteps of Rodin?

Chen Dapeng was born in 1962 in Hunan province. During the 1990s he was a friend and pupil of Chinese sculptor Pan He and currently lives and works in Songjiang, on the outskirts of Shanghai where he works from a dramatically-designed studio, which he created himself.

chen da peng home bst

Chen Dapeng’s home & studio in China.     Photo Paul Harris

He believes that sculpture is a cultural patrimony shared by all humankind and says that he found enormous support in France. ‘Local artists in Paris described me as ‘the modern Rodin’, he told us but added, ‘Westerners may know sculptures but they don’t know Chinese culture. I simply hope that my sculptures serve as a good interpreter to spread Chinese culture throughout the world.’

Chen Dapeng’s sculptures are in many private and public collections in China. Some of his work in stone and metal is on a very large scale and features in public places, like parks and squares. Work on a smaller scale in bronze, wood and maquette form is in private collections in China and abroad. His work very much takes a historical perspective and its essential realism makes it easily accessible to Chinese and foreigners alike. In this way, it represents a good introduction to Chinese art when shown abroad.

Inter alia, Chen Dapeng is the writer of more than 1,000 poems, carrying on the ancient and honourable tradition of the Chinese scholar artist.



Unusual Chinese art images seven Footbinding

Continuing our popular series . . .

footbinding maybe the last pic

Picture courtesy Joseph Rupp

Not only unusual, this photograph showing the effects of foot binding is probably one of the last taken of the ancient tradition. This is an extraordinary picture taken by the German photographer Joseph Rupp in 2007 of an 87 year-old woman, Zhou Guizhen, and graphically displays the long term effect of the practice. Foot binding, which started during the Song Dynasty almost 1,000 years ago was introduced both as an instrument of fashion and also as a deliberate way of impeding the movement of women. It was not banned until the end of the Qing dynasty, in 1911.

Unusual Chinese art images six The Changsha Meixihu International Culture & Art Centre

Chengdu Contemporary Art centre architects drawing

Picture courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects

It may look more like an airport or, even, space station but this is the architect’s impression of what the new Chengdu contemporary art centre in Changsha is going to look like!

This is the latest project in the so-called ‘Tier 2’ cities of China. It will be enormous: a massive 115,000 square metre cultural hub called the Changsha Meixihu International Culture and Art Centre. It is scheduled to open in October 2015 and, knowing China, we guess it will be on time!

The complex is being designed by London-based operation Zaha Hadid Architects who have been responsible for many ambitious futuristic, big budget projects in countries such as Dubai, Qatar and the PRC. In China, the firm designed the stunning Guangzhou Opera House (2004-10). The work of Baghdad-born Zaha Hadid (63) has been recognised internationally and she was created a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Year of the Horse is upon us!

The Year of the Horse is almost upon us! January 31 sees the beginning of the Chinese New Year.


One of the prime exponents of the art of the horse has to be Chinese artist Xu Beihong (1895-1953). Here he manages to capture the energy and the pride of the animal. Indubitably, his best pictures were of horses.

In Chinese astrology, the Year of the Horse is regarded as a lucky one which will bring good things. The horse of legend embodies many desirable characteristics: strength, courage and resilience. The horse is regarded as a heroic presence, not least because important battles throughout history were won due to its strength and power. The two pictures here do, we think, reflect those characteristics.

Below we have a superb ink drawing. We have not been able to identify the artist as yet (if you recognise who it might be do let us know!). A beautiful piece of draughtsmanship, it is a spirited work which well captures the capricious nature of the horse. . .

lr scroll ,horse, pen & ink

Photographs courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland. Both pictures can be seen on their site and are available for purchase.


Unusual Chinese Art Images five The £50m. vase . . .

Continuing our series of the unusual . . .

Mary Katrantzou dress

The model is wearing a dress designed by Mary Katrantzou. Notice anything familiar about it? Full marks if you recognise the fact that the design is based on the notorious £50 million vase (which eventually was sold by private treaty at around £20m.). The Quianlong vase, thought to have Imperial connections, was sold for £53.1m. by Ruislip auctioneers, Bainbridges, in November 2010.

For anybody who might have forgotten, here is said vase . . .

£50m vase Quianlong

The question is – Which do you prefer, the dress or the vase?