Yongzheng chicken bowl comes to light in Scotland


Sun Yumei’s daughter, Lucy, holds the Yongzheng chicken bowl for sale in Scotland

A rare Yongzheng chicken bowl has come to light in Scotland. Chinese Art in Scotland have been asked to sell the bowl by an anonymous collector, who is simply described as ‘a well known international film director’. No further information is to be given out as the owner who, it is understood, is very ill wishes to protect his identity at this sensitive time.

Genuine old chicken cups or bowls, correctly ascribed to their period, are in considerable demand these days. Most prized are 15h century Chenghua reign bowls and last year Shanghai collector Liu Yixian paid a record US$36.3m hammer for such an example.

Chicken cups have, of course, been much copied over the years and, even, Liu Yiqian has authorised copies of his own purchase at around $60 US.

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

The painting on the cup bought by Yixian 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 new discovery is not in perfect condition. There are signs of use and wear to the inside and hairline cracks visible to the base.

Chinese Art in Scotland director, Sun Yumei, says they are ‘completely satisfied’ with the authenticity of their chicken cup. ‘Everything about it is right: the translucence, the whiteness of the porcelain and its fragility. It is well painted in the doucai tradition and we are sure it is right.’ And what will be the price?

‘Understandably, it will not appear on our website (chineseartinscotland.co.uk). There are a few parties possibly interested but, most likely, if it is not sold privately, it will eventually go to auction. Meantime, we shall enjoy having it around.’


Yongzheng mark to the base of the cup


Buyers not chicken over £88,000 chicken bowl

We wrote recently about the world record price of over US$36 million for an original Chenghua chicken cup sold last month by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Whilst the originals are few in number and fairly well recorded, they are, of course, heavily copied and in China you can pick up a copy for just a dollar or two.

Which is probably why West of England auctioneers Woolley & Wallis were cautious over an 8 cm. diameter chicken bowl offered in yesterday’s Asian Sale. It was a bit small for a bowl, perhaps, but rather too large to be a cup . . . However, the chicken looked pretty kosher painted in the slightly naïve style associated with Chenghua chickens.

The auctioneers noted in the catalogue the Quianlong seal mark but would only venture that it was ‘probably’ of the period. It did, however, boast a good provenance: from the collection of Lt Col John Grenville Fortescue (1896-1969) of Buckinghamshire and Cornwall (in fact, Woolley & Wallis racked up £300,000 in sales yesterday for items from the Fortescue Collection).

4 chicken bowl Woolley & Wallis

Estimated at £5,000-8,000 – about right for a Quianlong copy – it rocketed up to a hammer price of £88,000. Now we seem sure to see a period when chicken cups and chicken bowls soar to heights previously unknown to the humble chicken.