Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau’s $9.3 million Imperial Porcelain Collection to be auctioned | Auctions News | THE VALUE


Last spring, Sotheby’s Hong Kong presented an auction dedicated to Joseph Lau’s collection of Chinese imperial porcelain, which offered eight pieces of antiquities from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The sale proved to be a huge success, with all lots sold and grossing HK$113 million (about US$14.5 million).

This fall, the second part of the auction will take place on October 9th, with a total of 11 pieces going under the hammer. The top lot is a 15th-century blue and white vase estimated at between HK$25 and 35 million (about US$3.2-4.4 million).

Josef Lau and his wife
Lot 3507 | A blue and white ‘Lotusscroll’ vase, Meiping

Created in Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period (1402 – 1424)
Height: 31.4 cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 15./16. November 1988, lot 122
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$25,000,000-35,000,000

Arguably no other type of Chinese pottery is more iconic than the blue-and-white porcelain—and those made during the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1425-1435) periods of the Ming Dynasty have always been considered the best.

The distinctive color on blue and white porcelain comes from the smalt or samarra cobalt imported from Persia, which were scarce ingredients at the time and only used in limited quantities. These cobalt pigments, rich in iron oxide, would produce a glaze with darker blue flecks in certain areas of the surface, an effect known as “heaping and heaping.”

Because of this characteristic, blue and white porcelain from this period was rarely decorated with human figures, but more often with floral and animal motifs – with the different shades of blue achieving an effect similar to ink painting.

Vase of this form is known as meiping, plum jarcharacterized by a soft profile that curves in a flowing line from the slim fitted neck over the rounded shoulder and tapers in a gentle curve before widening again slightly to a small base.

In traditional Chinese culture, this elegant silhouette was considered a reflection of the male body and a symbol of the gentleman – small mouth means paying attention to one’s own language; Broad shoulders means responsibility.

While the shapes and designs of the Yongle and Xuande blue-and-white porcelains share striking similarities, there’s an easy way to tell them apart: take a look at the sigil mark. It was not until the Xuande period that the use of government symbols on artworks was formalized. Those without seal marks, as in the present lot, are usually from the Yongle period.

Blue and white ‘Fruit’ Meiping, Yongle period, 28 cm | Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2014, HK$48.2 million

Blue and white Meiping and a binding, Yongle period (The binding late Ming dynasty), 37.8 cm | Christie’s Hong Kong, 2016, HK$50.5 million

Esteemed, blue and white meiping from the Yongle period decorated with flowers or fruits often fetch remarkable results at auction, usually reaching the $2 million mark and can reach even more.

For example, a fruit pattern sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2014 for HK$48.2 million (around US$6.1 million). Another, with a cover made in the late Ming Dynasty, fetched HK$50.5 million (about US$6.4 million) at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2016.

Now that the present lot once belonged to Joseph Lau, a big name in both the antiques circle and Hong Kong, let’s see how brilliantly it would do on the auction block.

Lot 3505 | Doucai and Famille-Rose ‘Sanduo’ Moonflask

Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795)
Height: 31.3 cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8 November 1982, lot 204
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 8 October 1990, lot 525
  • The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$20,000,000-30,000,000

A marriage of doucai and family rose Paletten, the present moon bottle celebrates the creative breadth of porcelain manufacture under Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736 – 1795) with its brilliant color scheme.

Translated as contrasting colors, doucai is a porcelain enamelling technique combining underglaze cobalt blue and overglaze polychrome decoration. The pottery was fired twice: the first time with an outlined design in cobalt at a higher temperature; secondly with colored enamels which, at a lower temperature, filled the remaining space – meaning that his semi-product was a blue and white porcelain.

The climax of doucai The production took place during the reign of Chenghua (1465-1487), which made its name with the world-famous “chicken cup”. Further developed in the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), the technique was perfected under the rule of the Qianlong Emperor, who constantly pushed the potters to their limits – albeit doucai Porcelain at the time was mostly limited to small toy-like items such as bowls, bowls and jugs. Standing pieces like the present moon bottle were rare.

Rose family Palette, on the other hand, was a new color scheme that emerged under European influence in the 17th century and was introduced by Jesuits visiting the imperial court. Mixing iron powder and glass white softened and opaque colors, allowing painters to mix hues to create a variety of shades and hues—primarily pink, white, green, and yellow.

The first attempts to combine the two decorative styles began in the Yongzheng period, but were generally limited to small touches of family rose Emails are among the typical ones doucai Designs as on the present lot.

The decoration on this moon bottle is known as “three cornucopias”, originally a Taoist idea suggesting that “long life, wealth and many sons are what men desire”. At least since the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) these three blessings are represented symbolically by groups of the three fruits peach, Buddha’s hand lemon and pomegranate.

Thanks to the soft colors of the family rose Palette, these fruits can be delicately and naturally shaded in layered tones of pink, purple, yellow and lime green on the bottle. Particularly impressive are the skins of the peaches and the pits of the pomegranates, masterfully painted in different gradations as if reflecting the light – effects that do not exist in the doucai Palette.

A bottle of this flattened circular shape with handles was called a moonflask – named for its resemblance to the full moon. It originated during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when various Persian and Central Asian metalwork items were imported to China along the Silk Road. These works were then reproduced in porcelain and adapted to Chinese tastes.

Two ships of this design appear to have been recorded. One was formerly in the British Rail Pension Fund collection and was auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1989 for HK$3.96 million (approx. The other was from the prestigious Hong Kong Beixuan Shuzhai Collection auctioned at Poly Auction Beijing in 2018 for 10, 1 million RMB (about 1.4 million US dollars) was auctioned.

Another pair of bowls, decorated with the same motif also in Doucai and Famille Rose palettes, happened to be on sale. It was made during the Yongzheng period and gives us a good opportunity to compare the aesthetics between the two emperors.

Lot 3508 | A pair of Doucai and Famille Rose ‘Sanduo’ bowls

Marks and period of Yongzheng (1722-1735)

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 15 May 1990, lot 286
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 Hong Kong dollars

Lot 3509 | A blue and white moon bottle

Created in Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period (1402 – 1424)
Height: 29.3 cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 15 May 1990, lot 22
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$14,000,000-18,000,000

As mentioned above, Moonflask was derived from Persian and Central Asian metal prototypes. Compared to the Doucai and Famille Rose example, the present blue and white vase is closer to the form of the original West Asian metalwork.

Unlike Chinese moon flasks, which served as decorative objects or flower holders, the Persian prototypes are practical vessels used to transport liquids – the small spherical mouth was designed to prevent spillage; and the loops that attach to a rope to hang from the waist while traveling on foot, horse, or camel.

Freer Art Gallery | Canteen with Episodes from the Life of Christ, Syria or Iraq, mid-13th century

The decoration on this moon bottle is a mix of Chinese and Central Eastern aesthetics. The enclosing chevron, geometric fringe, and star-shaped rosettes adorning either side of the flask all feature Central Eastern designs; while the traditional Chinese design repertoire is represented by the floral band at the neck and the small floral sprigs on the handles.

Blue and white moon bottles with the same designs have been found in various museums and private collections including the National Palace Museum, Taipei; the Palace Museum, Beijing; the Shanghai Museum and the famous Meiyintang Collection.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 3504 | A blue and white spherical vessel

Make and Period of Xuande (1425-1435)
Height: 7.5cm

  • Acquired in Hong Kong, September 11, 1991
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 – 4,000,000

Lot 3511 | A large Doucai ‘flower’ jardinière

Mark and period of Jiaqing (1796-1820)

  • Acquired in Hong Kong, April 30, 1992
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 – 4,000,000

Lot 3501 | A blue and white ‘Lianzi’ bowl

Make and Period of Xuande (1425-1435)
Diameter: 20.5cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 15 May 1990, lot 23
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$2,500,000 – 3,500,000

Lot 3510 | Copper-red and underglaze blue ‘Sanduo’ vase, Meiping

Created in Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period (1736-1795)
Height: 37.7 cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 21 May 1985, lot 143
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 – 2,000,000

Lot 3506 | A lapis lazuli figurine of Amitabha Buddha on a white jade lotus stand

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 20.8cm

  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 April 2004, lot 995
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 – 2,000,000

Lot 3502 | A pair of yellow-ground, green-enamelled bowls

Marks and period of Kangxi (1661-1722)
Height: 13.2cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 14 November 1989, lot 287
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$1,200,000 – 1,800,000

Lot 3503 | An Imperial white jade chandelier decorated with bronze

Make and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); According to records, it was commissioned in 1739 and completed in 1740
Height: 23cm

  • Sotheby’s New York, March 22, 1995, lot 22
  • Joseph Lau Collection

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 – 1,500,000

Auction details:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Auction: Gems of Imperial Porcelain from Joseph Lau’s Private Collection Part II
Date and time: October 9, 2022 | 10:15 p.m. (Hong Kong time)
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbor Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Number of lots: 11


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