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Reviving The Western Market: Christie’s Imperial Chinese Porcelain Auction and Its Historical Impact

In the backdrop of a flagging Western market for ceramics, Christie's and Asian art dealer, Marchant, are aiming to reignite interest with a major Imperial Chinese Porcelain auction. The event not only marks the 450th anniversary of Wanli’s ascension but also links to the cyclical narrative of Chinese porcelain collection.

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A remarkable auction is set for September 21 at Christie’s, with the renowned Asian art dealer, Marchant, offering a collection of imperial Chinese porcelain.

This event is anticipated to provide renewed vigor to a now-languid Western market for such ceramics.

Marchant and Christie’s: A Historical Collaboration

This auction has sparked interest from various angles. Marchant, a London establishment distinguished in the curation of Asian art since 1925, has chosen to collaborate with a prestigious auction house such as Christie’s, which is an out of the ordinary partnership.

The porcelains headed for auction are special as they date back to the rule of Emperor Wanli (1573–1620). As Samuel Marchant, a member of this influential dealer family noted, this era marked a significant decline in the quality of porcelain by the end of Wanli’s rule.

The Ming Dynasty and Imperial Porcelains: A Historical Overview

Marchant, tracing back to his lineage of art aficionados, distinguished the disparities between the early, middle, and late Ming dynasty and between Imperial porcelains during the reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. These were three of the most renowned emperors of the Qing Dynasty.

Of late, Early and Middle Ming Dynasty porcelains have proven to be the most valuable. An example of this is the famed “chicken cup,” which was purchased by Liu Yiqian, one of China’s esteemed art collectors in 2014 for $36 million.

The Wanli Era: Precious but Neglected

One compelling theory for the scarcity of pristine examples of porcelain from Wanli’s reign is that due to the emperor’s, and by extension, the country’s near bankruptcy towards the end. This led to a decline in the quality of porcelain.

A Rare Find: The Keswick “Hundred Deer” Jar

The crown jewel of this auction is the Keswick “Hundred Deer” Jar, estimated between $700,000–$900,000. This vividly embellished jar showing multicoloured deer in a forest setting was procured by Richard Marchant at an estate sale in Surrey, England, in 1967.

Unveiled for the Christie’s sale, Marchant traced its heritage back to the influential English businessman, William Keswick, based in Hong Kong during the 19th-century. Similar examples of this jar can be found at the National Palace Museum in Taipei and Tokyo National Museum.

The other seven pieces in the collection are equally rare, most with examples residing in notable museums. A large bowl decorated with a lotus and “eight Buddhist treasures,” titled Doucai Bajixiang, is one of just four worldwide.

Christie’s Asian Art Week – Imperial Chinese Porcelain

As part of the nine-auction Asian Art Week at Christie’s from September 19–28, this compelling imperial Chinese porcelain sale marks Wanli’s ascension’s 450th anniversary.

Marchant, capturing the essence of this particular sale, noted the collection’s “significant scholarly and academic importance.” This implies that they warrant being on display in an institution or museum, thereby requiring the global exposure only an entity like Christie’s could provide.

The Cyclical Nature of Chinese Porcelain Collection

The collection of Chinese porcelain has demonstrated a cyclical pattern over the years. The early 20th century saw modern industry tycoons like Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan treasure these art pieces, while in Sweden, King Gustaf VI Adolf amassed over 2,600 pieces in the 17th century. Let’s look forward to seeing how this sale will continue to shape the cyclical narrative of Chinese porcelain collection.

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