An 18th-Century Bowl Made From One of the Rarest Porcelains in the World Sold for $25 Million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

It’s a striking example of Falangcai porcelain, which is now considered to be among the rarest and most valuable materials of the Qing dynasty.

The Dr Alice Cheng Falangcai Bowl. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

A rare 18th-century porcelain bowl sold for HK$198 million ($25 million) at Sotehby’s Hong Kong last week. 

The vessel, which measures less than 4.5 inches in diameter, was produced in imperial kilns during the time of the Yongzheng Emperor, who ruled China from 1722 to 1735, and was later enameled in the workshops of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s a striking example of Falangcai (“foreign colors”) porcelain, now considered to be among the rarest and most valuable materials of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). 

The cream-white bowl depicts intertwined apricot and willow trees and a pair of swallows. Inscribed on one wall is a poem that is believed to have been commissioned by the Wanli Emperor, whose reign— from 1573 to 1620—preceded the Yongzheng dynasty. “Scissors of jade cut through the flowers / Like rainbow garments brought back from the moon,” it reads. 

The object was once part of a pair, but it and the other bowl were divided and sold for £150 each in 1929, according to CNN. The other dish now lives at the British Museum.  

The Alice Cheng Falangcai Bowl. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Consigning the piece this time around was the Hong Kong-based art collector and philanthropist Alice Cheng, who purchased it at a 2006 Christie’s auction for HK$151 million ($19 million)—a record price for Chinese art. 

No such record was broken this time. The bowl was offered in a single-lot sale Saturday morning at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. It was purchased by a private, unnamed Chinese collector for less than the object’s pre-sale estimate of HK$200 ($25.4 million) million.  

The event was one of nine auctions organized as part of Sotheby’s spring sales series in Hong Kong. Six have taken place so far, bringing in a total of HK$3.7 billion ($472 million). The sales mark the 50th anniversary of the auction house’s operations in Asia.  

“To reaffirm Sotheby’s continuous leadership in Chinese Art, and witness some exceptional results this season, feels particularly poignant amidst a year in which we celebrate our 50th anniversary in Asia,” said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s chairman of Asia. “When we first entered the region in 1973 we did so with sales in this category and they have remained at the forefront of our business ever since.”  

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