£53m Chinese vase reaches the record books

By Andrea Marrinan

A Chinese vase was sold two weeks ago for a world record-breaking price of £53.1 million.

The auction of the eighteenth century Qianlong dynasty porcelain vase defied auctioneer’s expectations, who had estimated its worth between £800,000 and £1.2 million. No one expected the reaction from Chinese buyers, who sparked a bidding war that lasted over 30 minutes, resulting in a new record.

The sale took place in the west London area of Ruislip, not famously known for its art treasures. The local auctioneers have left auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s in the dark after achieving the premier price for any Chinese artwork to date.
The vase is believed to have been in the possession of an English family since the 1930s and was described at the auction as “a piece of exquisite beauty”. The vase, made during the reign of eighteenth century Emperor Qianlong is 40cm high, ornamented with four circular cartouches and an enamelled fish motif. The primrose-yellow painted trumpet neck is an unusual double-walled construction, meaning an internal vase can be seen through the perforations of the outer body.

Found during a house clearance in the suburb of Pinner, the vase belonged to the late parents of a brother and sister, whose identities are unknown.

The two, who were unaware of the vase’s historical significance and value, are believed to be in complete shock and have gone into hiding while they learn to come to terms with their new found wealth.

Auctioneer Bainbridge’s stated on their website that the vase “would have resided, no doubt, in the Chinese royal palace and was most certainly fired in the imperial kilns”, encouraging international interest in the one-off piece.

The auction room was filled with bidders from as far afield as Hong Kong and mainland China as well as those closer to home, such as London. The vase is understood to have been sold to a confidential buyer from China, who was keen to repatriate the piece of imperial heritage.

In recent years, an interest for Chinese works of art has increased dramatically. However, with the crown of the market nowhere in sight, the supply of elite pieces is becoming increasingly rare.

It appears old European and American collections are feeding the Chinese market, which is described by auctioneer Philip Sheppard as “on fire”.

Perhaps not as remarkable as the Qianlong vase, a smaller, more modest Chinese vase was discovered in County Carlow earlier this year. It was valued at approximately €100 but was recently sold at auction in London for an astonishing £240,000.
While still a remarkable price, it is the £53 million sale that will make waves in the world art market.

The Chester Beatty Library houses a world-class collection of oriental manuscripts, paintings and books. It also holds a small collection of imperial Chinese porcelain available for public viewing .