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Rare Song, Ming porcelains to be auctioned in HK

Time:2017-09-12   Source:China Daily

The azure glazed Ru brush washer. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The rare Ru ceramics are so celebrated that they have inspired prose. Only a handful of pieces are in private hands, leading to great interest among collectors. Lin Qi reports.

There are many poetic descriptions of the Ru porcelain, named after its production site Ruzhou, Henan province, which is hailed as one of China's "five great kilns" in the Song Dynasty (960-1127). One famous line of prose written in its praise compares its distinguished celadon color to "the blue of the sky in a clearing among clouds after the rain". Another describes air bubbles in the lustrous green glaze as being "as sparse as the stars at dawn". It's believed fewer than 100 complete specimens of Ru porcelain exist today. Most are in museums in China and overseas. The dearth of privately owned pieces makes them highly sought after in the market.

That's why a "sky-blue" glazed Ru brush washer that will go under the hammer at a Hong Kong auction on Oct 3 has created a sensation among Chinese collectors.

The washer, with a diameter of 13 centimeters, is now in the Le Cong Tang collection assembled over the years by Robert Tsao, a Taiwan entrepreneur and noted collector of Chinese art. Sotheby's will auction it during its major autumn sale.

Sotheby's Chinese works of art department chairman Nicolas Chow says 87 pieces of Ru porcelain are known to exist. The washer is "one of the only four known pieces, which have survived in private hands".

He says it's "exceptionally glossy, with an icy crackle layer atop of the densely blue-green glazing" and in pristine condition.

Fine, decorative crackles-also called kaipian-are like the patterns on cicada wings. They're one of Ru wares' distinctive characteristics.

Two Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) blue-and-white porcelain pieces will go under the hammer at Sotheby's major autumn sale in Hong Kong on Oct 3. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The washer boasts a sound origin of source. It once belonged to the Taipei-based Chang Foundation, a private assemblage of quality Chinese works.

Chow says it stands as an example of Song ceramics that underpin artistry and subtle aesthetics-especially considering government-run Ru kilns are generally believed to have operated for about two decades.

"The mythology surrounding Ru wares goes almost as far back as when it was first produced in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, exclusively for the Northern Song (960-1127) court for a period spanning a mere 20 years," Chow says.

"Literary references abound. And Chinese emperors throughout the centuries are known to have collected Ru wares."

Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperor Yongzheng, for instance, passed 21 pieces on to his son, emperor Qianlong, who then actively sought more, Chow says.

Chow says awareness about Song ceramics has been increasing in the market for the past half decade or so. Most great porcelain pieces from the dynasty were previously purchased by collectors from Taiwan and such countries as Japan. But more are being bought by people from the Chinese mainland.

A "sky-blue" glazed Ru washer sold for HK$207,860,000($27 million) at a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction in April 2012, setting the record for the highest price for a Song piece.

Sotheby's will also auction two Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) blue-and-white porcelain pieces on Oct 3.

Two Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) blue-and-white porcelain pieces will go under the hammer at Sotheby's major autumn sale in Hong Kong on Oct 3. [Photo provided to China Daily]

One is a covered bowl bearing Buddhist emblems and blooming lotuses as auspicious symbols.

The other is a jar painted with a makara, a mythical Hindu sea creature.

Both were produced during Xuande's reign, which was the apex of cobalt-blue porcelain's production.

Chow says Qing porcelain has long overshadowed Ming wares, but that has changed in the past couple of years, largely because more quality collections have been appearing in salerooms.

Collectors are particularly fond of pieces from the early Ming period-namely, works created during the reigns of Yongle and Xuande-and rare works from Chenghua's reign in the 15th century's second half.

"Ming porcelain was undervalued for a long time," he says.

"So, there's still room for that market to continue to grow."