Antique Chinese bowl from Russborough House makes €500,000 in London auction

Sale of Sir Alfred Beit’s Chinese porcelain collection will help with roof repairs in historic publicly owned mansion

A black-ground famille rose bowl of the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) sold for €517,000.

A black-ground famille rose bowl of the Yongzheng period (1723-1735) sold for €517,000.


An antique Chinese bowl, just 14cm high, from Russborough House in Co Wicklow sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London yesterday for more than €500,000.

There was applause in the New Bond Street saleroom when the “extremely rare” porcelain bowl – made in China during the reign of the 18th-century emperor Yongzheng – sold for three times its highest estimate. The hammer came down at £320,000 after intense bidding but the unnamed successful bidder paid a final price of £434,500 (€517,000).

The bowl was among a small collection of Chinese porcelain owned by the late Sir Alfred and Lady Beit. The collection of 20 pieces, initially valued at €350,000, made a total of €1.2 million.

The money raised will be used for the upkeep of Russborough House, near Blessington, which the Beits, a wealthy, aristocratic English couple, bought in 1952 and later donated – along with the house contents – to the people of Ireland.

The 270-year-old Palladian mansion is open to the public and is run by a trust, the Alfred Beit Foundation.

‘Absolutely thrilled’

Speaking after the auction, the foundation’s chief executive Eric Blatchford told The Irish Times he was “absolutely thrilled” and that the money “would go a long way in conserving and preserving Russborough for future generations”. The immediate priorities, he said, included repairs to the roof and dealing with damp.

Sir Alfred Beit bought the bowl for an undisclosed sum from a London dealer in 1958. It was catalogued as “a fine and rare black-ground famille-rose bowl”. The exterior is decorated with coloured enamelling depicting leaves and flowers on a black background.

All 14 of the Beit lots sold – many for multiples of their estimates – in the auction titled Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art including a pair of dishes painted with images of cockerels, also dating from 18th-century China, which made £80,500. They had been given a top estimate of £3,000.

Difficult to value

Imperial Chinese porcelain is very difficult to value and regularly sells for significantly more than the estimated price.

Sir Alfred Beit, who had inherited a diamond-mining fortune and a world-class art collection, also donated paintings worth €100 million to the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1993, the government honoured Sir Alfred and Lady Beit for their generosity to the State by making them citizens – the first time Irish citizenship had been awarded to British subjects.

Sir Alfred Beit died in 1994 aged 91; Lady Beit died in 2005 aged 89. They were buried at St Mary’s church in Blessington.