Porcelain bowl and Buddhist manuscripts fetch €24m each in Hong Kong sale

The bowl made for a Chinese emperor was last seen for sale 30 years ago

The Asian art market is booming and the latest sales – a series of auctions at Sotheby's in Hong Kong earlier this week – produced some extraordinary results.

Last Tuesday (April 3rd) during an auction of Chinese works of art and ceramics, an enamelled porcelain bowl – just under six inches high – made by Imperial Order for the Kangxi Emperor of China (1661-1772) sold for HKD239 million (€24 million).

The estimate had been advised as “in excess of HKD200 million” (approximately €21 million). Why so valuable?

Sotheby’s described it as “without question the finest example of its type and the only ever recorded with this design. There exists however a closely related example, the pride of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, [Taiwan] which is painted with different flowers but the exact same colour ground. Given the rarity of the colours used and the admirable perfection of the firing, it is likely that the two were painted and fired side by side.

"Thrown and fired by potters at the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, the bowls were then painted in the Imperial Palace workshops in the Forbidden City in Beijing, possibly by Jesuits resident at the court of the Kangxi emperor, and fired a second time."

The bowl in the auction once belonged to the collector Henry M. Knight and had not been seen on the market for over 30 years.

Overall, Sotheby’s said, the auctions had attracted over 30,000 visitors, and bidders had spent a total of €380 million in categories ranging from vintage wine to luxury watches, Chinese art and collectibles.

Tad Smith, Sotheby’s CEO, said afterwards, the “Outstanding prices across different categories coupled with a strong sell-through rate indicate that clients throughout Asia are engaged at every level. The past week of auctions, exhibitions and art fairs has left no doubt of Asia’s central position in the art market.”

Among other highlights, a new auction record was established for two sets of Buddhist Sutra Manuscripts from the Ming Dynasty.

Described as “the most important Buddhist manuscript ever to have appeared at auction, the Imperial Wisdom Sutras sold for HKD239 million (€24 million).

They were made by imperial order of the Ming Emperor Xuande in the first part of the 15th century. Buddhist Sutras are canonical scriptures – the teachings of the Buddha – and these manuscripts were handwritten and illustrated in gold ink on indigo-coloured paper which has been treated on the upper side to obtain a shiny black, lacquer-like surface.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques