Little excitement among the also-rans

INCREASINGLY, the lists of items offered for sale in the ceramics and jade categories tend to fall into the second and third ranks of artistic worth. The highlights stand out even further from the mass. This spring Sotheby's catalogue has a new-look cover with a charming close-up of a couple of lively birds from one of a pair of Yongcheng chicken cups which will probably turn out to be the most expensive item on offer. These are among a mere handful of exciting works, and a larger number of oddities and ugly pieces.

Among the various jades, there's an astonishing and rather large sized (26.4 x 19 mm) cabochon jadeite ring whose brilliant transparency is all but incredible. Seldom does one see a piece of this size of such absolute purity.

Among the Chinese paintings, and perhaps the most interesting item, is the album of Forty Views of West Lake by Dong Bangda (1699-1769). The album was painted for the Quanlong Emperor - the site being one steeped in tradition and the subject of countlessworks by as many Chinese artists down the centuries. The Emperor was it seems so enamoured of the album that he carried it with him on one of his countrywide tours of inspection in 1751, during which he visited many of the sites chosen by the painter.

And, with his unstoppable urge to add his own presence to every work of art he acquired, the emperor composed a poem for each page and site, and later wrote these out on the relevant leaves in his not particularly distinguished handwriting.

The album has an interesting documented history from its acquisition onward in the Imperial Palace. It was given by the last emperor Pu Yi to his brother, Pu Jie, made its way on to the market and then bought back by Pu Jie who sold it to the present owner. It is Surprising that so much survived from the turbulent end of the Qing court.