900-year-old dish set to smash US$36m auction world record for Chinese antiques at October sale in Hong Kong

Imperial brush washer just 13cm across, from 11th century Ru kiln of Northern Song dynasty in Henan, is expected to draw world’s top collectors of Chinese antiques when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 3:14pm

Dealers are expecting a small, 900-year-old ceramic dish to beat the HK$281 million (US$35.9 million) world record price paid for a piece of antique Chinese porcelain when it goes on sale in Hong Kong in October, even though a tightening of Chinese controls on moving capital overseas has affected auction proceeds recently.

Just 13cm in diameter, the celadon brush washer is valued by Sotheby’s at above HK$100 million but is expected to fetch a higher price because it is so rare.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the final price
Nicolas Chow

It is one of only 87 known surviving pieces from the imperial Ru kiln in Henan province, which produced elegant, monochrome pieces exclusively for the Northern Song court in the late 11th century and early 12th century. Only four known Ru wares currently remain in private hands.

“I think this can easily break the HK$281 million record set by the “chicken cup”, as it is in better shape than the Ru kiln dish that sold for HK$208 million in 2012,” said William Chak Kin-man, a Hong Kong antiques dealer who will probably join the bidding on October 3.

He was referring to a Ming dynasty cup featuring a rooster and a hen that Shanghai billionaire Liu Yiqian bought in 2014 – and then took sips out of in front of photographers.

‘Chicken cup’ sets HK$281m world record for Chinese porcelain at Hong Kong auction

“We already have interest from public museums as well as major collectors in Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and in the West. The sky is the limit when it comes to the final price,” said Nicolas Chow, chairman of the Chinese works of art department at Sotheby’s.

Demand for such a rare piece may not indicate a recovery in the overall market for Chinese art and antiques, however.

According to the recently published Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report, auction sales of Chinese art and antiques outside China fell 27 per cent year on year, to US$1.9 billion, in 2016, while sales within China grew after two years of decline. The report also pointed out that capital controls will continue to hurt sales overseas, including those in Hong Kong, in future.

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“This is just one of those pieces that do not appear on the market very often. So you will find collectors with serious money in their pockets all showing up for this,” said Chak.

The seller is Robert Tsao, the Taiwan-born founder and former chairman of United Microelectronics Corporation. He is also selling part of his Ming dynasty ceramics collection through rival auction house Christie’s in November, including a wucai fish jar and lid from the Jiajing period, valued at between HK$150 million to HK$200 million.