Asia Week: A Magnificent Chinese Imperial Dragon Vase at Freemans

Apr 03,2021 | 09:00 EDT By Anthony Wu, Asian Specialist

With the Asia Week events just wrapping up in the USA, there are still a few more important Asian Art themed auctions coming up on the block. Freeman’s in Philadelphia will be offering their important Asian Arts sale on April 8th.

Historically, the Freeman’s Asian art auctions features hundreds of lots of artwork from China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayan region and India. This time, they chose to have a much smaller sale consisting of only 138 lots, thus emphasizing quality over quantity. Their focus is specifically in the categories of Chinese porcelain and ceramics, furniture, paintings and textiles.

Lot 12, A Chinese carved and underglaze red "Dragons and Waves" vase, Meiping Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period. Estimate $150,000-$250,000

The star of the auction is lot 12, a Chinese carved and underglaze red “Dragons and Waves” Vase. Elegantly proportioned in the meiping (plum) form, this vase depicts two large and ferocious imperial five-clawed dragons, carved from raised white slip, soaring on a ground of waves enameled in copper red. Below, these two powerful beasts are smaller dragons similarly depicted.

Lot 12, A Chinese carved and underglaze red "Dragons and Waves" vase, Meiping Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period. Estimate $150,000-$250,000

This type of vase is exceptionally rare and is an homage to examples from the Yuan to early Ming Dynasties (late 14th to early 15th Century). The base bears a six-character Yongzheng mark which corresponds to 1723-1735 of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Of the handful of comparable vases, one is in the Beijing Palace Museum and another is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This meiping vase is estimated at a conservative $150,000-$250,000 and comes from the heirs of Sheelah M. Langan. She served in the United States Foreign Service and retired in 1970. Her work posted her to various cities like Rome, Bangkok, Tripoli, Rabat, Athens, London, Bogota and Mexico City.

Lot 52, A Chinese Huanghuali and hardwood display cabinet, Lianggegui 19th/20th Century with later alterations. Estimate $20,000-$30,000

Another highlight of the Asian art sale at Freeman’s is lot 52, a Chinese huanghuali cabinet dated to the 19th/20th Century. In addition to being highly attractive and functional, with graceful proportions throughout the design, the emphasis is really on the use of huanghuali wood in its construction.

Huanghuali, which literally translates to yellow pear wood, is an extremely rare and expensive rosewood that is known for its honey brown tone and immaculate graining. Traditional Chinese huanghuali specimens were only found in the tropical rainforests of Hainan island, and have been extinct for approximately 100 years. The two front door panels contain large pieces of huanghuali wood which really stresses this furniture’s significance. This cabinet is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.

Lot 84, Attributed to the Empress Dowager of China, Cixi (1835-1908). Estimate $15,000-$25,000

In the Chinese painting category of the Freeman’s auction is lot 84, a depiction of auspicious grapes attributed to the Empress Dowager Cixi (1839-1908). Her story can fill numerous history books and has spawned dozens of television dramas. The Empress Dowager’s character can be both notorious and sympathetic.

This painting is dated to 1901 of the Guangxu Period. The Guangxu Emperor was the Empress Dowager’s nephew, and they died one day apart in 1908 under very murky circumstances. The painting was a gift from the Empress Dowager to Mr. and Mrs. Edwin. H. Conger, and subsequently passed down through the family.

Edwin Conger was an American congressman appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Imperial Court of China from 1898-1905. The couple’s experience in China was published in "Letters from China" (Chicago 1909). This painting attributed to the Empress Dowager Cixi carries an estimate of $15,000-$25,000.

Lot 123, A fine Japanese cloisonné cabinet vase on wood stand, Namikawa Yasuyuki Meiji period. Estimate $10,000-$15,000

Finally, at Freeman’s is an extraordinary Japanese cloisonné enamel vase from the studio of Namikawa Yasuyuki estimated at $10,000-$15,000. Namikawa was by far the most important cloisonné enamel craftsman of the Meiji Period. His works were extremely popular because of their fine and graceful details, and they became popularized not just in Japan, but to an international audience after being presented in various World’s Fairs of the late 19th Century.

View the full catalog of Freeman’s sale of Asian Art on April 8th.

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Anthony Wu is an Asian Art consultant, researcher, writer based in Toronto, Canada. After working eleven years as the Asian Art specialist at two of Canada’s largest regional auctions, he started his own art advising firm where he consults for various auction houses, museums, and private clients in Canada and the USA. He is a certified Chinese Fine Art appraiser with the Appraisers Association of America.