Small Yongzheng “Swallows” Bowl Sells At $25 Million

During a week of impressive sales of Chinese art in Hong Kong, a delicate porcelain bowl sold for over $25 million at Sotheby’s auction house. The antique is described as “highly important” and comes from a rare group of ceramics created at Beijing’s imperial workshops in the 18th century. The bowl was produced during the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign, who ruled China from 1722 to 1735, and is part of the “falangcai” tradition. This name is given to porcelain originating from the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen but enameled by artisans in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

The auction catalog states that the bowl’s motifs feature birds and flowers, which were popular in the Yongzheng period. According to ceramics expert Regina Krahl, the bowl is among a small group of items that represent “the peak of painting on porcelain, an artistry that was never surpassed.” Most of the remaining examples of such ceramics are now held in the Palace Museum in Taiwan.

Once part of a pair, the bowl was first recorded in the late 19th century as part of a collection assembled by Shanghai-based shipping merchant Captain Charles Oswald Liddell. The two bowls were separated in 1929, with each being sold for £150. The bowl’s “twin” is now held at the British Museum in London, while the one sold at the recent auction passed hands several times over the decades. Its previous owners include the American socialite Barbara Hutton, and it was most recently acquired by businesswoman and collector Alice Cheng for a then-record 151.32 million Hong Kong dollars in 2006.