A Chinese vase stored for decades in a shoebox has sold for the equivalent of $19 million in Paris. The vase, found in an attic, achieved a price more than 20 times its estimate. The result was a record for a single item sold by Sotheby's in France, and the most raised for any Chinese porcelain sold at public auction in France.
The 18th-century vase was the subject of a 20-minute battle between multiple bidders and achieved a formal price of 16.2 million euros including fees. This lost treasure of Imperial China has been forecast to fetch 500,000 to 700,000 euros at hammer prices.
The “Yangcai Crane-and-Deer Ruyi Yangcai” Famille-Rose porcelain vase has a six-character mark from the Qianlong Emperor, who ruled from 1736 to 1795.
Sotheby's Asian arts expert, Olivier Valmier, said the vase, in perfect condition, was enclosed in an old shoebox and protected by newspaper. The seller could see it was a 30-centimeter tall, bulb-shaped vase in shades of green, blue, yellow and purple. She casually brought it to Sotheby’s via train, Metro and on foot in March. Valmier said that he was “immediately struck” by its quality because it was obviously “produced by the finest craftsmen of the time.”
The vase was left to the grandparents of the seller by an uncle who died in 1947. The owner did not much like the vase, and neither did her grandparents, but she was curious about its value.
The Jingdezhen workshops made unique vases and others in pairs but never in large quantities. Even fewer survive, with examples in museums such as the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
The vase has a body of a rocky landscape with a waterfall and distant misty peaks, probably showing an Imperial park. It shows nine fallow deer — creatures synonymous with health, happiness and prosperity, and often shown as the mount of the gods of longevity. There are five cranes, signifying old age and wisdom, and frequently depicted carrying immortals. The panorama also features gnarled pine trees and lingzhi mushrooms, that said to grow on the islands where the gods dwelt.
The royal inventories mention pairs of vases with this design twice: one pair commissioned in 1765; the other as a birthday gift in 1769.
An ancestor of the selling family was buying Asian art at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris so the vase may have been purchased in France at about that time.
Sotheby’s said the buyer was Asian but it would not give a name or nationality. Its Spring “Arts d’Asie” sale included 20 phone lines with bidders from around the world.
Chinese vases have set records in Europe before. The most famous case came in 2010 when an 18thcentury vase, also found during a routine inheritance clear-out of a dusty attic in Pinner, West London, sold for $69 million, more than 40 times its estimate. That sale was at the provincial auction house Bainbridges, though reports said the buyer there initially delayed payment in a dispute over fees. That vase was later sold in a private treaty deal through Bonhams.
Founder Louise Blouin