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The Qing dynasty period porcelain vase

A Chinese Porcelain Vase Found in a Shoebox is Sold for $19 Million at Sotheby’s Paris


It has been reported by the BBC that a Chinese porcelain vase that was discovered in a French attic has been sold for millions at an auction - over 16 million euro or 19 million dollars. The price that the vase fetched stunned everyone including the experts. The piece is so valuable because it is a unique example of a Chinese vase and has a connection to the Qing Dynasty. This vase is expected to deepen our understanding of Qing porcelain vases in the 18 th century and is likely to boost interest even further in Chinese art.

Qing Vases

The Qing Dynasty dominated China from the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century. They controlled a huge area of modern East Asia and were at one stage the most powerful and richest rulers on earth. The Qing period also saw a great flourishing of the arts and vases from the era, along with the Ming period, are highly prized. According to the Success Story website,  Qing vases have fetched massive prices at auction such as the Qianlong Vase, that was sold for $53 million dollars.

A Stunning Attic Find

The discovery of the vase is as remarkable as the beautiful object. The vessel was discovered in France, in the Greater Paris area. It was part of the inheritance of a family and was discovered in a cardboard shoebox in a dusty attic. The seller, a woman, was unsure about the vase but she believed it to be valuable. She took the vessel to Sotheby’s in Paris and brought it in the shoebox on the Metro and she placed it on the desk of an expert in Chinese art.

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor in Court Dress (Public Domain)

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor in Court Dress (Public Domain)

When the expert opened it, he was shocked and recognized it at once as a major discovery. The seller wanted to sell the piece and Sotheby’s placed a reserve on the vase of €500,000 to €700,000 ($590k – 825k). Before the auction, the vase attracted a great deal of attention from Asian buyers. However, Sotheby’s was amazed at the price paid for the Qing vase. The vessel was sold for more than 20 times its guide price and this was almost unprecedented. The vase was purchased by a mystery Asian buyer whose name and nationality has not been released by the auction house.

The vase was made for a Qing dynasty emperor. (Image: Sotheby’s)

The vase was made for a Qing dynasty emperor. (Image: Sotheby’s)

The Qing Dynasty Vase

The vase is 30cm (1 ft) high and it is a typical bulb-shaped vase of the period. However, it is made with the most exquisite porcelain and workmanship and was probably made in the Imperial porcelain works. The vase is exceptionally well-preserved, and it does not look over 250 years old. The vessel was painted in rich shades of blue, purple and yellow and there is gold embroidery around the neck of the vase. It depicts a woodland scene with beautifully painted and very realistic deer and other animals. According to the BBC, a Paris Sotheby’s expert declared that this vase ‘is the only known example in the world bearing such detail".

Even at the time, the vase was very valuable because of the quality of its workmanship. The quality of the vase is such that it is regarded as a major work of art on a par with great works by painters such as Caravaggio. The vessel was owned by the Qianlong Emperor who was Emperor from 1736 to 1795 and it bears his personal mark. It was probably part of this monarch’s personal collection. Vases from his reign are very much in demand because of their quality and artistry.

Another example of Qainlong porcelain is The Vase of a Hundred Deer at Royal Ontario Mueum. (CC0)

Another example of Qainlong porcelain is The Vase of a Hundred Deer at Royal Ontario Mueum. (CC0)

This is not the first time that a Qing vase that was found in an attic has been sold at an Auction House for fabulous sums of money. In 2010 in London a brother and sister discovered a vase in their family attic and they took it to Bainbridge’s Auction House. It was later sold for $69.5 million and according to the New York Times ‘it was the highest price ever paid at auction for a Chinese antiquity’, although as it transpired, the buyer was very slow to pay the price, and 3 years later the sale was negotiated at a reduced price.

The rediscovery of this masterpiece of Chinese antiquities resulted in a financial windfall for the seller. It has also meant that experts now have a better understanding of Qing vases and antiquities. Moreover, it seems likely that the find will encourage many more people to search their attics for lost masterpieces.

Top image: The Qing dynasty period porcelain vase Source: Sotheby’s

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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