Art world awaits European trove of Chinese ceramics

Thu Mar 3, 2011 7:16am EST
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - For over 50 years, one of the last great European collections of Chinese imperial ceramics has lain cloistered with an intensely private family in Switzerland, closed to the eyes of all but a handful of insiders.

Known largely from catalogues by noted sinologist Regina Krahl, the pieces in the Meiyintang collection, carefully acquired over half a century by Swiss pharmaceutical tycoons, the Zuellig brothers, are considered one of the best and last intact major private Western collections of Chinese ceramics.

In April, a small consignment of 80 lots from the Meiyintang (Hall Among the Rose Beds) wares will be put on the auction block for the first time by Sotheby's in what market experts say could be a landmark sale fetching over HK$1 billion ($128 million).

"I don't think we've had a collection of imperial porcelain as important as this one in the last 30 years," Nicolas Chow, deputy Chairman of Sotheby's Asia and the global head of Chinese ceramics, told Reuters in his Hong Kong office.

With the high-end Chinese ceramics art market now on fire given a steadily diminishing supply of great pieces, smashing record after record and even riding the financial crisis relatively unscathed, very strong demand is expected.

"It's the last grand European collection of porcelain to come on the market. After this collection with its particular scope and taste ... there is nothing left of this caliber," said Chow, running his fingers over a Meiyintang centerpiece: a pear-shaped, eight-inch tall Qing vase from the Qianlong reign (1736-95) with a brilliantly painted golden pheasant that could fetch $23 million in the April 7 sale.

Among the other Meiyintang pieces being offered is a rare palace bowl from the Chenghua Ming period (1465-1487), unblemished, with a blue and white pattern of fruiting melons and vines that could fetch up to HK$120 million ($15.4 million).

"With Chenghua, the pleasure is as much sensual as it is visual," said Chow of the bowl's glaze, which was silkily smooth to the touch, its luster undiminished after five centuries.   Continued...

<p>Sotheby's Asia Deputy Chairman Nicolas Chow poses with a "Blue and White Palace Bowl with Melons" at a preview by auction house Sotheby's in Hong Kong in this February 25, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files</p>