Ming dynasty ‘chicken cup’ smashes record in sale

April 09, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
Nicolas Chow, Asia Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, poses with the cup in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG: A rare wine cup fired in the imperial kilns of China’s Ming dynasty more than 500 years ago sold yesterday for HK$281.2m at a Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong, making it one of the most expensive Chinese cultural relics ever auctioned.

The tiny porcelain cup from the Chenghua period, dating from 1465 to 1487, is painted with cocks, hens and chicks, and known simply as a ‘chicken cup’.

It is considered one of the most sought-after items in Chinese art, viewed with a reverence perhaps equivalent to that for the jewelled Faberge eggs of Tsarist Russia.

“Every time a chicken cup comes up on the market, it totally redefines prices in the field of Chinese art,” said Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, after the sale.

The last time a similar chicken cup was auctioned, in 1999, it fetched HK$29m, around a tenth of yesterday’s price. With just 16 known Chenghua chicken cups surviving to the present day, most in public museums, only a handful have ever come to auction. Only four of these remain in private hands.

Prized by Chinese emperors and afficionados through the centuries for their quality, rarity and legendary silky texture, Chenghua chicken cups fired in the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen  are among the most prized, and forged, objects in Chinese art. 

In a packed auction hall, bidding for the delicate, palm-sized cup began at HK$160m and drew steady bids from three parties, before being eventually sold to major Chinese collector Liu Yiqian for a bid of HK$250m.

The final price of HK$281.2m, including fees, was a new world auction record for any Chinese porcelain, exceeding the $32.4m paid for a Qing double-gourd vase in 2010.

The cup had come from the celebrated Western collection of Chinese ceramics, the ‘Meiyintang’, accumulated over half a century by Swiss pharmaceutical tycoons the Zuellig brothers.

With the purchase by Liu, a Shanghai-based billionaire with his own private ‘Long Museum’, the Meiyintang centrepiece is expected to become the only known genuine chicken cup in China.Reuters

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