Imperial Chinese Decorative Art, Jade, and Rarities at Akiba Antiques

Liz Catalano
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The Imperial Fortune sale, offered by Akiba Antiques, will present 720 lots of fine art, jewelry, sculpture, and collectibles. Imperial Chinese decorative art, jade items, porcelain, and other pieces particularly stand out in the auction catalog. Many of the top lots date back to the Qing dynasty or earlier. 

Check out the key Imperial Chinese decorative art items in this sale before the bidding begins.

Large Chinese jade peach-shaped brush washer, c. 18th - 19th century. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Large Chinese jade peach-shaped brush washer, c. 18th – 19th century. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Jade Brush Washer

Leading the Imperial Chinese decorative art items in this auction is a celadon jade brush washer (lot #0148; estimate: USD 5,000 – $15,000). This large peach-shaped vessel features branch, leaf, and fruit details. Since the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (c. 386 – 581 CE), Chinese calligraphy has depended on the Four Treasures of the Study. These essential tools include a brush made of hair, a soot ink stick, soft paper, and an inkstone. While each Treasure was inherently functional, craftspeople also transformed them into works of art. Natural motifs often appeared on items like these to directly inspire the work of Chinese calligraphers and brush painters.

Various cleaning tools accompanied the Four Treasures. Brush washers allowed scholars to remove ink from their brushes during or after painting. Jade and porcelain were the most common materials used for brush washers. These large pieces often looked heavy due to their material and size. As a result, scholars occasionally placed their brush washers on elevated wooden stands to lighten the aesthetic of their workspace.

Pair of 18th-century doucai porcelain jars with wood covers. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Pair of 18th-century doucai porcelain jars with wood covers. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Doucai Porcelain Jars

Akiba Antiques’ Imperial Fortune auction will present a pair of doucai porcelain jars from the 18th century or earlier (lot #0056; estimate: $5,000 – $15,000). The doucai technique emerged during the Ming dynasty for practical reasons. Chinese ceramicists already knew how to combine two glaze colors to create classic blue and white combinations. However, other colors burned and discolored at high firing temperatures. To solve this problem, artisans added a blue underglaze to their wares, fired them, and then added colorful overglaze enamels later. They refired the pieces at lower temperatures to preserve the colors.

Doucai porcelain reached its zenith under the Chenghua Emperor in the mid to late 1400s. The emperor took a personal interest in the style and commissioned many small pieces for the palace. These works, highly valued at the time, fell out of favor for several centuries before seeing a revival under the Qing dynasty. Doucai porcelain continues to fetch strong auction prices today. The available jars bear Chenghua reign marks on their bases but belong to the Qing period. The Qing ceramicist likely copied the mark out of respect for Chenghua porcelain’s high quality.

18th-century Imperial Chinese enamel hand mirror. Image from Akiba Antiques.
18th-century Imperial Chinese enamel hand mirror. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Enamel Hand Mirror

Another notable lot from the 18th century is a Chinese hand mirror with enamel details (lot #0021; estimate: $3,000 – $8,000). Personal mirrors existed in Chinese culture for millennia, appearing as early as the late Shang dynasty (c. 1200 BCE). These mirrors used polished bronze to reflect the owner’s appearance with spiritual patterns on the back. Mirrors provided a convenient canvas to depict immortals, auspicious animals, Daoist themes, and other decorations. 

Many scholars believe that the craftsmanship of Chinese mirror decorations peaked during the Han and Tang periods. The Qianlong Emperor agreed. He collected antique mirrors and commissioned new ones that imitated the ancient styles. At the same time, traditional polished bronze mirrors gave way to mercury-covered glass versions as the Qing dynasty felt the influence of the West. Chinese mirrors produced during the 18th century reflect this meeting of cultures. The available hand mirror features colorful enamel details and a miniature scholar painting on the back.

Antique Chinese bronze guardian lions on stands. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Antique Chinese bronze guardian lions on stands. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Antique Bronze Guardian Lions

A pair of bronze guardian lions is also notable among the Imperial Chinese decorative art items in this auction (lot #0021; estimate: $3,000 – $8,000). These traditional figures have an extensive history in China and other Asian countries. In the past, intricately carved lions stood guard outside of wealthy homes to protect against harmful influences and people. Today, they also protect temples and sacred sites. The lions always appear in a male-female pair. The male lion rests his paw on a ball while the female lion protects a cub. The available statues include detailed carved and raised motifs.

The Imperial Fortune auction at Akiba Antiques will begin at 12:00 PM EDT on October 28th, 2021. Check out Auction Daily’s preview of the event for more information. To find the full catalog and place a bid, visit LiveAuctioneers.

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Liz Catalano
Liz Catalano
Senior Writer and Editor

Liz Catalano is a writer and editor for Auction Daily. She covers fine art sales, market analysis, and social issues within the auction industry. She regularly collaborates with auction houses and other clients. A Chicago native, she holds a BSW degree and is based in Pennsylvania.

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