Rare Chinese Vase, Forgotten For Decades In A Shoebox, Fetches $19 Million At Paris Auction

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An exceptionally ornate 18th-century Chinese vase, discovered inside a forgotten shoebox in a French attic, has just been bought for a whopping $19 million (approx. €16.2 million). The precious artifact, which was sold yesterday at an auction held in Sotheby’s Paris, fetched more than 30 times the original estimate of $588,573.5 (around €500,000).

According to experts, the porcelain vessel bearing exquisite depictions was made for Emperor Qianlong, the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper between circa 1736 AD and 1796 AD. Commenting on the development, Olivier Valmier, the Asian arts expert at the auction house, said –

This is a major work of art, it is as if we had just discovered a Caravaggio. This person (the seller) took the train, then the metro and walked on foot through the doors of Sotheby’s and into my office with the vase in a shoebox protected by na ewspaper. When she put the box on my desk and we opened it we were all stunned by the beauty of the piece.

As stated by Valmier, the seller came to own the artefact – along with other items of  Chinoiserie – as part of an inheritance. Although in perfect condition, the vessel was stashed away in the attic of a house near Paris, which the family had acquired towards the end of the 19th century. The rare and valuable Chinese vase was discovered only recently and brought to Sotheby’s in March of this year. The owner added –

We didn’t like the vase too much, and my grandparents didn’t like it either.


Measuring about 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) in length, the bulb-shaped vessel bears intricate depictions of deer, birds and other animals in the woods in colors of green, blue and purple. Together with misty mountains and beautifully-painted pine trees, the Chinese vase showcases what appears to be an idyllic landscape. It is also adorned with delicate gold embroidery around the neck and bears a six-character “reign mark” at the base. Referring to the owners of the piece, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman said –

They knew it had some value but nothing like that, nor that it was from the Qian dynasty.

The auction lasted some 20 minutes, with the highest bid coming from an anonymous Chinese collector. As per Valmier, the sale price of $19 million – which incidentally is the highest ever recorded by Sotheby’s Paris – included $2.35 million (€2 million) in auction costs and commissions.

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Coming to the vase’s staggering price, Valmier believes it could be because it “is the only known example in the world bearing such detail”. According to the Sotheby’s website, these vessels were made as part of special orders at the imperial workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. In fact, only one other vase of similar design seems to be recorded and is currently preserved in France, as well. The auction house further stated –

Porcelains with such elaborate and challenging designs are exceedingly rare on Qing imperial porcelain and did not form part of the imperial kilns’ regular production lines.

Interestingly, earlier in April, a rare Qing Dynasty bowl – crafted for Emperor Kangxi  – was sold for an incredible $30.4 million. Dating back to the early part of the 18th century, the item is among the rare porcelain artefacts from the Chinese Qing period that have garnered worldwide attention in recent times.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

Image Credits: Sotheby’s