Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

Emperor’s treasured miniature up for auction at Bonhams

Among the highlights of Bonhams March 20 Chinese Painting & Calligraphy auction is an 18th century miniature painting, formerly in the collection of Hongli the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) (est. $10,000-15,000). Depicting a mountainous landscape, this charming ink on paper scroll by Zhang Ruocheng (1722-1770) boasts imperial seals, as well as a colophon written by the emperor. At just under two inches wide and slightly over six inches long, the minute size suggests the piece was created for placement in an imperial “treasure box,” a type of luxurious coffer favored by the Qianlong emperor, containing numerous small compartments for antiques, jades, porcelains and paintings that the imperial family could enjoy at leisure. This marvelous painting resides in its own delicate, fitted, silk-lined box made of zitan, a rare and valuable wood that was controlled by government restrictions during the Qing dynasty for exclusive use in court commissions.


“This imperially inscribed Zhang Ruocheng scroll is an exquisite highlight from the Bonhams Chinese Painting & Calligraphy auction. The sale encompasses a chronologically broad range of traditional Chinese painting, with fine works offered at all price points,” says Nicholas Rice, Bonhams Chinese Art Junior Specialist. “The March 20 auction is full of beautiful, quality pieces that are fresh to the market.”

Also in a classical vein, Bonhams will offer two large-scale, yet finely executed Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) academy paintings. The first, depicting a “knick knack peddler” (est. $40,000-60,000) belongs to a genre of paintings that originally emerged in the court of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), in which playful children are shown selecting toys and confections from the cart of a kindly merchant. The second painting, formerly in the collection of the Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai (reigned 1926-1945) and thereafter by descent through his family—also rendered in ink and colors on silk—shows a scholar instructing his students in a mountain pavilion in early spring (est. $50,000-70,000). A delightfully humorous composition, the students open a trunk of books and are surprised to see a small mouse escape and scurry across the floor.

“The March 20 sale is a dynamic assortment of both classical and contemporary traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy,” explains Bruce MacLaren, Bonhams Chinese Art Specialist. “With the works dating from the 14th century to the last decade of the 20th century, the pieces are a testament to the strength of the Chinese esthetic, and of Chinese artists to continually work with and evolve within the tradition.”

Among the 20th century Chinese masters represented in the sale, works by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Qi Baishi (1863-1957), Qi Gong (1912-2005) and Pu Ru (1866-1940) will interest collectors and connoisseurs who are seeking more modern expressions within the Chinese painting genre.

The Chinese Painting & Calligraphy sale will take place at Bonhams New York on March 20. The sale will preview at Bonhams from March 16 to March 19.

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