An 18th Century Chinese vase, left for decades in a shoebox in France, has sold for 16.2m euros (£14.2m). The vase formed part of a family inheritance and was recently discovered in an attic.
While Qianlong vases appear relatively regularly at auction, the combination of form and, particularly, decoration made this example especially rare – the only known example of its kind according to the auctioneers. The vase was in perfect condition.
The vase — which is decorated with idealised images of deer and cranes from the imperial summer hunting grounds at Mulan in northern China — was found by chance among dozens of other pieces in the attic of a house in France earlier this year.
The family — from near Paris — had acquired it at the end of the 19th century but it lay unloved in a shoe box in the attic for decades.
“We didn’t like the vase too much, and my grandparents didn’t like it either,” said the owner of the piece.
Sotheby’s Asian arts expert, Olivier Valmier, said 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 newspaper.
“When she put the box on my desk and we opened it, we were all stunned by the beauty of the piece.
“This is a major work of art,” Valmier continued. “It is as if we had just discovered a Caravaggio.”
Sotheby’s says the vase, known as the ‘Yangcai’ Famille-Rose, is of “exceptional rarity”.
Made for the Qianlong Emperor, who ruled China from 1736 to 1795, it depicts a “magnificent landscape” of deer, birds and pine trees in-between a colourful decorative border. Famille-Rose porcelains from this period were never made in large quantities and are mostly housed in museums around the world. The only other vase of this shape and style is now kept in Musée Guimet’s collection in Paris.
Sotheby’s has not disclosed the Asian buyer’s name or nationality.