The sale record for Song Dynasty porcelain was smashed at Sotheby’s Hong Kong today when a 900-year-old brush washer from the Dynasty’s fabled Ru kilns sold for HK$208 million (US$26.7 million), more than trebling the previous record for Song ceramics of $8.641 million, set back in 2008. Ru ware is extremely rare, with only 79 examples known to exist today. The record-making dish is one of only seven Ru wares held in private hands and was consigned to Sotheby’s from a collector in Japan. Sotheby’s head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Nicolas Chow confessed before the sale to ARTINFO China that he did not anticipate he would ever handle such an important piece again in his career.
An intense battle was joined for ownership of the elegant flower-shaped celadon-glazed dish, with a total of eight bidders competing for the prize over a period of more than 15 minutes. It finally sold to an as-yet-unidentified bidder on the phone.
Ru wares were fired exclusively for the Emperor over a period of only about 20 years. When the Song court was forced to flee south in 1127 by the invading Jin Dynasty, the Ru kilns were lost. Within 100 years of that date Ru wares, already fabled for their quality, were almost impossible to find. Since their creation they have been considered to be amongst the finest ceramics ever made. The glaze, once described as “the color of the sky after rain," is the finest attribute of Ru ware.
When Sotheby’s toured the dish to mainland China last month as part of their pre-sale roadshow they were forced to remove it from public exhibition after it drew crowds so huge that there were fears for the piece’s safety.
Today’s sale gives Sotheby’s its second record for Chinese ceramics in less than a year. Last October the house claimed the record for Ming ceramics when a superb blue and white meiping from the Yongle Imperial Period (1402-1424) sold for HK$168.7 million ($21.6 million.)
The market for Chinese ceramics has been transformed by the entry of Chinese mainland collectors over the past decade. Prices have soared and the runaway prices have tempted many collectors to consign exceptional pieces.