RELEASE: Christie's Announces the sale of 24 Works from the R.F.A. Riesco Collection of Important Chinese Ceramics - Hong Kong, November 2013

Hong Kong

Christie’s will offer a group of 24 works from The R.F.A. Riesco Collection of Important Chinese Ceramics in Hong Kong on 27 November 2013. These very fine works - which are predominantly Ming dynasty (1368–1644), as well as Qing dynasty (1644-1911) examples and monochromes from the Early period (11th - 13th century) - come fresh to the market with strong provenance. They were collected and personally catalogued over almost three decades by the businessman and passionate collector of Chinese ceramics Mr Raymond F.A. Riesco (1877-1964). The collection came into the ownership of the London Borough of Croydon when the council purchased Mr Riesco’s home, Heathfield House, and surrounding land in Addington, South London, in 1964. From the total 230 works in The Riesco Collection 24 pieces are now being offered for sale with proceeds to be invested in Croydon’s cultural infrastructure. These works will tour to New York, Hong Kong, London and Taipei ahead of the auction in Hong Kong, where they are expected to realise in excess of £9 million/ HK$113 million. The majority of the collection, comprising 206 other works spanning the Neolithic period to the 19th century, will remain in the Riesco Gallery in the Croydon Clocktower where they are already on free public view.

Jonathan Stone, Chairman and International Head, Asian Art, said: “Christie’s is honoured to have been instructed by the London Borough of Croydon to sell 24 pieces from the 230 works in The Riesco Collection of Chinese Ceramics, which the Council bought in 1964. We are pleased to have been selected to auction these ceramics following a competitive tender process resulting from the decision to sell part of the collection.” 

 Croydon Council’s cabinet member for children, families and learning, Councillor Tim Pollard, said: "This has been a difficult decision to make and one we have not taken lightly. The high insurance and security costs of maintaining this collection do not provide value for money to Croydon taxpayers. Instead the council intends to get the maximum financial return on the small portion of the collection being sold to invest in Croydon’s cultural infrastructure, and we believe Christie's offers the best opportunity to do this.”

Blue & White Porcelain – Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)

The Riesco Collection is particularly strong in fine blue and white porcelains of the 15th century, a period which many connoisseurs believe to be the highpoint in blue and white decoration in China. Exemplifying the quality and beauty of the 13 blue and white pieces being offered, the sale is led by a rare Xuande blue and white double-gourd moonflask, Ming Dynasty, Xuande mark and period (1426-1435), which Mr Riesco recorded in his personal catalogue as a ‘Pilgrims Bottle’, detail right (estimate: HK$22 million – 30 million/ £1.8 million – 2.5 million). This elegant and well potted flask was acquired at auction by Riesco in 1954.

A Xuande-marked flask of the same form with the same decoration and similar distinctive rectangular foot is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and two similar flasks from the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing have also been published. A flask identical to the Riesco vessel, including a Xuande mark, is in the collection of Sir Percival David, now on view in the British Museum.

The depiction of children in Chinese art has its roots in Buddhist beliefs, influenced by Daoism. By the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907) images of healthy young boys at play was no longer confined to religious art and were already a popular secular theme on Chinese decorative arts, being viewed as an auspicious symbol associated with the wish for sons and grandsons, and thus the continuation of the family line as well as the prosperity of the family. Offered from The Riesco Collection, a blue and white ‘boys’ bowl presents collectors with a rare Chenghua example of this popular motif (1465–1487) (estimate: HK$7 million – 10 million/£600,000–1,000,000). The deep and rounded form is skillfully painted in soft tones of underglaze cobalt blue with a continuous scene of boys playing in a balustraded garden beneath scrolling clouds. Blue and white Chenghua bowls with this decorative theme are in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Examples similar to the present lot are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and in the collection of Sir Percival David, now on view in the British Museum.

The Chenghua Emperor, who came to the throne at the age of eighteen, was very concerned about his lack of a male heir, particularly in the latter part of his reign. As a result, he favoured decoration that included auspicious messages regarding sons and grandsons. All of the symbolism on the present bowl refers to the birth of many sons and grandsons, who will have intelligence, integrity and a harmonious long life – precisely reflecting the wishes of the emperor during whose reign the bowl was made.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

The sale presents an extremely rare pair of Kangxi-marked polychrome enamelled ruby-backed cups, inscribed with Kangxi six-character underglaze blue marks within double circles and of the period (1662–1722) (estimate: HK$7 million –10 million/£600,000–800,000). This exquisite pair of cups is not only the product of exceptionally fine craftsmanship, they are also some of the earliest porcelains to benefit from a remarkable technological advance, achieved at the urging of the Kangxi emperor (AD 1662–1722). At the very end

of the Kangxi reign, about 1720, the imperial workshops making glass and enamels succeeded in creating an enamel that was to revolutionise the palette of colours used on fine Chinese porcelains, and was to give its European name for that palette. The colour was rose pink, and in their 1862 publication Histoire artistique, industrielle et commercielle de la porcelain, A. Jacquemart and E. Le Blant coined the phrase famille rose to describe the porcelain palette in which this rose pink was used. The beauty of the Chinese rose pink and the effectiveness of its even application can be seen very clearly on the present pair of cups, on which the pink has not only been used in the depiction of fruit on the interior, but also to create the so-called ‘ruby-back’ on the exterior. Only a very small number of porcelain cups or dishes from the Kangxi reign with rose enamel on the exterior are known to exist; they include examples in the collection of the British Museum, the Percival David Collection and the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Depicting white melon and lotus seeds, green beans, jujubes, lychees, and bayberries, the carefully selected auspicious seeds and fruit that decorate the interior of these cups - with their emphasis on the birth of sons and grandsons, their successful careers, wealth, and good fortune - suggest that they may have been intended for a wedding celebration. This is also suggested by their deep pink exterior colour that could be described in Chinese as hong, which is the colour of celebration and is particularly associated with weddings. The bride and groom for whose wedding these cups were produced would have been very privileged as the newly created rose pink enamel, derived from colloidal gold, together with the delicacy and skilled craftsmanship employed would have meant that they were rare and very expensive items even in the early 1720s. Riesco bought the current cups from S. L. Moss in 1937, recording in his handwritten catalogue that he paid £13.10. It is possible that the current cups are the pair from the Ton Ying Company which was sold at the American Art Association, Anderson Galleries Inc. in New York on 24 January 1930.

The other Qing example to be offered from The Riesco Collection is a very rare copper-red decorated mallet vase, Kangxi mark and period (1622-1722) (estimate: HK$4 million – 6 million/£320,000-550,000).

Monochromes - Early Period (11th- 13th century)

In addition to Ming and Qing pieces with painted decoration, the works being offered from this collection include three very fine monochromes from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. A foliate-form Guan ware glazed bowl from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) comes with the impeccable provenance of having once been in the renowned Chester Beatty Collection (estimate: HK$9 million – 12 million/ £700,000-900,000). Exemplary provenance is also  found in a superb example of a large Jun-ware purple splashed bowl, Jin-Yuan Dynasty,  which was formerly in the Alexander Collection (estimate: HK$1.2 million – 2 million/£100,000-150,000, illustrated right). The third lot is an elegantly carved Ding ‘lotus’ dish, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) (estimate: HK$1 million – 2 million/ £90,000-150,000).


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