The Wang Xing Lou Collection: 28 exquisite pieces from three generations of Qing
‘It takes a particular personality to assemble an extraordinary collection,’ says Chi Fan Tsang, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia Pacific — ‘a set of attributes that includes passion, vision, patience, perseverance, and also a degree of foresight.’
The Master of Wang Xing Lou has such a personality. Drawn to the antiques on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road as a teenager, he became a dealer in the 1980s following a stint in banking.
When he embarked on his own collection in the early 1990s, however, he took an unusual step, passing over the Song dynasty monochromes and early Ming dynasty blue-and-whites that dominated the Chinese market at the time.
Instead, says Tsang, who is also International Director of Christie’s Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department in Hong Kong, he focused on an area that seasoned collectors tended to regard as ‘too young’: the imperial ceramics produced during the so-called three generations of Qing, under the Emperors Kangxi (r. 1662-1722), Yongzheng (r. 1723-1735) and Qianlong (r. 1736-1795).
The Master of Wang Xing Lou wasn’t the first collector to show an interest in this area: he took his inspiration from an older generation of Hong Kong dealers such as Robert Chang, whose collection, exhibited at Christie’s London in June 1993, confirmed the younger collector on his path.
Influential friends such as James J. Lally, Julian Thompson and Richard Marchant also guided him in his quest for pieces of ‘exceptional quality and rarity’, says Tsang — ‘jewel-like wares with cobalt-blue and copper-red underglazes and colourful enamel over-glazes, as well as the subtlest of Qing monochromes’.
It was also an exciting time for Chinese ceramics. Following a series of exciting excavations — Ru wares at Song dynasty sites such as Qingliangsi in Henan Province; Ming-era ceramics from the imperial kiln sites at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi — international interest in these ancient artefects was growing.
By 2004, the Master of Wang Xing Lou's collection was of such high quality that it was exhibited as Imperial Perfection: The Palace Porcelain of Three Emperors at the Minneapolis Museum of Art, where it would remain on loan for the next two decades.
Of the pieces included in the exhibition, 28 are now offered in Celestial Brilliance: The Wang Xing Lou Collection of Imperial Qing Dynasty Porcelain, which takes place on 30 May 2022 at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
In choosing to collect early Qing-era ceramics, the Master of Wang Xing Lou wasn’t only drawn to their beauty, says Tsang. He was also fascinated by the techniques they embodied and the light they threw on Chinese history — ‘the way the Qing potters adopted influences from earlier traditions, and at the same time pioneered their own decorative styles’.
One clear highlight of the auction is a large Qianlong-era vase potted in the archaic Hu-vessel shape, and painted with a floral design in underglaze blue.
The early Qing period also saw a revival of Yuan and Ming styles, as shown in a finely potted Yongzheng double-gourd vase, painted in an underglaze-blue and copper-red technique with lotus scrolls, which was ‘inspired by prototypes from the early Yuan and early Ming periods’.
A magnificent, boldly decorated Qianlong fahua-style jar and cover, meanwhile, ‘pays homage to the colourful ceramics of the Ming tile-making industry in Shanxi Province’.
As an example of technical innovation in the early Qing era, Tsang singles out a Yongzheng falangcai wine cup that ‘exemplifies the overglaze enamel decoration pioneered by the Qing ateliers of the late Kangxi period and perfected under Yongzheng’.
Featuring a soufflé ruby red-ground of brilliant colour and exemplary control, it beautifully illustrates the skill of the Jingdezhen potters.
Enhancing the appeal of the vase yet further is a reference in a palace document which states that on the 16th day of 7th month of Yongzheng , 24 ‘first-rate red-ground falang wine cups’ were presented to the Emperor.
A separate record from the imperial archives mentions a massive famille rose vase on which panels of ‘flowers of the four seasons’ alternate with imperial poems.
According to Tsang, this may have been commissioned before 1752, when Qianlong tasked Tang Ying, the revered superintendent at the Jingdezhen kilns, to inscribe his own early poetic compositions onto large vases.
Like all the pieces offered in the sale, the vase is an exceptional example of its type. Taken together, concludes Tsang, they present a ‘kaleidoscopic view of imperial porcelain in 18th-century China’.