Chinese snuff bottle auction draws HK$25.3m final bid at Bonhams sale

Bonhams Hong Kong set a new outright World Record price for a Chinese snuff bottle today, 28 November 2011, at the auction of the celebrated Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV at the Island Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong.

The tiny, yet exquisite, 'famille-rose' enamelled glass 'European-subject' snuff bottle made in the Imperial Palace workshops in Beijing during the Emperor Qianlong period (1736-1795) measures only 8.07cm high.

It carried a pre-sale estimate of HK$4,900,000-9,000,000. International bidders in the packed auction room and on the telephone battled the bidding up to a final figure of HK$25.3 million (US$3,328,400; GBP2,108,333).

This was over five times its pre-sale estimate and set a new World Record price for any Chinese snuff bottle, beating Bonhams own record, established only eighteen months ago.

The previous World Record price for a Chinese snuff bottle was also achieved at Bonhams Hong Kong in May 2010 at HK$9,280,000.

This unique survivor of Imperial craftsmanship sold to an Asian collector who bid on the telephone.

This was the largest snuff bottle of all recorded Imperial Palace enamels on glass, and is set apart by the distinctly European, elaborate trompe l'oeil frames around all four panels.

famille-rose enamelled glass European-subject snuff bottle
The HK$25.3m 'famille-rose' enamelled glass 'European-subject' snuff bottle

The main panels depict elegant European ladies, while the subsidiary ones are of Chinese landscapes. This snuff bottle reflects considerable European characteristics; representative of the historical period it was made. 

The influence of the missionaries in the court arts of glassmaking and enamelling (particularly on metal and glass, which were arts introduced from the West) was significant during the first half of the eighteenth century. 

When this bottle was made, European and Chinese court artists worked side by side at the Imperial Palace workshops.

Following extraordinary results achieved at Bonhams Hong Kong in Parts I, II and III of the Bloch Collection, in which every single snuff bottle from the collection has so far been sold, with World Record prices broken in 11 different categories, Part IV of the collection featured a total of 170 lots with an overall pre-sale estimate of HK$21,000,000 - 38,000,000.

The total sold however was an astonishing outright record coming in at HK$59,637,000 (US$7,633,536; GBP4,969,750) almost triple the low estimate.

On leaving the rostrum, Bonhams Asia Chairman Colin Sheaf said: "It is a great privilege for Bonhams to have been entrusted with the sale of this magnificent collection, the finest of its kind in the world. In these uncertain times, the great masterpieces in the art market continue to exceed the most optimistic price expectations."

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