Winning Bids: June 2014
$36.3 Million Meiyintang Chenghua "Chicken Cup"
Though the Meiyintang Chenghua “Chicken Cup” looks as modest as a grandmother’s teacup, the simple ceramic vessel—dating to the reign of Chinese emperor Chenghua from 1464 to 1487—carried enormous expectations leading into the Hong Kong Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale in early April. In 1999, the same cup broke a world record for a Chinese work of art, and it did not disappoint at the April event, selling for $36.3 million and setting a new world record. This particular specimen bears an underglaze blue reign mark on the bottom of its foot and is one of only four chicken cups in private collections and about a dozen in museums. The key to the importance of chicken cups as a whole, however, lies largely in the charm of their painted figures and the manner of their production. They are exceptional examples of the difficult 15th-century technique called doucai, in which the artists employed multiple firings and enamels to produce pieces with layered colors of cobalt blue, yellow, light and dark olive green, and different tones of iron red. Then, and now, they represent the epitome of Chinese porcelain, and it is believed that they were not only prized possessions of the emperors, but also part of their everyday lives. —A.M.
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