Emperor's Catalogue Returning to China

12th November 2019

Ten pages that form part of a lost 18th century catalogue belonging to a Chinese emperor have sold at auction for £225,000.

A private Chinese collector fought off strong competition from other bidders in the room and on 12 telephone lines at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury, taking the pages well over their £30,000 starting price.  

The loose leaf paintings come from the Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (The Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Present Dynasty), which was commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor in the 1750s for the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. They had been acquired in 1860 by Captain William Gordon Chalmers, who was serving in China, and they remained in his family until the 1950s when they were acquired by the father of the current owner.

“The original album had over 1,300 pages in it, but the whereabouts of most of it is unknown,” said Woolley and Wallis’s head of Chinese Paintings, Freya Yuan-Richards. “There are examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library and other museums; and it is likely that others exist in private collections, but they seldom come up for sale. I think this is why we have seen such a high price today – the paintings are incredibly rare and have such a wonderful provenance.”

One of China’s longest reigning emperors, Qianlong was fastidious over regulation and ceremony, and the album was produced to document the correct forms of dress, military code and ceremonial vessels for the myriad of state rituals that existed during his reign. Yuan-Richards explains, “The album shows the emperor’s meticulous eye for ritual and ceremony, with the calligraphy by each object explaining not only how the item was to be used, but also detailed instructions as to how it could be reproduced to the highest standard. This was a vital document for the Chinese court.”

The album pages were sold as part of the Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art sale on 12th November.


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