Monday, April 2, 2012

A Chinese Ru Brush-washer at Sotheby’s

Check behind the sofa cushions for spare change, because you’ll need it all to raise your bid on one of the most remarkable ceramic objects ever to come up for sale. On April 4, 2012, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong  (sale HK0367) is offering a Ru-ware brush washer in its sale entitled Ru From a Japanese Collection.

Ru (also called Ju) is the zenith of Chinese ceramic art. Made in the Northern Song dynasty in the Twelfth century, very little Ru was made to begin with, and most of the surviving pieces (fewer then 100) are in museums. So this opportunity to obtain the brush washer is really a red-letter day. The piece is so important that the entire auction consists of just this single bowl.
I have been planning to write about Ru ware for a while, but I want to revisit the Palace Museum again first, which boasts the world’s finest collection of these pieces. What makes Ru so special? First is the remarkable potting of the shapes. In the present brush washer, notice the overall perfection of form, the thinness of the body, and the elegance with which the lobes or points are formed.
The main glory of Ru ware, however, is the magnificent glaze, normally a robin’s-egg blue, with a distinctive pattern of crazing. It is difficult to photograph the beauty of the glaze, because the way the light both penetrates and is reflected back is quite dynamic. The play of color and light needs to be witnessed in person.
Close-up of the glaze and craquelure pattern.

Because the ware was so fine, the potters needed a way of supporting it in the kiln which would not damage the glaze, so the pieces rested on small spurs which left characteristic “sesame seed” marks on the bottoms of the pieces.
The back of the bowl, showing the famous sesame-seed kiln marks.

The condition report acknowledges a small amount of rim damage, which is visible in the overhead shot. Sotheby’s estimate for this lot is sixty to eighty million Hong Kong dollars, roughly eight to ten million U.S. dollars. This is a true museum piece, and one of the few times a piece of this beauty, rarity and importance is offered for sale.
Update! The auction has ended, and this bowl including buyer's premium sold for HK$208 million, or US$27 million. I am sure that this will start droves of discussions on the state of the market, and where the money is coming from, etc., but the fact remains that pieces this rare and extraordinary will always command a lot of attention and create record-breaking prices.

All photos from