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Published: 10 February 2016

On the Block and On View: Rare Chinese Porcelains From Two Museum Donors

Freeman’s March 12 Asian Arts auction will offer two remarkable porcelain vases once belonging to Heber R. Bishop, best-known for bequeathing his monumental jade collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1902. In addition, Freeman’s, in partnership with Lyon & Turnbull, is pleased announce its premiere auction in Hong Kong on May 31. The centerpiece of this specially curated auction is a rare Ming stem cup valued at $3-6 million. Before heading to auction during Asia Week Hong Kong in May 2016, it will be on view at Freeman’s March 10-11 and at Carlton Hobbs in New York March 14-16.

Porcelain from America’s Most Renown Collection
Freeman’s is pleased to offer two remarkable pieces of porcelain from the esteemed collection of the Heber R. Bishop. Discerning collectors will have the rare opportunity to acquire property which was part of one of the most renowned American collections of Asian art from the Gilded Age. Hand-illustrations of both vases were prominently featured in the original 1906 “de luxe” American Art Association of New York auction catalogue, which will be on display alongside the vases.

The first is an exceptional blue-and-white bottle vase dating to the Qianlong period estimated at $80,000-120,000. Reminiscent of a Chinese domed treasure box, the graceful rounded body displays a subtly molded central band emphasized by lines of crisp incised blue which seem to invite a closer look. The belly of the vase is elaborately decorated with hand-rendered dragons and floral scrollwork with simulated heap-and-pile effect, imitating earlier Ming ware. The striking cobalt is a pronounced contrast against the smooth composition of fine white porcelain. The rising three-ring neck, decorated with bands of hanging chimes, is slightly everted and comes to a shallow cupped rim which rests above a traditional lappet design. Truly a piece of exceptional artistry and craftsmanship, this blue-and-white vase has large crossover appeal and would be a standout acquisition for any collector.

The second object from the collection is an unusual but delightfully whimsical eighteenth century pink-ground vase with cup-form mouth estimated at $30,000-50,000. Perhaps experimental in its technique, the piece demonstrates several distinct pottery as well as decorative techniques. There are underglaze decorations of varying tones including celadon, cobalt blue, copper and iron, as well as distinctive overglaze methods and gilding. Most notably of interest is the proliferation of auspicious and emblematic symbols adorning the entire body of the vase, which incorporates Chinese Daoist, Buddhist and secular scholarly traditions. A true conversation piece, this particular vase is sure to speak to the scholar within us, or at least offer a glimpse into the life of a scholar from times past.

Born in 1840 in New England, Heber Reginald Bishop began his economic endeavors in the sugar refinery business before turning his attention to the railway, gas and mining industries in New York where he made his fortune. Aside from financial undertakings, Bishop was a prominent philanthropist and one of the most eminent American patrons of the arts and sciences during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. On his extensive travels through Europe he gained a thorough understanding of the production of high art forms, but soon focused his passion on jades. With his purchase of the “Hurd vase” from Tiffany & Company in 1878—an item which was said at the time to be one of the finest examples of jade craftsmanship to ever leave China—Bishop’s passion for Asian art was ignited. He spent the remainder of his collecting career obtaining choice examples that would demonstrate his vast knowledge and admiration of these art forms.

A Rare Ming Cup Sparks a Joint Venture East

Freeman’s is pleased to announce their premiere auction in Hong Kong on May 31 in partnership with auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull. Chinese Works of Art will be held at the Liang Yi Museum during the prestigious Asia Week Hong Kong 2016, this specially curated auction features a 600-year-old Chinese Ming cup valued at $3-6 million.

“The burgeoning art market in Hong Kong, combined with both companies’ success with attracting and selling to new clients in Asia, made a joint auction venture in Hong Kong the next logical step to better serve these collectors,” said Paul Roberts, president of Freeman’s and vice chairman of Lyon & Turnbull.

Known as the Thornhill Stem Cup, the Ming Xuande (1426-35) mark and period blue and white cup is a rare masterpiece, virtually unseen outside museum collections. The motif of flying dragons was popular in the Yuan dynasty but was revived in the Xuande dynasty as can be seen in this case. The five-clawed dragon flies amongst flames, chasing the eternally flaming pearl, above a sea with crashing waves tipped in white and rocks seen around the base. The stem cup was displayed for the first time in more than 20 years at Asian Art London in November 2015 and is now making its way to the US before the Hong Kong sale.

Interested collectors may view the stem cup prior to the auction in these cities:

March 10-11       Philadelphia | Freeman’s
March 14-16       New York City | Asia Week | Carlton Hobbs Gallery
May 28-30           Hong Kong | Asia Week | Liang Yi Museum 

The stem cup was the most valuable of 270 items bequeathed to the Staffordshire University by Mr. Ernest Thornhill in 1944, having originally been sent there during wartime to safeguard the collection. Upon rediscovering the collection, which had been hidden away in storage for a significant number of years, the University appointed Lyon & Turnbull to sell the stem cup so that it can raise funds to build a permanent new home for the remainder of the collection at its Stoke-on-Trent campus. This resource center will enable student access to the collection for their study, complying with the original bequest and wishes of Mr. Thornhill.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University, Rosy Crehan said, "Whilst to some it may seem unfortunate to have to sell one item from a collection, this is simply being done for the greater benefit of University students, and the wider public. The funds raised will finally allow the remaining 269 pieces to be curated, conserved, and enjoyed in a facility that will attract a broader audience to Staffordshire, complementing what is the heart of the British ceramics industry. An appropriate tribute to the stem cup will feature in this display. ” 

Ernest Thornhill was a pharmacist from London who collected Oriental ceramics. He donated several pieces to the British Museum as well as the then North Staffordshire Technical College, which later became Staffordshire University in 1992.

*****

Freeman’s Asian Arts auction preview will take place at 1808 Chestnut Street with viewing times as follows:
March 8-11, 2016: 10am-5pm**
March 12, 2015: Limited viewing prior to the auction
**The Thornhill Stem Cup will be on view at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on March 10-11 and at Carlton Hobbs Gallery in New York City on March 14-16.

For images or media inquiries:
Melissa Geller, Marketing & Communications Director
267.414.1228 | mgeller@freemansauction.com

For information about buying in the March 12 Asian Arts auction or to consign to the May 31 Chinese Works of Art auction in Hong Kong:
Richard Cervantes, Asian Arts Department Head
267.414.1219 | rcervantes@freemansauction.com

Yue Xu, Department Administrator
267.414.1218 | yxu@freemansauction.com

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