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Chinese bowl bought for $35 at a yard sale sold for over $700,000

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNNJacqui Palumbo, CNN

An exceptionally rare 15th-century Chinese antique that ended in a garden sale has sold for $ 721,800 at auction by Sotheby’s, surpassing its estimated maximum selling price of half a million dollars.

Bought for just $ 35 near New Haven, Connecticut, last year, the small blue and white floral bowl is now worth nearly 29,000 times that price. It features motifs of lotus flowers, peony, chrysanthemum and pomegranate, and was originally commissioned by the Chinese imperial court during the Ming dynasty.

Although Sotheby’s did not reveal the identity of the seller, the head of its Chinese art department, Angela McAteer, revealed in a pre-sale phone interview that the man who found the bowl at the garden sale “did not he was haggling over $ 35. ”

Rare blue and white bowl from the Ming Dynasty of China to be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York.

Rare blue and white bowl from the Ming Dynasty of China to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Shortly after the purchase, he sent photographs of the bowl to auction specialists, who identified it as an item of historical importance. “Instinctively we had a very, very good feeling about it,” McAteer said.

After a more detailed inspection, it was found that the artifact, known as the “lotus bowl”, due to its resemblance to a lotus bud, came from the court of Emperor Yongle, who ruled from 1403 to 1424, a period noted for its distinctive and celebrated porcelain techniques.

“(The bowl had an) incredibly smooth porcelain body” and a “really unctuous silky enamel,” said McAteer, who noted that “it never reproduced in future reigns or dynasties.” In addition to its vibrant cobalt blue coloration, he added, “it had all the distinctive features one would expect from these great commissions of the Yongle period.”

A “mystery”

During his reign, Emperor Yongle transformed the porcelain vessel, making large orders for his court and exercising greater control over the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, China’s largest porcelain-making city.

“Emperor Yongle really promoted the artistic importance of porcelain,” McAteer said. “He elevated it from being a utilitarian bowl, for example, to a true work of art.”

Under the Yongle Emporer, porcelain manufacturing proliferated with distinctive techniques perfected during his reign.

Under the Yongle Emporer, porcelain manufacturing proliferated with distinctive techniques perfected during his reign. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

With a diameter of just over six inches, the small but detailed bowl would probably have had artistic and practical value for the yard. McAteer said, however, that very little is known about its provenance or how it came to sale in the yard. “It’s a frustrating mystery,” he said, adding that there is “little documentation” of the period.

According to Sotheby’s, only six other similar bowls are known to have survived, with others housed by institutions such as the National Palace Museum in Taipei, as well as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

McAteer offered his advice to other porcelain bargain hunters: “Look for balance and balance in design … and evaluate the quality and manpower that has been there.”

The find was auctioned as part of “Asia Week”, a series of Sotheby’s sales that include artifacts, antiques and contemporary art from across the region.

After the sale, McAteer said in a press release: “Today’s result for this exceptionally rare floral bowl, dating from the 15th century, represents the incredible stories of discovery that we will dream of once in a lifetime and that we dream of. as specialists in Chinese art field … it is a reminder that beautiful works of art remain hidden from view waiting to be found. “

This article was updated to reflect the number of similar bowls found in museums around the world.

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