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Damaged Vase Still Makes a Mark

October 8, 2021

Chinese Imperial Falangcai vase with two european women and babyOne of the highlights of Asia Week in New York was a vase owned by Sarah Belk Gambrell, the heiress to the Belk department stores; she was 102 years old when she passed away in July of 2020. Gambrell created an extensive collection of porcelain; the sale of her collection far exceeded the auction room’s expectations.

The vase, known as a Falangcai vase, has a four-character mark in blue indicating that the Qianlong Emperor’s imperial workshop produced it. Falangcai, which translates to foreign colors, refers to porcelains painted in the imperial workshops, using enamels introduced from the West. Production of Falangcai ceramics began around 1696 and was made exclusively for the royal family; due to the high cost of production, the number of porcelain pieces produced was minimal. Among the small number of pieces still existing, most are now in the collections of museums worldwide; they are among the most highly sought-after works of the Qing dynasty.

The vase was just 4 7/8 inches in height and decorated with a scene of two European women with a child in a garden, which is highly unusual for Chinese porcelain but does illustrate the Emperor’s family’s infatuation with the West. Although the piece was damaged, the vase’s neck was completely missing, it still had a strong estimate of $100-300K. Bidding opened at just $50K and quickly shot way past the estimate; when bidding reached $90K, it made a giant leap to $1M and the hammer finally came down at $2M! ($2.45 M w/p).  The vase alone exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $1M for the entire sale!!