‘Ordinary’ Chinese vase sells at auction for 8 million euros

The vase, which the auction house described as "ordinary", attracted frantic bidding from potential buyers who seemed to be convinced it was an overlooked "heavenly sphere".


Sotheby's Asia Deputy Chairman Nicolas Chow poses with a "Blue and White Palace Bowl with Melons" at a preview by auction house Sotheby's in Hong Kong in this February 25, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files

October 6, 2022

BEIJING – A vase expected to sell for 2,000 euros ($1,975) at an auction in France has surprised everyone by changing hands for almost 8 million euros.

The vase, which the Osenat auction house described as “ordinary” before the sale, attracted frantic bidding from potential buyers who seemed to be convinced it was an overlooked tianqiuping, or “heavenly sphere”, porcelain artifact made in China during the 18th century.

The Guardian newspaper said the auction house in Fontainebleau near Paris described being inundated with bids from around 30 Chinese buyers.

Le Parisien newspaper said the successful buyer was Chinese and submitted bids by telephone.

Auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat told The Guardian that the buyer was not the only one acting remotely.

“The seller lives far away and didn’t even see the vase,” he said, explaining that the woman who sold the item inherited it from her mother “who in turn inherited it from her mother who was a big Paris collector in the last century”.

Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE, said the vase was among a collection of furniture and various works of art that had been in the apartment of the seller’s late mother, in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, on the Brittany coast.

Osenat said the seller lives in a French overseas territory and arranged for the auctioneers to take the 54 centimeter vase from Brittany to the sale room ahead of Saturday’s auction.

The vase ended up selling for 7.7 million euros, which was almost 4,000 times its estimated value. With the auction house’s fees added, the seller will end up paying 9.12 million euros for the item.

The blue and white enameled vase decorated with dragons and clouds appeared to have been made in the 20th century, the auction house insisted, with its appraiser noting it would have been extremely rare if it had been made 200 years earlier.

The auction house described the item on its website as a “porcelain and polychrome enamel vase in the style of the blue-white with globular body and long cylindrical neck, decorated with nine fierce dragons and clouds”.

But would-be buyers clearly thought the item had been wrongly identified and was far older than the auction house believed, with interest in it intense from the outset, Cedric Laborde, a director at Osenat auction house, said.

“From the moment the catalogue was published we saw there was enormous interest with more and more Chinese people coming to see the vase,” he told The Guardian. “Our expert still thinks it’s not old.”

The sale follows one earlier this year in which a vase bought in London in the 1980s for a few hundred pounds sold at auction for $1.5 million after being identified as having been made in China in the 18th century.

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