Inside the Archives: Prices for Qianlong Period Art

A Famille Rose Porcelain 'Landscape and Imperial Poem' Snuff Bottle, attributed to Tang Ying, seal mark and period of Qianlong. Sold for HKD6,280,000 ($801,000) via Sotheby's (November 2014).

Works of art from the Qianlong period are markedly diverse, immersed in traditional styles, and characterized by experimentation. Punctuated by recent headline-grabbing sales, interest in works of this era has grown in the last decade, and collectors have taken note. It is thanks to the eponymous emperor himself – who demonstrated a keen interest in arts and culture – that works of art produced during this period are as vibrant and sought-after as they are today.

Pair of Chinese cloisonne enamel vases, Qianlong mark, Qing dynasty. Sold for $19,200 via Freeman’s (September 2011).

The Rise of Emperor Qianlong

Revered today as one of China’s greatest rulers, Emperor Qianlong (Aixin-Jueluo Hongli) reigned from 1735-1796. Though his tenure as part of the longstanding Manchu-led Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was revolutionary for his preservation of peace and prosperity across the empire, he was also renowned for his dedication to art. This artistic passion made him a defining force in the realm of 19th-century Chinese art and design, and it is this legacy that is still sensed by collectors today whose clamor for Qianlong-era works has sent prices skyward.

When Hongli became emperor in 1735 following the sudden death of his father, Emperor Yongzheng, he adopted the name of “Qianlong,” which translates roughly to “Eminent Sovereign” or “Lasting Eminence.” This new title was perhaps auspicious, as it foreshadowed his long-standing influence. Once at the helm of the Qing Court, Emperor Qianlong soon revealed his prowess on the battlefield and his keen abilities as a negotiator and strategist. He also devoted substantial attention to the cultural aspects of his rule. Wanting to maintain the traditions of his predecessors and his culture, for example, he ordered the production of new compilations of significant Manchu writings as well as Buddhist texts. He also embraced the intellectual and artistic advances of the era, preserving Confucian ideals alongside a personal penchant for collecting art and poetry.

Detail of a Chinese Cloisonné enamel moon flask, bearing a four-character Qianlong mark. $10,000 – $15,000 via Doyle New York (March 2018).

Patron of the Arts

In addition to expanding upon the already rich Qing Dynasty collection of luxurious and revered objects, Emperor Qianlong commissioned new works, ranging from porcelain wares to calligraphy and painting. He also surpassed his Qing ancestors in his devotion to his collection. He was known to travel with his favorite landscape paintings, for instance, and even annotate them at times with snippets of poetry. He also worked to catalogue the vast dynasty collections to better study from them. This further spurred his passion for collecting and helped to situate his essential status as a promoter of the arts and a connoisseur of the most expert craftsmanship emerging from Chinese workshops.

The Market for Qianlong Wares

It was this knowledge that resulted in some of the most exceptional examples of 18th-century Chinese artistry. From delicate porcelain and jade wares to artfully-carved calligrapher’s brushpots, a wealth of items from Emperor Qianlong’s reign still dazzle collectors today. This fascination is in part due owed to collectors’ the increased collector’s interest in Asian art and antiques over the past decade, but it also speaks to the sheer quality of Qianlong-era production. Indeed, it was this powerful combination that resulted in a 2010 record-setting sale at Bainbridge’s auction house of a Qianlong vase for more than $85 million. Collectors interested in entering the this collecting market can take solace in lower average prices than this record sale, but as this article reflects, the price points for key collecting categories are on the rise. Read on to learn of these key collecting categories and why they continue to be so compelling to collectors.

Qianlong Famille Rose Pattern Pieces

The Famille Rose, or “Pink Family,” pattern originated during the final years of Emperor Yongzheng’s rule (around 1720) and took its name from the predominance of a shade of rose enamel that featured prominent in these early designs. The artisans of Emperor Qianlong’s era furthered the porcelain line by incorporating more varied motifs. They also experimented with more bold palettes, including the use of colored grounds for their painted porcelain, which added to the vibrancy and variety found in this style.

Image 1: A Famille Rose Porcelain Snuff Bottle Imperial, Jingdezhen Kilns, Qianlong
Christie’s, New York (13 September 2017)
Estimate: $15,000-$20,000
Realized Price: $38,750

Image 2: Four Famille Rose Tobacco Leaf Pattern Oval Dishes Qianlong
Bonhams, London, United Kingdom (4 November 2013)
Estimate: Unavailable
Realized Price: £17,500

Image 3: Chinese Porcelain ‘Master Returning Home’, Teapot, Qianlong
Marques dos Santos, Porto, Portugal (1 October 2016)
Estimate: €2,000-€2,500
Realized Price: €18,000

Image 4: A Rare Famille Rose Export ‘Skating Lesson’ Dish Qianlong
Bonhams, London, United Kingdom (4 November 2013)
Estimate: Unavailable
Realized Price: £13,750

Image 5: Chinese 18th/19th C. Famille Rose Bowl
Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, Massachusetts (21 September 2013)
Estimate: $2,000-$3,000
Realized Price: $10,000

Qianlong Ge Ware

While singular works dating to Emperor Qianlong’s rule can sell for six figures – take for example this elegant vase that sold in Sweden in 2016  – one of the more consistently popular styles beyond the Famille Rose pieces are those of the Ge ware variety. These pieces can be spotted by their unique forms, their soft celadon green glaze, and their richly crackled surfaces. The technique purportedly dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but Emperor Qianlong’s preference for the style encouraged a resurgence in the 18th century. Exceptional examples of Ge ware are considered museum quality – the British Museum, for instance, holds a marvelous later Qing Dynasty Ge-type jar – making the acquisition of one of these pieces all the more satisfying to the contemporary collector.

Image 6: A Ge-Type Glazed Vase, Fanghu
Christie’s Hong Kong, Hong Kong (30 May 2005)
Estimate: HKD150,000-HKD200,000
Realized Price: HKD360,000 

Image 7: A Large Ge-Type Vase, Hu
Christie’s New York, New York (21 September 2004)
Estimate: $40,000-$60,000
Realized Price: $35,850

Image 8: Qianlong Mark, A Ge Ware Type Vase
Baoyi US Auction, Inc., Flushing, New York (15 May 2016)
Estimate: $24,000-$36,000
Realized Price: $27,500

Image 9: A Fine Ge-Type Glazed Vase, Fanghu
Christie’s Hong Kong, Hong Kong (1 November 2004)
Estimate: HKD200,000-HKD300,000
Realized Price: HKD215,100

Image 10: A Ge-Type Petal-Molded Tripod Octagonal Bulb Bowl
Christie’s New York, New York (18 September 2003)
Estimate: $6,000-$8,000
Realized Price: $7,170

Qianlong Jade 

Emperor Qianlong had a particular penchant for jade and this affinity, combined with increased access to the jade-rich region of Khotan that had been captured by the Emperor near the midpoint of the century, meant that jade carving grew exponentially in popularity over the course of Qianlong’s reign. These carvings are typically rendered in the traditional creamy or light grey-green white jade and range from festive decorative vessels to more functional cups or handles. In sum, they reveal the immense talent of 18th-century jade carvers to conjure a remarkable array of motifs with such an exacting material.

Image 11: Qianlong Jade Carved Mughal Style Horse Handle
Antique Reader, Long Island City, New York (23 February 2014)
Estimate: $20,000-$30,000
Realized Price: $55,000

Image 12: A White Jade Cup China, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong
Cambi Casa d’Aste, Genoa, Italy (17 December 2013)
Estimate: €5,000-€7,000
Realized Price: €34,000

Image 13: A White Jade ‘Basketweave’ Snuff Bottle Qianlong/Daoguang
Bonhams, Admiralty, Hong Kong (4 June 2015)
Estimate: Unavailable
Realized Price: HKD137,500

Image 14: Chinese Imperial Qianlong Jade Dog Ornament
Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, Massachusetts (21 September 2013)
Estimate: $3,000-$5,000
Realized Price: $16,000

Image 15: A White Jade Carving of a qilin Qianlong
Bonhams, London, United Kingdom (14 May 2015)
Estimate: Unavailable
Realized Price: £13,750

Qianlong Period Calligraphy

In addition to his love for porcelain and painting, Emperor Qianlong was also a dedicated collector and student of calligraphy. Many of his original writings are treasured among Asian collections, such as Taiwan’s National Palace Museum, but rarely samples of his writings do appear on the market at very high prices. Rivaling these few remaining calligraphy samples in price, however, are the richly decorated bitong, or brushpots. These vessels would be an essential component within a Chinese scholar’s studio to hold calligraphy brushes and, when rendered in lavish materials and with rich decorations, become equally as striking as any Qianlong-era masterpiece.

Image 16: A Rare Large Well-Carved Pale Greenish-White Jade Brushpot, Bitong
Christie’s New York, New York (17 September 2008)
Estimate: $40,000-$60,000
Realized Price: $818,500

Image 17: A Very Rare Qianlong Imperial Calligraphic Scroll with Ten Poems Adopting the Rhyme of the Emperor
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong (25 April 2004)
Estimate: HKD600,000-HKD700,000
Realized Price: HKD444,467.531

Image 18: A Superb Bamboo ‘Dragon’ Brushpot, Bitong, Qianlong
Bonhams, Admiralty, Hong Kong (4 June 2015)
Estimate: Unavailable
Realized Price: HKD250,000

Image 19: Important Qianlong Zhu Gui Imperial Poetry Scroll
Waterford’s Art & Antiques Auctioneers, Berlin, New Jersey (15 December 2012)
Estimate: $15,000-$20,000
Realized Price: $100,000

Image 20:: $1 Chinese Brush Pot Qianlong Mark and Period
Marchant Auction and Estate Sales (31 August 2013)
Estimate: $8,000-$10,000
Realized Price: $20,000

Looking for more? Explore Chinese art and antiques available now on Invaluable.