The Chinese art world has been heating up in the last few years. The expansion came to a head today with the auction of a porcelain cup setting the record for the most valuable piece of Chinese art to be sold at auction. The tiny cup sold for $36 million shortly after the jewelry record was set the night before with the sale of a beaded jadeite necklace. The piece is exceedingly rare and dates back to the 15th century Chenghua era.
A small treasure
The cup is only 8 cm in diameter, yet billionaire Chinese art collector Liu Yiqian was willing to part with 281 million Hong Kong dollars to own it. It depicts a rooster, a hen and chicks, which is thought to represent the emperor, his wife and the people. As it dates back to the Ming Dynasty, part of the cup's value comes from its exquisite condition after all these years. Most likely used as a tiny wine cup, the piece is held in great esteem in the art world, where experts compare it to the famous Faberge eggs of Imperial Russia. The Chenghua emperor, who ruled China from 1465 to 1487, had only 19 of the cups made – of which 15 are now housed in museums. The winning bidder, Yiqian, has indicated that the cup will eventually go on display in the Long Museum, which he founded in Shanghai.
The Chinese art market is currently on fire. Contemporary painter Zhang Xiaogang saw his own work sell at auction for 92 million Hong Kong dollars. These high prices are fed by the wealth that has been accumulating in China and other Eastern countries over the last decade. Some experts feared that a recent slowdown in Chinese economic activity would trigger a diminished interest in art purchases. However, it seems the Chinese are still as interested as ever in collecting items from their country's cultural patrimony, both ancient and modern.
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