An Imperial portrait of Consort Chunhui smashed all expectations by selling for HK$39,860,000 at Bonhams
Hong Kong 2012 Spring Auctions today, 27 May at the Island Ballroom of the Island Shangri-La Hotel.
Intense bidding both on the floor and on the telephone culminated in a Chinese bidder in the room taking home the prized portrait. Attributed to the Italian missionary-artist Giuseppe Castiglione, who served at the Qing Court under the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors, the half-length portrait of Consort Chunhui in court dress is executed in oil on gaoli paper and measures 54.5cm by 41.5cm.
Vividly painted in brilliant colours depicting the sitter in front profile from the waist up, her serene expression delicately rendered with full naturalistic attention, her face bright as if from natural sunlight, revealing a young yet dignified woman opulently adorned with feather hat, pearl earrings and a sumptuous orange-ground embroidered dragon robe, all against a mottled pale grey ground.
Consort Chunhui, whose birth date was unknown, was the daughter of Su Zhaonan, under the family name Su Jiashi of Manchu descent. She entered the Forbidden Palace during the Yongzheng Emperor's reign and became a concubine of the then Prince Hong Li, giving birth to his third son. When the prince ascended the throne as the Qianlong Emperor, she was granted the title of Imperial Concubine Chun. She was raised by rank to consort in the second year of Qianlongs reign (1737), also bearing a prince and a princess, then to noble consort in the tenth year (1745). In the twenty-fifth year of his reign (1760), she was conferred the title of Imperial Noble Consort Chun, making her second only to the Empress in the Imperial harem. After her death later that year, she was posthumously honoured as Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui, and interred in the Yuling Mausoleum for concubines of the Qing emperors.
From its home in Beijing, the Imperial portrait of Consort Chunhui later surfaced in France and clear documentation showed how it made its way there. According to research, the Imperial Portrait of Consort Chunhui was an acquisition from Commander Henry Nicolas Frey. As the French commander of the Eight-Nation Alliance, he was involved in waging aggressive war against China. The French headquarters were located at the Hall of Imperial Longevity (Shouhuang Dian) in Jingshan Park within the Imperial Palace compound, and this hall was the place where portraits and relics of deceased emperors, empresses and consorts were stored. Like other invaders, Commander Frey and his troops did not let any looting opportunity slipthey pillaged a large number of Imperial treasures from the Hall of Imperial Longevity.
The painting was later sold by the family in a minor French auction.
Commenting on the results of the spectacular sale, Julian King, Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art in Hong Kong, said: We are very pleased to sell a painting of such beauty and historical significance. Chunhui was a favoured consort of the Qianlong Emperor, who presided over Imperial China at the zenith of its power, at a time when a free interchange of science and art with the West had resulted in extraordinary artistic developments. All the other portraits of this type from the Qianlong era are preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing and the Guimet Museum, making this a truly exceptional collectible and piece of Chinese history for the buyer.