Setting the price: Sotheby’s employees accept phone bidding at an auction in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Setting the price: Sotheby’s employees accept phone bidding at an auction in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Paris — An 18th-century Chinese vase forgotten for decades in a shoe box in a French attic sold for €16.2m at Sotheby’s in Paris on Tuesday — more than 30 times the estimate.

Experts at the auction house said the porcelain vessel was made for the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong and had set a guide price of a much more modest €500,000.

"This is a major work of art, it is as if we had just discovered a Caravaggio," Olivier Valmier, the Asian arts expert at the auction house, told reporters before the sale. The vase, which was in perfect condition, "is the only known example in the world bearing such detail".

Rare porcelain from the Qianlong period has been going for astronomical prices recently, with a bowl sold last April by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for $30.4m.

The vase — which is decorated with images of deer and cranes — was found by chance among dozens of other pieces of Chinoiserie in the attic of a house in France earlier this year. The family had acquired it at the end of the 19th century, but it had lain in a shoe box in the attic for decades.

"We didn’t like the vase too much, and my grandparents didn’t like it either," said the owner of the piece, who only got in touch with Sotheby’s in March. It was still in the shoe box when it was presented to Sotheby’s experts for authentification.

The staggering price paid by a young Chinese collector, who was at the auction himself, is the highest ever recorded by the auction house in Paris.

Said Sotheby’s on its website, "Such elaborate and challenging designs are exceedingly rare on Qing imperial porcelain."

AFP