Chiswick Auctions

Important Imperial paintings discovered from the Kangxi Emperor’s Collection

31st October 2019

Commissioned by the Kangxi Emperor, painted by court artist Jiang Tingxi (1669–1732), lost from the Imperial Collection and rediscovered by Chiswick Auctions: these are the six most important Chinese chicken paintings ever to come to market.


Lot 20. Jiang Tingxi (1669 – 1732), Chickens, ink and colour on silk, six album leaves framed. 40 x 41cm. Provenance: from the collection of Charles Blair (1856-after 1943), tea planter in Ceylon. Estimate: £20,000 – 30,000


The Kangxi Emperor was one of the most powerful men in human history. His reign lasted 61 years, which makes him the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history. The Emperor had a great interest in mathematics and other exact sciences including; astronomy music and geometry, physics, botany and zoology and an additional interest in art in China and the West. It is this combined interest in science and art that led him to commission a Compendium of Birds from court artist Jiang Tingxi (1669 – 1732)”, depicting 360 different species including the six chicken paintings displayed below. Typically, the chicken is considered a symbol of fidelity and punctuality and is one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals. However, the chickens depicted here are painted as part of an encyclopaedic natural history project rather than for purely decorative purposes, making the paintings historically important and completely unique.



The work was considered so important at the time that Kangxi’s grandson, the Qianlong Emperor, commissioned a detailed copy to be made by the Imperial Court artists Zhang Weibang (張維邦, 1725 – 1775) and Yu Sheng (余省, 1692 – 1767).

This later version is considered one of the great treasures of the Palace Museum in Beijing, and the complete album was lavishly reproduced in hardback and published as Classics of the Forbidden City: Catalog of Birds Collected in the Qing Palace in 2014. The original Jiang Tingxi set is missing from the Imperial Collection, with its whereabouts unknown. A careful comparison of the present versions with those in the Palace collection reveals the Palace copies to be derivative and the present versions are vastly superior in quality, brushwork and details.


Only a limited number of album leaves from the original set have ever arrived on the market and a set of six works is exceptionally rare. Another album by Jiang Tingxi (1669 – 1732) was sold for 173 million RMB ($25 million USD) in 2016 to legendary collector Liu Yiqian and has since been exhibited at the Long Museum in Shanghai.

Chiswick Auctions is the leading auction house for the sale of Fine Chinese Paintings and is the only saleroom in the UK to hold dedicated sales in this category.

The six works will appear in the Fine Chinese Paintings sale on Monday 11th November. For more information contact Head of Asian Art, Lazarus Halstead.

Fine Chinese Paintings
Monday 11th November, 9am
View Catalogue Online 

Viewing Dates
Chiswick Saleroom, 1 Colville Road, W3 8BL
 1st – 10th November
Monday – Friday, 10am-6pm
Saturday – Sunday, 11am-5pm

Palace museum images come from Gugong Jingdian: Qinggong niaopu, Beijing: Forbidden City Publishing House, 2014.

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