Chinese Art - The Thornhill Stem Cup

To be offered in Hong Kong 2016

We are delighted to announce that Lyon & Turnbull will handle the sale of the Thornhill stem cup. The Ming Xuande (1426-35) mark and period blue and white stem cup is an excellent example of its type and is virtually unseen outside museum collections. This rare masterpiece is part of the Ernest S. Thornhill Collection of Asian Ceramics, comprising of some 270 pieces belonging to Staffordshire University, where it was bequeathed in 1944. The University’s Board of Governors has approved the sale of the stem cup, which, together with the rest of the collection, has been hidden away in storage for a significant number of years.

"In our industry, it is a privileged position when one is charged with selling an item of such historical importance, and I am thrilled at the prospect of offering this on the behalf of the University during Asia Week Hong Kong 2016. We have assembled a dedicated specialist team comprised of some of the leading lights in Asian art to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved.” - Lee Young, Head of Asian Art


The stem cup is crowned by the elegantly painted six-character reign mark within the cup, and circled by double rings, repeated on the inside and outside rim, and on the foot.


This is a truly remarkable and rare piece, of a type not seen at auction for many years. The motif of flying dragons was popular in the Yuan dynasty, but was revived in the Xuande as can be seen in this case. The fearsome five-clawed dragon flies amongst flames, chasing the eternally flaming pearl, above a sea with crashing waves tipped in white, with rocks seen around the base.


The wares’ unique qualities include the glaze, which is thick and lustrous, with a buttery softness to it that responds to touch, and a luminosity unsurpassed in later wares. This glaze is untainted by age, and consequently the pieces still give us the same pleasure today as when the Emperor Xuande held them in his hands. Today, very few examples exist outside museum collections.



Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rosy Crehan from the University said: “These are tremendously exciting times for Staffordshire University and we envisage that proceeds from the sale of the Stem Cup will enable us to comply with the original bequest and give our students full and proper access to this historically significant collection of oriental ceramics – some of which are dated to be over 3000 years old.”


The collection consists of mainly Chinese wares displaying a wide range of familiar types from the Shang/Zhou to the late Qing dynasty. Little is known about Mr Ernest Thornhill other than that he lived in Clapham with his sister and that he was a registered chemist with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society from 1890 until his death in 1944. His ever-improving and progressively more critical eye - developed over 40 years of collecting – has secured him a place in history, as author of a collection which has stood the test of time and changing tastes. The collection shows the wide variety and brilliant techniques of the Chinese potter.




The Thornhill Stem Cup will be offered at auction in Hong Kong this summer

Chinese Works of Art | May 31, 2016



For further information please contact our Head of Department

Lee Young | | 0207 930 9115





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