Cinnabar lacquer dish dating from the late Yuan or early Ming period – £165,000 at Kinghams.

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The design is of two red-crowned cranes among peonies: a blessing for a long and wealthy life. Estimated at £2000-3000 at the December 10 auction, it raced away to bring £165,000, selling to a London dealer against a phone bidder from mainland China. It is a house record for Asian art.

This is one of a distinct group of carved lacquer pieces known as ‘two-bird’ dishes. Although the species of birds and flowers vary from dish to dish, they share the same general composition.

The choice of motifs on this dish is in keeping with a keen interest in Daoism and the attainment of immortality.

The unworked dark background is one typically associated with earlier carved lacquers.

Sophisticated style

The design and execution were arguably better and more sophisticated than the similar late 14th century ‘phoenix and peony’ dish measuring almost 14in (35cm) across sold for £90,000 at Bonhams in May.

At the time, the auction house said: “No other Yuan or early Ming red lacquer dish with this complex ‘phoenix and peony’ design – probably based on Southern Song dynasty prototype – is known.”