Capturing Strength and Spirit | The Artistry of the Sancai Glazed Horse

Capturing Strength and Spirit | The Artistry of the Sancai Glazed Horse

The highlight of the upcoming Asian Art auction is undoubtedly the magnificent sancai-glazed pottery horse from the Tang dynasty (618-907). 

14 May 2024



This masterpiece boasts exceptional modelling and glazing, bringing to life the horse's robust physique and lively spirit. Its sturdy legs and barrel-shaped body exude strength, while the lively sancai (three-colour) glazes of fine green, amber and blue splatters and drips, in variegated tones, cascade down its muscular form like brush strokes, adding a subtle yet elegant touch.


A Chinese sancai-glazed pottery horse (£30,000-50,000)

A Chinese sancai-glazed pottery horse (£30,000-50,000)


This unique example, featuring sancai splashes on cream-glazed horse body, can only be found at Sotheby's, London, 4 November 1969, lot 28. It fetched a remarkable £16,000, marking the highest hammer price achieved during that auction, and was acquired by Sparks. It is now in the collection of Asia Society Museum in New York, Estate of Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, 1992.1. 


Images - Sotheby's, London, 4 November 1969.


For centuries, horses have symbolised prestige and affluence. The depiction of a splendid horse, especially one with coveted coloration like the present example, signifies the elevated status and significance of its owner and their family. As emblems of status and wealth, owning horses, both in life and beyond, underscored the elevated rank and importance of individuals during eras when stringent sumptuary laws designated horse ownership as an exclusive aristocratic privilege.


A Chinese sancai-glazed pottery horse (£30,000-50,000)

A Chinese sancai-glazed pottery horse (£30,000-50,000)


The horse was bought by Col. and Mrs A L Gracie, who lived in Cadogan Square in London, from John Sparks Ltd. by repute, and by family descent to the present owner. The horse has always been known as 'Arkle' in the family, after the famous 20th-century racehorse.

Mrs Gracie was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Marlowe, who were noted collectors at the beginning of the last century. She was a keen horsewoman, and her husband was a talented cricketer. He even played alongside Eric Liddell, the Olympic gold medallist in the four-hundred metres, who later set a world record in Paris in 1924. Liddell's story also inspired the film 'Chariots of Fire'.



The dating of this lot is consistent with the result of a thermoluminescence test, Oxford authentication Ltd., no. C100c39.



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