An exquisite blue and white 'fish pond' brush washer. Mark and period of Xuande. Photo Sotheby's
Hong Kong, April 7, 2011 Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Department, said: “As the seventh day of sales for Sotheby’s Hong Kong series, 1-7 April 2011, concludes, the company has achieved HK$2,628,604,000 / US$337,000,513, in excess of the high pre-sale estimate of HK$2,539,996,000 / US$326,478,000. While there were some remarkable prices during the evening sale of The Meiyintang Collection, including An Exquisite Blue and White ‘Fish Pond’ Brush Washer, Mark and Period of Xuande, which sold for HK$51,060,000 / US$6,568,358, and An Outstanding Underglaze-Red ‘Chrysanthemum’ Dish, Ming Dynasty, Hongwu Period, which sold for HK$40,980,000 / US$5,271,667, and twelve lots sold for more than HK$10 million, there was guarded bidding on some of the top lots. As we have seen all week long, the market sets its own prices.”
An exquisite blue and white 'fish pond' brush washer. Mark and period of Xuande. Photo Sotheby's
of ten-lobed mallow shape with flared sides and correspondingly shaped foot, the domed base inside superbly painted in cobalt blue with a carp and a mandarin fish swimming among clumps of lotus and water weeds, the outside with four different fishes in varied attitudes among similar water plants, the fishes finely detailed with hatching and stippling and varied shades of blue to render their peculiar markings, lotus flowers and leaves in different stages, and the latter with veins finely incised through the blue to appear in white, the base inscribed with the reign mark; 18 cm., 7 1/8 in. Estimate 40,000,000—60,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 51,060,000 HKD (6,568,358 USD) to an International Trade
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1653.
NOTE: Brush washers of this form are otherwise known almost only with dragons, phoenixes, or a combination of dragon and phoenix, which would seem to represent a version for official duties, while the present piece, with its scholarly associations may have been intended for the Emperor's 'leisure' activities, such as writing or painting which, although no less official occasions, were deliberately distinguished in character. The Xuande Emperor in particular was renowned as an accomplished poet and painter. The fish pond was of course a most appropriate pattern for a vessel meant to be filled with water.
A broken washer of this design has been recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, see the exhibition catalogue Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 19-2. Although the catalogue states, p. 202, that "this is one of the most common designs on Xuande imperial ware", only three other washers of this form and design appear to be recorded: one from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark, illustrated in A.D. Brankston, Early Ming Wares of Chingtechen, Peking, 1938, pl. 19, and exhibited, with metal-bound rim, in Blue and White Porcelain from the Collection of Mrs. Alfred Clark at Spink & Son, London, 1974, cat. no. 14; another discovered in Tianjin city, published in Wenwu, 1977, no. 1, p. 92; and a third, of smaller size (16 cm), sold at Hanhai Art Auction Corp., Beijing, 7th October 1995, lot 1031. The Taipei catalogue (op.cit., p. 202) states that in the early Wanli period, the poet and dramatist Tu Long (1542-1605) mentioned mallow-flower shaped Xuande period washers with fish and aquatic plants, but that a painting in the Palace Museum, Beijing, depicting a Xuande hunting scene, shows a vessel of this type serving as a stand for a pear-shaped vase.
The same design is also known from deep Xuande bowls with similar fluted mallow-shaped sides and from circular Xuande dishes, see Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, cat. nos 140 and 180; a close copy exists in Taipei of a brush washer with the same shape and design of Jiajing mark and period, see Porcelain of the National Palace Museum. Blue-and-White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book V, Hong Kong, 1963, pl. 21; and another Jiajing example from the collection of Myron S. Falk was sold at Christie's New York, 16th October 2001, lot 143. Compare also a Xuande brush washer with pomegranates and other fruits, one with dragon and phoenix and one with phoenixes only in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai, 2000, vol. 1, pls 127-9, the former two probably unmarked.
An outstanding underglaze-red 'chrysanthemum' dish. Ming dynasty, Hongwu period. Photo Sotheby's
the thick curved foliate walls rising to an everted rim with sixteen corresponding barbed bracket foliations, all supported on a low circular tapered foot, painted on the interior in a light copper red transmuting from strawberry to puce, with a chrysanthemum spray with four large blooms among evenly spaced foliage and buds in the centre, surrounded by formal lotus sprays on the cavetto, the blooms alternately closed and opened revealing the stamens, all encircled on the rim with a stylised border of crested waves, the exterior repeated with further lotus sprays and waves, all beneath a transparent glaze, with the unglazed base covered with an iron-red wash; 45.5 cm., 17 7/8 in. Estimate 25,000,000—35,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 40,980,000 HKD (5,271,667 USD) to an U.S. Private
PROVENANCE: Collection of Montague Meyer.
Christie's London, 14th April 1980, lot 381.
The Manno Art Museum, Osaka (no. 439).
Christie's Hong Kong, 28th October 2002, lot 525.
EXHIBITED: Chūgoku no tōji/Special Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, cat. no. 239 (illustrated).
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Selected Masterpieces of the Manno Collection, Osaka, 1988, pl. 104.
Hasebe Gakuji and Imai Atsushi, Chūgoku no tōji. Nihon shutsudo no Chūgoku tōji /Chinese Ceramics. Chinese Ceramics Excavated in Japan, Tokyo, 1995, p. 121, fig. 47.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1626.
NOTE: Massive dishes of this type, painted with the difficult-to-control underglaze copper-red pigment, are among the triumphs of the early Ming potters. This dish represents one of the rare successful specimen of a production period that experienced many unsatisfactory results. Only five other red-painted dishes of comparable size have ever been offered at auction.
The three design elements combined on this dish, chrysanthemums, lotus and waves, are characteristic of porcelains of the Hongwu period, and yet are rarely seen in this combination on a large dish. A very similar dish with three chrysanthemums only in the centre, in the Guangdong Provincial Museum, Guangzhou, was included in the exhibition National Treasures. Gems of China's Cultural Relics, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1997-8, cat. no. 129. A dish of this form and design but with peonies in the centre, in the Shanghai Museum, is published in Lu Minghua, Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 3-5.
Several related dishes are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see in particular The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai 2000, vol. 1, pl. 21: a blue and white example of very similar design; pl. 212: a circular dish painted in red with similar chrysanthemums but a peony scroll round the well; and pls 216-9: barbed red-painted dishes with similar lotus sprays but peonies in the centre, two of them with similar waves. Related fragmentary dishes were also recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, compare the exhibition catalogue Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 29, with peonies in the centre, and cat. no. 28, a circular blue and white example with similar chrysanthemums.
A very fine and rare pair of Famille-rose dishes. Marks and period of Yongzheng. Photo Sotheby's
each dish delicately potted with a flared rim and rising from a short, straight foot, decorated in brilliant famille-rose enamels on the outside with an asymmetrical composition of a blooming hibiscus branch and a weed issuing from the base and extending around the sides, before spreading around the interior and bearing two large flowers, a dragonfly in grisaille hovering nearby, each inscribed on the base with a six-character mark within a double square; 13.4 cm., 5 1/4 in. Estimate 8,000,000—12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 21,940,000 HKD (2,822,362 USD) to a Hong Kong Dealer
PROVENANCE: Collection of H.M. Knight, The Hague (1950s).
Christie's Hong Kong, 19th January 1988, lot 363.
EXHIBITED: Oosterse Schatten: 4,000 Jaar Aziatische Kunst, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1954, cat. no. 381.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 959.
NOTE: No other saucer of this design and period appears to be recorded, but this exquisite motif is also known from a larger dish in the Umezawa Kinenkan, Tokyo, included in the exhibition Chūgoku no tōji/Special Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, cat. no. 324. The same motif appears also on dishes with Qianlong seal mark and of that period; a Qianlong dish in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is illustrated in Rose Kerr, Chinese Ceramics. Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911, London, 1986, p. 112, pl. 97; one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in Oriental Ceramics: The World's Great Collections, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, 1980–82, vol. 11, no. 158. The design was still closely copied in the late Qing or Republican period, an example of which in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics. A New Standard Guide, London, 1996, pl. 673.
A magnificent blue and white moon flask with birds on flowering branches. Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period. Photo Sotheby's
of oval section and nearly circular profile, with a slender neck flanked by two scroll handles, the two sides painted in a deep cobalt blue under a blue-tinged glaze with different flower-and-bird compositions, both depicting a white-cheeked starling perched on a flowering branch entwined with a small stem of bamboo, with prunus on one side and perhaps pear on the other, both scenes bordered above and below by fanciful curly foliage motifs, the neck also with bamboo, and the handles accentuated by a scrolling line, the flat base unglazed; 30.5 cm., 12 in. Estimate ,000,000—12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 20,260,000 HKD (2,606,246 USD) to a Hong Kong Private
PROVENANCE: Collection of Richard de la Mare (1940s to 1974).
Sotheby's London, 2nd April 1974, lot 369.
Su Lin An collection.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 31st October 1995, lot 325.
EXHIBITED: The Arts of the Ch'ing Dynasty, Oriental Ceramic Society at the Arts Council Gallery, London, 1964, cat. no. 117 (illustrated, pl.41).
The Ceramic Art of China, Oriental Ceramic Society at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1971, cat. no. 197.
Tōyō no sometsuke tōji ten/Far Eastern Blue-and-white Porcelain, Mitsukoshi, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 27.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no.139 (illustrated).
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Anon., 'Notes on Specimens', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 23, 1947-8, pp. 27-8, pl. 7.
'The Ceramic Art of China', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 38, 1969-71, pl. 132, no. 197.
Duncan Macintosh, Chinese Blue and White Porcelain, Newton Abbot, 1977, pl. 55.
Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 266.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1712.
NOTE: In its form and decoration, this flask closely copies a Yongle prototype, of which only one example appears to be extant, from the Sir Percival David Collection in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Regina Krahl and Jessica Harrison-Hall, Chinese Ceramics. Highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, London, 2009, no. 28, p. 61 (figs 1 and 2). Such Qing copies were most likely produced directly after a genuine Ming original, possibly in this case directly after the Percival David flask. The Yongzheng Emperor is known to have repeatedly sent antique porcelains from the imperial collection in Beijing down to Jingdezhen to be copied. During this reign, such wares were often left unmarked, while later, in the Qianlong period, when much larger quantities were produced, they were typically inscribed with the mark of the current reign. Yongzheng examples of this design are very rare.
Blue-and-white moon flask with birds on flowering branches. Yongle period. Sir Percival David Collection, no. A 612, British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum
The sensitivity of the Qing craftsmen to absorb and reproduce the qualities of the Ming original is remarkable and hardly ever more manifest than in this Yongzheng version and some rare companion pieces. The present flask is so close to the Yongle original that its correct attribution has repeatedly given rise to debates. Richard de la Mare, the then owner, brought this flask to a specimen meeting of the Oriental Ceramic Society, London, in 1947, for its date to be discussed. Although the general opinion then was that it was an 18th-century piece, it was published again with a Yongle date in 1977.
A companion piece to the present flask from the Edward T. Chow collection and now in the Princessehof Museum, Leeuwarden, was also long considered as a Yongle original and is published as 'early 15th century', albeit with a question mark, in Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Ming Porcelain, London, 1978, pl. 14. Other similar vases were also sold in our London rooms, 21st June 1983, lot 313; and in our New York rooms, 1st December 1992, lot 339.
Medley discusses this design, which is more closely related to Chinese ink painting than virtually any other porcelain motif, and illustrates a related Song (960-1279) painting and a Ming (1368-1644) woodblock print. The slightly squeezed round shape of the flask echoes that of Chinese fans, a popular format for paintings of the bird-and-flower genre. (Margaret Medley, 'Sources of Decoration in Chinese Porcelain from 14th to 16th Century', in Margaret Medley, ed., Chinese Painting and the Decorative Style. Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia, no. 5, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1975, p. 63 and pls III a and c.).
A fine and rare blue and white 'Three Friends' dish. Ming dynasty, Yongle period. Photo Sotheby's
of deep saucer shape with characteristic low V-shaped foot, the inside painted with a stem of bamboo and branches of pine and prunus, the blossoms reserved in white against haloes of blue, the sides with a composite flower scroll composed of morning glory, peony, rose, lotus, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, mallow, lily, gardenia, camellia, tea and pomegranate, with a key-fret rim border, similarly repeated on the outside with a classic-scroll border above and key-fret below, the deep cobalt-blue with 'heaping and piling', the base and footring unglazed and fired an orange tone; 34 cm., 13 3/8 in. Estimate 15,000,000—20,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 17,460,000 HKD (2,246,054 USD) to an Asian Private
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Hong Kong.
Eskenazi Ltd, London, 1994.
EXHIBITED: Yuan and Early Ming Blue and White Porcelain, Eskenazi Ltd, London, 1994, cat. no. 16 (illustrated).
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 114 (illustrated).
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1640.
NOTE: As the 'Three Friends of Winter', the evergreens bamboo and pine and the winter-flowering prunus that bears blossoms before sprouting leaves, were a popular subject for Chinese works of art, symbolizing endurance in adverse conditions. Several dishes of this type are recorded, but not all have the white prunus blossoms so effectively reserved against a blue halo.
A slightly smaller dish from the Ardabil Shrine in Iran is published in John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, Washington, D.C., 1956, pl. 40 bottom left; another in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is shown together with one with a wave border inside the rim in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue and white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 2, pls 130 and 131, both part of the former Qing court collection; another dish of this design in the Shanghai Museum is published in Lu Minghua, Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 1-20; one with wave border from the Shriro collection, sold in our London rooms 28th May 1963, lot 131, is published in Beatrix von Ragué, Ausgewählte Werke Ostasiatischer Kunst, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin, 1970, pl. 64; and a dish belonging to Lindsay F. Hay and later in the Cunliffe collection, sold in our London rooms, 25th June 1946, lot 19, was included in the exhibition The Ceramic Art of China, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1971, and is illustrated in the catalogue in Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 38, 1969-71, no. 150. A similar dish from the collection of F.G. and E.H. Morrill, exhibited on loan at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and illustrated in Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Ming Porcelain, London, 1978, pl. 5, was sold in our London rooms, 14th November 1967, lot 97, and 29th November 1988, lot 179, and at Christie's Hong Kong, 28th April 1997, lot 665.
A fine and extremely rare Famille-Verte 'bird' bowl. Mark and period of Kangxi. Photo Sotheby's
exquisitely painted around the shallow rounded sides with a brown and white bird with a long tail perched on a pendant peach branch in an asymmetrical composition covering most of the sides, the branch bearing finely shaded red fruits, bright green leaves with paler undersides and yellow worm-eaten patches, and pale aubergine branches, the slightly domed centre of the bowl with a single peach on a branch, the sunken base with the six-character mark within a double circle, wood stand; 12.8 cm., 5 in. Estimate 6,000,000—8,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 15,220,000 HKD (1,957,901 USD) to a Hong Kong Private
PROVENANCE: Collection of Captain Charles Oswald Liddell (who lived in China 1877-1913).
Bluett & Sons, London.
Collection of Wildred A. Evill.
Sotheby's London, 30th November 1965, lot 93.
EXHIBITED: The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain, Bluett & Sons, London, n.d. (1929), cat. no. 89.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 167.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 770.
Laughingthrush and Peaches
This small bowl is unique and exceptional in the sensitivity of its painting, which echoes ink paintings on paper or silk. The bird with its distinctive white-rimmed eyes, which is perched on a branch laden with peaches, is a huamei, laughing-thrush, or Chinese thrush, a popular cage bird because of its bright, chirpy song. A very similar bird perched on a flowering peach branch appears in a zoological manual recording birds, their features, habits and habitats, of which a section is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (see Gugong niao pu/Manual of Birds, Taipei, 1997, vol. 3, p. 30) (fig. 1 below). This handbook was produced for the Qianlong Emperor between 1750 and 1761 by the court painters Yu Xing and Zhang Weibang, following an earlier version painted by Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732), court painter under the Kangxi Emperor.
Several larger bowls as well as Kangxi 'birthday dishes' are known painted with a related, but rather different design, executed by a different hand in a different manner, and showing a different bird. They are rendered in a more ostentatious, 'boneless' (no-outline) painting style, which is effective already from a distance, whereas the present bowl invites and requires close inspection to appreciate its fine detail. Compare, for example the pair of bowls sold in these rooms 23 October 2005, lot 371, now in the collection of Alan Chuang, and illustrated in Julian Thompson, The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 39; or another pair from the Ton-Ying and Barbara Hutton collections, one later in the T.Y. Chao collection and now the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo, the other later in the British Rail Pension Fund and The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, sold in these rooms 18 November 1986, lot 122 (fig. 2), and 16 May 1989, lot 75, respectively (fig. 3). The latter bowl is illustrated again, together with a 'birthday dish' from the Shanghai Museum collection, in Peter Lam, 'Lang Tingji (1663-1715) and the Porcelain of the Late Kangxi Period', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 68, 2003-4, pp. 42-3, pls 18 and 19. Other similar bowls are in the British Museum, London, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Eisei Bunko, Tokyo.
The birds on these larger bowls and dishes seem to represent a different species and are generally identified as magpies; the fruiting branches look similar to those on the Meiyintang bowl, but are often identified as apricot. This may be due to the fact that the design of a magpie and three apricots is interpreted as illustrating a pun on the wish for achieving first place in the three main official exams, provincial, metropolitan and palace; see Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 84. Apricots are, however, generally – at least in the illustrations of the Ben cao gang mu [Pandects of Natural History], China's classical pharmaceutical handbook – depicted as ovoid fruit rather than in this heart shape with distinct ridge from the stem to the tip, which is the characteristic form of the peach. The branch on the present bowl, in any case, holds more than three fruit, and the bird is different, too. The Meiyintang bowl thus differs in almost every aspect from all other examples with related design, and may perhaps represent a first model, made with greater attention to detail, which provided the blueprint for the larger, somewhat modified series.
Peter Lam, who has closely studied the calligraphy of reign marks under Lang Tingxi's tenure as supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, describes (ibid., p. 35) the marks that appear on this group of vessels – the same as on the present bowl – as "very calligraphic, not too regular nor angular" and has argued that they were all written by the same calligrapher and are roughly contemporary with Lang Tingji's term of service in Jiangxi from 1705 to 1712. The birthday dishes were made towards the end of this period, around 1712, for the Emperor's 60th birthday in 1713. The present bowl may therefore be attributed to a somewhat earlier date within this period.
Captain Charles Oswald Liddell lived in China from 1877 to 1913 and married in Shanghai. During these years he acquired porcelains from the collections of Yikuang, Fourth Prince Qing, the last Regent of the Qing dynasty, and from the private secretary and adviser of Li Hongzhang, influential statesman and diplomat around the same time. Upon his return to England he settled in Wales, where he added distinct Oriental flavour to an ancient manor house, Shirenewton Hall, by planting a Japanese-style garden with East Asian plants, erecting Oriental pavilions, and installing a large Chinese temple bell on the lawn. His collection was largely sold at Bluett & Sons, London, in 1929.
A fine and rare pair of coral-ground Famille-verte bowls. Yu Zhi marks and period of Kangxi. Photo Sotheby's
each bowl of deep rounded form rising from a slightly splayed foot towards a flared rim, painted on the outside with a dense pattern of different flowers growing in lush profusion, with large blooms in blue, pale aubergine, pale yellow and iron-red enamels clustered around the foot and more delicate flowering stems of many different varieties rising towards the rim, the leaves in different tones of green, mostly drawn in fine black outlines and details, all against an intense, deep iron-red ground also covering the foot, the interior of each bowl plain; 10.9 cm., 4 1/4 in. Estimate 8,000,000—12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 14,100,000 HKD (1,813,824 USD) to an Asian Private
PROVENANCE: Wah Kwong Collection, Hong Kong.
Collection of T.Y. Chao, Hong Kong.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19th May 1987, lot 303.
Christie's Hong Kong, 20th March 1990, lot 566.
Christie's Hong Kong, 30th May 2006, lot 1258.
EXHIBITED: Ch'ing Porcelain from the Wah Kwong Collection, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1973-4, cat. no. 108 (one bowl illustrated).
Ming and Ch'ing Porcelain from the T.Y. Chao Family Foundation, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1978, cat. no. 71 (one bowl illustrated).
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, p. 216, pl. 379 (one bowl).
Sotheby's Hong Kong – Twenty Years, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 217.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1724.
NOTE: Reign marks with the wording yu zhi [made for imperial use of ...] following the reign name, rather than nian zhi [made in the years of ...] are extremely rare and suggest a closer relationship to the imperial court. Wares enamelled in the imperial workshops in the Forbidden City of Beijing rather than by the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi bear such yu zhi marks, but in overglaze blue or pink enamel, since the plain white porcelains came from Jingdezhen fully glazed and fired. The significance of the underglaze-blue yu zhi mark, which would have been added at Jingdezhen, has been much discussed, especially since identical bowls are also known with underglaze-blue nian zhi marks.
It has been suggested that such bowls were enamelled in the palace at Beijing, with only the mark inscribed at Jingdezhen before firing. They seem, however, very different from the typical Kangxi porcelains from the Beijing palace workshops, and are part of a small but well-known range of pieces with the same design painted in the characteristic Jingdezhen wucai ('five colour') palette of the Kangxi period, which in the West is known as the famille verte. It is therefore most likely that they were decorated in Jingdezhen, even if their marks may indicate direct use at the palace. This design continued to be popular throughout the Qing dynasty, and similar bowls are known with Yongzheng (1723-35), Qianlong (1736-95) and Daoguang (1821-50) reign marks.
Another bowl of this shape, design and reign mark in the Shanghai Museum is published in Wang Qingzheng, ed., Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 95; one in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics. A New Standard Guide, London, 1996, pl. 653; and a pair from the collection of Edward T. Chow and now in the S.C. Ko Tianminlou collection was included in the exhibition Chinese Porcelain. The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1987, cat. no. 89, and sold in these rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 143. Similar bowls with Yongzheng yu zhi, Yongzheng nian zhi as well as six-character Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks are illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV: Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, pls 158-60 and 166, together with an unusual example with a Kangxi yu zhi mark in pink enamel, pl. 123. A Daoguang example is illustrated together with another with Yongzheng yu zhi mark in Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain. The Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1912), London, 1951, pl. XLV.
A fine and extremely rare pair of lavender-blue bottle vases. Marks and period of Yongzheng. Photo Sotheby's
each with a globular body, rising to a cylindrical neck and an everted rim, all supported on a straight foot pierced with two openings in the manner of archaic bronzes, covered on the exterior with an even pale blue glaze, the interiors and base left white, the base inscribed with a six-character mark in underglaze blue; 13.7 cm., 5 3/8 in. Estimate 3,000,000—5,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 12,980,000 HK (1,669,747 USD) to a Hong Kong Private
PROVENANCE: Sotheby's New York, 18th/19th April 1989, lot 347 (possibly).
EXHIBITED: Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, The British Museum, London, 1994.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 852.
NOTE: No other vase of this form and colour appears to be recorded. This glaze colour, which is also sometimes described as 'clair-de-lune', is extremely rare, as is this vessel form with openings in the foot. Both colour and shape may be based on celadon vases of the Song dynasty, which in turn are probably inspired by archaic bronze vessels. Compare a pair of octagonal 'Longquan' vases of the Southern Song or Yuan dynasty (12th/13th century) from the collection of Sir Alan Barlow at the University of Sussex, England, acquisition no. C 75.
A fine and very rare set of ten famille-rose bowls with views of Jiangxi. Marks and period of Jiaqing. Photo Sotheby's
each rounded bowl with widely everted, conical sides faintly flared at the rim, resting on a slightly tapering foot, the outsides each depicting different landscape scenes painted in famille-rose enamels, with inscriptions in black enamel to identify the sites, above a narrow lotus-scroll border in blue enamel on a band of white enamel all within underglaze-blue double lines circling the rim and foot, the insides decorated in iron red with a branch of prunus and one of finger-citron under a pine tree in the centre, within a ruyi border reserved in white on red at the rim; 14.5 to 14.7cm., 5 3/4 in. Estimate 10,000,000—15,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 11,860,000 HKD (1,525,670 USD) to an Asian Trade
PROVENANCE: Acquired in China prior to 1936 (by repute).
Christie's Hong Kong, 26th September 1989, lot 748.
Christie's Hong Kong, 29th April 2001, lot 517.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, nos 1762-71.
NOTE: Xunyang jiu pai [Nine Tributaries of the Xunyang], a river scenery in Jiujiang, which is bordered on one side with houses on stilts in front of a city wall with a double-roofed gate and willows and pink-flowering trees in the foreground, on the other shore boats are moored and people are visiting a pavilion, with reed-covered fishing boats nearby and sailing boats in mid-river, one tucking a rowing boat along.
Teng[wang]ge gao feng [Lofty Scenery at the Pavillion of Prince Teng] shows a famous pavilion at the Gan river in Xinjian county that has its origins in the early Tang dynasty and was immortalized in a poem by Wang Bo (AD 649-76), depicted as a building with curved roofs on a terrace overlooking a river with many sailing and rowing boats, guarded on the other side by crenellated walls.
Xuting yan liu [Misty Willows at the Xu Pavilion], a site in Jiujiang depicting two impressive buildings with double roofs with curved-up eaves connected by a multi-arched bridge with an island with small houses among dense willow trees, the white-washed gate to the bridge inscribed ...longqiao [... Dragon Bridge], two fishermen in their boats with their nets lowered to one side and a smaller one-hump bridge to the other side next to crenellated walls partly hidden by clouds.
Baihua chun xiao [Spring Dawn at Hundred Flowers], shows Baihua Island in East Lake in Nanchang, famous for a garden laid out there by a Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) scholar, and depicts people crossing a large green, where a pailou (ceremonial arch) has been erected, one man with a shoulder pole, another with a staff, one on a mule followed by an attendant with an umbrella, a walled compound with willows beyond identified as Donghu Shuyuan [East Lake College], further buildings built into the water, connected by a dyke with further willows that leads to a small walled compound with a commemorative stele, with a ferryboat and many fishing boats surrounding the island, some with lowered nets.
Shangqing sheng jing [Scenic Spot of Shangqing] renders a Daoist temple devoted to Shangqing, one of the 'Three Pure Ones' in Guixi county, its multi-coloured roofs nestled among dramatic steep blue-green cliffs and surrounded by clouds, with the path leading over a bridge past a figure of a seated stone lion on a pedestal, through a ceremonial arch up broad steps to a front gate inscribed Shangqinggong ['Shangqing Palace'], with people in boats travelling along a river nearby and a waterfall rushing down from a rock face opposite.
Magu xian tan [Altar of the Immortal Magu], depicts the altar of the Daoist Immortal Magu on Mount Magu in Nancheng, with a temple hall built to overhang steep rocky cliffs, partly hidden among clouds, next to a waterfall, another further down, visible through a large circular 'gateway' formed by a natural rock formation, and a third building high up on a platform with a vista onto steep cloud-enveloped hills, with pines in the valley and a red sun in the sky.
Lushan pubu [Lushan Waterfall] depicts a dramatic waterfall near Poyang Lake among steep blue-green mountains, with a thatched hut below, a pagoda and temple building to one side and further temple halls among pine trees high up in the blue-green mountains, with people climbing up the steep stone steps.
Xishan die cui [Layers of Kingfisher Blue in the Western Mountains] shows the mountainous landscape of Xishan, southwest of Nanchang, with the waterfall, crossed by a covered walkway, continuing as a winding stream with a bridge in the foreground and group of buildings behind a wall with a triple gateway further away, inscribed with a temple name.
Yuling ji xue [Snow Piling up on Yu Mountain Range] is the title of a snowy landscape in Dayu, also known as Meiling [Prunus Blossom Mountain Range], showing people crossing snow-covered mountain ranges on mules or on foot, the roofs of a tall gateway and other buildings laden with snow, and overall red-flowering prunus and evergreen trees lending colour.
Nanpu fei yun [Nanpu Flying Clouds], a scenic spot southwest of Nanchang, also described by the Tang poet Wang Bo, shows a lakeside view with a tall pagoda and other buildings in the foreground, islets with pavilions among willow trees at the other shore and fishing boats dotted about on the water.
This set depicts famous scenic spots of the region around Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, where the bowls were made. The different scenes are outstanding in their dramatic composition, quality of the painting and the range of enamel colours. Geng Baochang mentions as characteristic of the Jiaqing reign finely potted and painted porcelains decorated with ten famous views of various areas, such as Ten Views of West Lake, in Hangzhou, Ten Views of Changjiang, the Yangzi River, Ten Views of Lushan, a mountain in Jiangxi, and Ten Views of Dongting, a lake in Hunan; see Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, p.293.
This set appears, however, to be unique and similar complete sets of ten bowls do not appear to have been otherwise published; a single Jiaqing bowl inscribed Magu xian tan, from the collection of Yokogawa Tamisuke is included in Tōkyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan zuhan mokuroku: Chūgoku tōji hen/Illustrated Catalogues of Tokyo National Museum: Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, 1988-90, vol. 2, no. 672; another inscribed Shangqing sheng jing in the Weishaupt collection is illustrated in Gunhild Avitabile, Vom Schatz der Drachen/From the Dragon's Treasure: Chinesisches Porzellan des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts aus der Sammlung Weishaupt/Chinese Porcelain from the 19th and 20th Centuries in the Weishaupt Collection, London, 1987, cat. no. 20.
A fine and rare pair of lime-green cups. Marks and period of Yongzheng. Photo Sotheby's
each delicately potted with rounded sides resting on a straight foot, covered on the exterior with a bright lime-green enamel, the interior and base left white, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark within double squares, wood stands; 8.8 cm., 3 1/2 in. Estimate 2,500,000—3,500,000 HKD. Lot Sold 11,300,000 HKD (1,453,632 USD) to an Asian Private
EXHIBITED: Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, The British Museum, London, 1994.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 189.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 906.
NOTE: Lime-green is probably the rarest enamel colour prepared in the Yongzheng period, and the square reign mark here used is found on some of the finest Yongzheng porcelains. The present cups may be the only pair of this type preserved. A single cup of the same colour and also with the square mark, from the Paul and Helen Bernat collection, was sold in these rooms, 15th November 1988, lot 68.
Two lime-green cups of slightly different proportions and with the more common circular Yongzheng reign mark in Taipei are published in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, Republic of China. K'ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 153; and in the exhibition catalogue Qingdai danse you ciqi tezhan, Taipei, 1981, pl. 44; another pair of that type with circular mark was included in the exhibition Shimmering Colours. Monochromes of the Yuan to Qing Periods: The Zhuyuetang Collection, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2005, cat. no. 113; and a single cup was included in the Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Ceramics, Kau Chi Society of Chinese Art, at the same museum, Hong Kong, 1981-2, cat. no. 136.
A fine pair of doucai 'ball-flower' bowls. Marks and period of Yongzheng. Photo Sotheby's
each finely potted with conical sides slightly flaring at the rim all rising from a straight foot, the outside decorated with an asymmetric design of roundels of different sizes and with different geometric patterns, some freely floating, some overlapping, drawn in deep underglaze-blue outlines and coloured in different tones of cobalt-blue, and green, red, yellow and pale pinkish-aubergine enamels, the interior undecorated, the six-character mark within a double square in underglaze blue; 10.2 cm., 4 in. Estimate 5,000,000—7,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 11,300,000 HKD (1,453,632 USD) to an Anonymous
PROVENANCESotheby's Hong Kong, 2nd May 2000, lot 676.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1750.
NOTE: This unusual, colourful design, which is unique in its severe abstraction, would seem to be inspired by the Japanese heraldic family symbols, mon. The Yongzheng Emperor is known to have been greatly interested in Japanese works of art and to have commissioned reproductions, in particular of Japanese lacquer ware. The design is popularly known as 'ball flower' pattern in the West, although it is clearly not a flower pattern but in fact one of the rare designs not based on nature.
A single bowl of this design from the Nanjing Museum was included in the exhibition Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 55; another in the Chang Foundation, Taipei, published in James Spencer, ed., Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1990, pl. 136, was sold in these rooms, 2nd May 2005, lot 501, and probably also in our New York rooms 4th June 1982, lot 269.
The same design appears also on an unmarked jar in the Palace Museum Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999-2000, vol. 14, pl. 184; and a similar design was in the Yongzheng period also executed in fencai (famille rose) enamels on a bowl of more rounded shape, inscribed with a reign mark in a double circle; see a piece in Taipei in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, Republic of China. K'ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 100.
The Falangcai Pheasant Vase (Lot 15) was sold privately after the sale for HK$200 million / US$25.64 million; the Chenghua Palace Bowl (Lot 56) sold privately after the sale for HK$90 million / US$11.54 million.
A magnificent and unique Falangcai 'Golden Pheasant' vase. Blue enamel mark and period of Qianlong. Photo Sotheby's
of the rarefied guyuexuan type, the body of tapering ovoid shape resting on an unglazed foot enclosing the countersunk mark, surmounted by the tall cylindrical neck finished with a slightly lipped rim, finely potted in the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen in white porcelain of the purest homogenous structure and applied with an even milky-white glaze suffused with tiny bubbles and with a smooth silky surface; enamelled in the imperial palace workshops within the confines of the Forbidden City in the finest opaque 'foreign colours', applied in subtly shaded washes and immaculately depicted detail with a pair of golden pheasants perched on a knotty trunk, the male balancing on one slender yellow leg, the other leg held up to the rich red breast, the head turned back over the shoulder with the long sharp beak flanked by short hairs below the bright oval eye, picked out in black, yellow, red and pink enamels, and the straw-yellow crest falling back over the thick pinkish orange ruff and multi-coloured wing feathers, the long tail depicted in iron red and sepia with yellow spot markings extending to the tip of the longest feather, the female crouching below her mate, the detailing of her feathers subtly picked out in sepia and the only colour being the yellow and puce of her eye; the thick knotted trunk set with spots of pale greenish moss and extending to angled branches sparsely sprouting pale pinkish leaves, small bright blue and deep purple asters with yellow stamens clustering at the base below a rose, the two large pink flowers and a single bud borne on thorny, leafy stems with detailing picked out in black on the green, the whole forming a continuous scene complimented on the neck with a couplet reading Zhaozhao long li yue. Suisui zhan chang chun, ('May you capture the "beautiful month' for days on end. May you seize enduring spring year upon year.') and three seals jiali ('beautiful'), sishi and changchun ('enduring spring at all seasons'), the countersunk base with the four-character mark Qianlong nian zhi written within a double-square in a characteristic greyish blue enamel; 20.3 cm., 8 in. Estimate on request. Sold privately after the sale for 200,000;000 HKD (25,064,000 USD)
PROVENANCE: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5th November 1997, lot 1353.
Eskenazi Ltd., London.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, 'Ceramics in China: Making Treasures from Earth', China. 5,000 Years, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 129, fig. 5.
Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 322.
Regina Krahl, 'Some Notes on the Meiyintang Collection', Orientations, September 2009, p. 98, fig. 2.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1753, p. 217, fig. 18b, and pp. 278-9.
The Meiyintang Golden Pheasant Vase
This bottle vase ranks among the most magnificent extant artefacts created in the imperial palace, and remains one of very few preserved outside the former Qing court collection now kept in Taipei and Beijing, or held in Museums elsewhere. Like all works of art painted by court artists to imperial order in the enamelling workshops of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the vase is unique. Falangcai vases are extremely rare even in the Palace Museums and most examples are of smaller size. The sensitive handling of the nature scene, outstanding brushwork, and range and subtlety of the enamel colours make this one of the finest paintings ever achieved on porcelain.
Falangcai ('foreign colours') designates enamelling on copper, porcelain and glass undertaken in specialized workshops in the Yangxindian (Hall of Mental Cultivation), in immediate vicinity of the imperial living quarters in the Forbidden City and under the Emperors' direct scrutiny. The enamelling workshops had been initiated by European artisans working at the court in the Kangxi period, who encouraged the production of new enamel colours to be applied in Beijing to blank porcelain vessels supplied for that purpose by the imperial porcelain kilns of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province. Porcelain painting was here done in close physical proximity to court painting, and artists of the Painting Academy, both Chinese and Western, were also recruited to paint in the enamelling workshops. Painting styles therefore tend to show distinct influences of Western court artists, who introduced a naturalistic painting manner where the impression of volume, depth and perspective is conveyed through shading. The realistic representation of the birds and the accomplished shading of the flowers on the present vase show the direct influence of artists such as the Italian Giuseppe Castiglione (AD 1688 – 1766), who served as court painter under the three main Qing emperors, Kangxi (r. AD 1662-1722), Yongzheng (r. AD 1723-35) and Qianlong (r. AD 1736-95).
Castiglione himself was ordered to paint on porcelains in the palace workshops by the Kangxi Emperor, but no works can today be attributed to his hand; for the Yongzheng Emperor he painted veritable 'portraits' of porcelain vases on silk; and under the Qianlong Emperor he completed the impressive hanging scroll Beautiful Spring [Jin chun tu], a silk painting that depicts the motif of the Golden Pheasants, which appears on the Meiyintang vase (fig. 1). The Qianlong Emperor, for whom the present vase was painted, held Castiglione's work in particular high esteem and applied eleven seals to this painting. The strong influence of Castiglione's painting style on falangcai porcelain is obvious in the painting on the Meiyintang vase, whose colophon and seals also take up the 'Spring' message of the painting.
Since the Beijing palace workshops were never restrained by the necessity of large-scale production, their creations are marked by an individuality of both their painting styles and their colouring. Individual court artists would be responsible for complete works – rather than specializing on a single aspect only – and the enamels could be mixed in small quantities for specific jobs, rather than being selected from fixed, limited colour schemes like at Jingdezhen with the wucai (famille verte) or fencai (famille rose) palettes.
Although all falangcai work is exquisite, there nevertheless exist differences in quality even among this select group of wares. The perceptive nature study on the Meiyintang vase, with its poignant and touching evocation of the close silent bond between two birds turned away from each other, is a masterwork of painting that goes far beyond the simple depiction of a charming garden scene. The resplendent, powerful male bird, majestically planted onto the tree trunk, is shown proudly standing guard to protect a gentle, delicate female that crouches close to the tree, well concealed in its camouflage plumage against the colours of the bark.
The open composition with large areas of white space, not constrained by any decorative borders, is handled like that of a painted handscroll, and the quality of the brushwork equally approaches that of ink paintings on paper or silk. The variety of enamel tones employed, particularly for the cocks' plumage, is remarkable; unusual shades were mixed as deemed necessary, for example for the fresh, tender tree leaves, which have just sprouted and not yet acquired their full colour; and texture is rendered through application of thicker enamel, for example for the birds' legs and claws, and some white fungus growing on the tree.
The elegant shape of the Meiyintang vase, known as ganlanping ('olive-shaped vase') – among the largest that were enamelled in the Beijing workshops – is known from a small number of other examples, mostly in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, all of which have been treated to some of the best and most ambitious painting. Of four vases of this form in Taipei two are painted with flocks of birds, one with a landscape and one with pavilions, see the exhibition Qing gongzhong falangcai ci tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, pls 127-130 (fig. 2); a pair, with flowering and fruiting plants very similar to one in Taipei, but without birds, which entered the Worcester Royal Porcelain Works Museum, England, in the late 19th century, was sold in our London rooms, 18th June 1985, lot 200, and is illustrated in Idemitsu Bijutsukan zōhin zuroku. Chūgoku tōji/Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, pl. 232; one in the Musée Guimet, Paris, is painted with a tied bow, illustrated in Xavier Besse, La Chine des porcelaines, Paris, 2004, pl. 54; and another landscape-decorated vase, companion to the one in Taipei, is illustrated in Julian Thompson, The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 118. One pair of vases of this form, with a design of cranes and a seal script reign mark, on the other hand, was decorated at Jingdezhen and represents yangcai rather than falangcai, see Liao Pao Show, Huali cai ci. Qianlong yangcai/Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, pl. 44.
The same motif of a pair of golden pheasants appears on three smaller falangcai vases of the Qianlong reign, but in all three cases both the message of the painting and the manner of its rendering are very different. The birds are depicted in a more romantic, idealized manner, as a loving couple perched side by side and turned towards each other; the brushwork clearly reveals a different hand; and the scenes are confined to the main part of the body, with formal borders decorating the neck.
On one of these vases, a pear-shaped vase with garlic-head neck from the Charles Russell and Barbara Hutton collections, the golden pheasants appear with the same plants and the same colophon and seals, but in a different composition, see R.L. Hobson, Bernard Rackham and William King, Chinese Ceramics in Private Collections, London, 1931, col. pl. 28, and the sale in our London rooms, 2nd June 1971, lot 263 (fig. 3). On a second vase, a yuhuchun ping in the Tianjin Municipal Museum, they are shown among peonies, rocks and a fruiting bush, accompanied by a different poem, see Tianjin Shi Yishu Bowuguan cang ci, Hong Kong, 1993, pls 169 and 170 (fig. 4). On the third piece, a vase with curved handles from the collection of Roger Lam, they are grouped among roses, rocks and a flowering tree, also matched with a different colophon, see Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command. An Introduction to Ch'ing Imperial Painted Enamels, Hong Kong, 1976, pl. 72, and the sale in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 188 (fig. 5).
The Musée Guimet, Paris, further holds a garlic-head vase similar to the Russell/Hutton example, but with a different pair of birds; see Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain: The Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1912), London, 1951, pl. LXXVIII and LXXIX: 1. In the Palace Museum, Beijing, is a related vase from the Qing court collection, but without any birds; see The Complete Collecton of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 23 (fig. 6).
This Beijing enamelling work, which is today known as falangcai after the term used in the records of the Palace Workshops (zaobanchu) of the Imperial Household Department (neiwufu), was previously often referred to under the term Guyuexuan ('Ancient Moon Terrace'). No structure of that name is, however, recorded among Qing palace buildings, and there seems to be no other justification for that term to be applied to falangcai either. Already fifty years ago Soame Jenyns remarked (op. cit., p. 85) that the term is a misnomer, erroneously used for what ought to be called falang, and stated that pieces inscribed with this term, mainly small pieces of glass and porcelain and chiefly snuff bottles, tend to be of inferior quality and later date.
A magnificent blue and white 'Palace Bowl'. Mark and period of Chenghua. Photo Sotheby's
exquisitely potted from a fine creamy-white porcelain, masterly painted on the exterior in a light soft blue cobalt pigment with three large clusters of plump ripe melon vine, all differently rendered with four or six fruits, the thin curling tendrils counterbalanced by the thick broad leaves, all reserved against a white body, the interior left undecorated, the base inscribed in underglaze blue with a six-character reign mark within a double circle; 15.4 cm., 6 1/8 in. Estimate 80,000,000—120,000,000 HKD. Sold privately after the sale for 90,000,000 HKD (11,054,000 USD)
PROVENANCE: Zie Soey Koo, Beijing.
Messrs John Sparks, London (1929).
Collection of R. Wemyss Honeyman.
Thomas Love and Sons Ltd, Perth, England, 24th February 1970 (one of a pair).
Bluett & Sons Ltd, London.
Collection of Leandro and Cecilia Locsin, Manila.
J.J. Lally & Co., New York.
Eskenazi Ltd, London.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 2, no. 677.
Palace Bowl with Melons
'Palace bowls' are the pride or else the desideratum of any museum collection. The term designates blue and white bowls of the Chenghua period (AD 1465-87) of the Ming dynasty, probably used at court for food, which are unsurpassed in their potting, porcelain quality and tactility, soft and subtle painting, and unobtrusive fruit and flower designs. Chenghua porcelains are the rarest Chinese imperial porcelains. Not only does the volume of fragments recovered from the site of the Ming imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, is less than half that unearthed from the stratum of the much shorter Xuande reign (AD 1426-35); this scarcity of recovered sherds is mirrored also by a rarity of surviving examples. The largest number of Chenghua porcelains is today preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, from the former imperial collection, and only some two dozen pieces of Chenghua mark and period of any type are recorded by Julian Thompson to remain in private hands (The Emperor's broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby's, London, 1995, pp. 116-29).
Chenghua porcelains developed their identity gradually and the excavations at the imperial kilns have brought to light three different stages in their development: the first still much indebted to the style of the Xuande reign; the second where some new ideas were realized; and a third – most mature – phase from AD 1481 to 1487, when the potters developed porcelains of a very distinct character both in terms of their material and their style of decoration. Those seven years, – or perhaps even less – represent the only period when palace bowls were created.
The porcelain itself with its clear, but not harsh white tone and its ultra-smooth surface texture is unrivalled in beauty and tactility. Compared to the crisp and glossy glazes of the best Xuande wares, those of the Chenghua reign are more muted, covering the blue design with a most delicate veil. Chenghua blue and white may be considered the finest blue and white porcelain ever produced at Jingdezhen. The sensual pleasure of handling a Chenghua porcelain vessel is unmatched by porcelains of any other period, and to be fully appreciated, a Chenghua vessel must not only be seen, but touched.
Chenghua decoration is of a striking artlessness and immediacy that inevitably focuses attention on the material. The cobalt pigment is much more even than it was in the Xuande period, without any 'heaping and piling'. Its attractive soft tone, one of the trademarks of Chenghua blue and white, was apparently achieved by a deliberate admixture of local cobalt to the imported variety previously used.
What has become known as 'palace bowls' are bowls that are finely potted, of pleasing proportion, painted in underglaze blue with flower or fruit designs which at first glance appear very simple. Palace bowls come in about a dozen different patterns, of which the present is the only one with fruit, all others being flower designs. Bowls decorated in cobalt blue with flowers or fruits were of course also made in the Yongle (AD 1403-24) and Xuande reigns, but those of the Chenghua reign are unique in introducing deliberate irregularity into seemingly regular patterns, which makes these otherwise subdued designs vibrant and original. With the melon design this was achieved by a varied composition of each of the three vines, with four or six fruits.
Melons evoke in China the name of Shao Ping, whose personality became a symbol of loyalty. Having held the title of Marquis of Dongling during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC), he lost his rank and became poor, when the Han overthrew the Qin. Rather than associating himself with the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), he reverted to growing melons outside Chang'an, the capital, which became famous for their fine quality and became known as Dongling melons after his former title. He was immortalized in a poem by Tao Yuanming (AD 365-427) (quoted in the translation of William Acker, from John Minford and Joseph S.M. Lau, An Anthology of Translations. Classical Chinese Literature, vol. 1: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 502):
Fortune and misfortune have no fixed abode;
This one and the other are given us in turn.
Shao Ping working in his field of melons
Was much as he had been when Lord of Dongling.
More popularly, the melon design is understood as a symbol for prosperity and a long lineage of sons and grandsons, as illustrated in the saying guadie mianmian, 'continuously spreading like melon vines'.
Melon vines were a popular subject of paintings in ink and colour at least since the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279), and are also depicted on blue and white porcelain since the Yuan (AD 1279-1368), and repeatedly in the early Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644). An album leaf of the late Yuan or early Ming dynasty depicting a fruiting and flowering melon vine, with seals dating back to around the Chenghua period, was included in the exhibition Seven Classical Chinese Paintings, Eskenazi Ltd, London, 2009, cat. no. 7, illustrated also on the dust jacket (fig. 1).
A fragmentary Chenghua melon bowl was recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kiln site at Jingdezhen, see the exhibition catalogue A Legacy of Chenghua: Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. C 82 (fig. 2). Twelve complete bowls appear to be preserved of the present design, but none seems to be remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, the National Palace Museum, Taipei, or any other museum in China.
A pair of such bowls was originally in the collection of Sir Percival David, of which one is remaining in the collection and now on display in the British Museum, London, where another example is kept, from the Seligman collection; for the former see Fujioka Ryoichi and Hasebe Gakuji, eds, Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 14, Tokyo, 1976, pls 45 and 46 (fig 3); for the latter, Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, pl. 6: 3. The second bowl from the David collection, included in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-6, cat. no. 1493, and sold in our London rooms, 15th October 1968, lot 97, later entered the Ataka collection and is now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, see Tōyō tōji no tenkai/Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, pl. 47. A bowl from the Nora Lundgren collection in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden, was included in the exhibition Mostra d'Arte Cinese/Exhibition of Chinese Art, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 1954, cat. no. 656.
Porcelain 'palace bowl' with underglaze blue decoration. Mark and period of Chenghua. Sir Percival David Collection, 1973,0726.363. British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum
A melon bowl from the Frederick M. Mayer collection, sold at Christie's London 24th June 1974, lot 98, is now in the Tianminlou collection, illustrated in Chinese Porcelain. The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 31; one from the Charles Russell collection, published in R.L. Hobson, Bernard Rackham and William King, Chinese Ceramics in Private Collections, London, 1931, fig. 314, sold in our London rooms, 6th June 1935, lot 83 and in these rooms, 1st November 1994, lot 40, and illustrated in Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 245, is now in the Au Bakling collection and was exhibited at the British Museum, London, 1998.
A bowl from the collection of Major L.F. Hay was sold in our London rooms, 16th June 1939, lot 101; one from the collections of Herschel V. Johnson and Mr and Mrs R.D. Pilkington, illustrated in Adrian M. Joseph, Ming Porcelains. Their Origins and Development, London, 1971, pl. 38, was sold in our London rooms, 21st February 1967, lot 38; one from the R.H.R. Palmer and K.S. Lo collections, illustrated in Soame Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London, 1953, pl. 63 A, was sold at Christie's London, 14th June 1982, lot 79 and is now in the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong; and one from the collection of T.T. Tsui, illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, pl. 73, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 8th October 1990, lot 424.
The porcelains of this period were always greatly admired and remained highly treasured throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Ts'ai Ho-pi relates many anecdotes recorded in the historical literature attesting to the value and esteem of Chenghua wares in later periods (The Emperor's broken china, op.cit., pp. 16ff). A copy of the design, perhaps executed by one of the commercial kilns, can be seen on a slightly later bowl without reign mark, but from the Qing court collection and still preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red, Shanghai, 2000, vol. 2, pl. 48, attributed to the Hongzhi period.