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A rare large Blue and White 'Lotus' Guan Jar. Late Yuan-Early Ming dynasties. Photo Sotheby's

robustly potted in ovoid form with a short splayed neck set with a slightly everted rim flange, boldly painted in a dark, greyish cobalt blue with a broad stylised lotus scroll around the centre, with six large blooms alternating in full view and in profile among dense scrolling foliage and attendant buds, set between pendent and upright petal lappets draping the shoulder and skirting the waist, the shoulder lappets containing Buddhist and other auspicious emblems supported on lotus flowers, the lappets below with further emblems alternating with lotus sprays, all below a knobbed classic scroll collaring neck and a lingzhi scroll around the foot; 50.5 cm., 19 7/8 in. Estimate 8,000,000—12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 9,620,000 HKD

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1623.

NOTE: The style of this lotus scroll with its dense frilly petals and curling foliage, as well as the solid construction of the jar and the colour of the cobalt blue all suggest a date very late in the Yuan or early in the Ming dynasty, in the Hongwu period. Altogether, the painting style seems closer to Yuan dynasty prototypes than to the fully developed Hongwu designs, which tend to be more strictly composed and executed in a paler cobalt blue, and would seem to represent a different stage in the development of blue and white porcelain.

A companion piece to this highly unusual jar from the Au Bak Ling collection, sold in these rooms 3rd May 1994, lot 33, was included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bakling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998.

HK0371_38_lr_1

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An important Blue and White 'Dragon' bottle vase. Yuan Dynasty. Photo Sotheby's

the pear-shaped body rising to a slender neck and a wide flaring rim, counterbalanced by a splayed footring, freely painted in dark cobalt blue with a three-clawed striding dragon, its head with elaborate horns gazing up at a flaming pearl, the sinuous body wrapped around the entire vessel with spikes along the spine and cross-hatched scales, the inner mouthrim painted with a 'classic' scroll border, the base glazed save for the unglazed footring revealing a yellowish-beige body; 24.7 cm., 9 3/4 in. Estimate 8,000,000—12,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 9,620,000 HKD

PROVENANCE: Collection of Charles E. Russell, London (until 1936, one of two vases) .
Sotheby's London, 12th February 1936, offered for purchase together with its companion, lot 75, while on display at the Royal Academy of Arts.
Collection of Mrs. Alfred Clark (1936 until the 1970s, one of two vases).
Mayuyama & Co, Ltd, Tokyo.
Private Collection, Japan.
J.J. Lally & Co., New York.

EXHIBITED: International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-6, cat. no. 1434 (illustrated).
Ming Blue-and-White Porcelain, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1946, cat. no. 2.
Chinese Blue and White Porcelain: 14th to 19th Centuries, Oriental Ceramic Society at the Arts Council Gallery, London, 1953-4, cat. no. 1 (illustrated).
Mostra d'Arte Cinese/Exhibition of Chinese Art, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 1954, cat. no. 600 (illustrated).
The British Museum, London, 1955 (according to label; probably on loan).
Tōyō no sometsuke/Far Eastern Blue-and-White Porcelain, Mitsukoshi, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 12 (illustrated).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1980s, on loan).

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Jean Gordon Lee, 'Some Pre-Ming "Blue-and-White", Archives of the Chinese Art Society in America, vol. VI, 1952, p. 38, pl. IV, fig. c.
Soame Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London and Boston, 1988 (1953), pl. 12.
Sir Harry Garner, Oriental Blue and White, London, 1973 (1954), pl. 3.
Margaret Medley, Yüan Porcelain and Stoneware, London, 1974, pl. 25.
Sōgyō Shichijūnen Kinen Ryūsen Shūhō/Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 696.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1620.

NOTE: This vase with its lively, freely painted dragon is an iconic piece of Yuan blue and white, as is testified by its illustrious provenance from the Charles Russell and Alfred Clark collection, the impressive list of exhibitions in which it featured – including the ground-breaking International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London 1935-6 and the seminal Marco Polo Seventh Centenary exhibition in Venice 1954 – and the renowned experts who wrote about it, among them Soame Jenyns, Harry Garner and Margaret Medley.

The vase shared part of its history with a companion piece painted, probably by the same hand, with an almost identical dragon, but with a prunus branch and crescent moon inside the rim. This second vase, later in the Ataka collection and now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, (fig. 1) was included together with the present vase in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition 1953-4, op.cit., cat. no. 2, and is illustrated, for example, in Ye Peilan, Yuandai ciqi [Porcelain of the Yuan dynasty], Beijing, 1998, pl. 91. Another vase with a similar dragon and also with a classic scroll inside the rim, in the National Museum of China, Beijing, is published in Peng Qingyun, ed., Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: Taoci juan [Complete masterpieces of Chinese cultural relics: Ceramics volume], Taipei, 1993, p. 328, no. 535; and a fragmentary vase with plain rim, excavated near Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, is published in the exhibition catalogue Empires Beyond the Great Wall. The Heritage of Genghis Khan, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, 1994, p. 141, fig. 91. Fragments of similar vases, probably discovered at Jingdezhen, are also illustrated and their production methods discussed in Huang Yunpeng, ed., Yuan qinghua yanjiu [Research on Yuan blue and white], Shanghai, 2006, p. 10, fig. 4, and p. 256, col. pl. 3.

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A rare Qingbai Ewer and Cover. Yuan Dynasty. Photo Sotheby's

well potted, the pear-shaped body rising to a tall flared neck, supported on a splayed foot with a prominent flange, the body set with a slender curved spout issuing from the mouth of a dragon, connected to the body by an elaborate S-shaped bridge, set opposite with a curved handle formed by the scaly body of a fish-dragon with the opened mouth swallowing the top of the handle, its mane forming a small loop for attaching the cover, its tail fanning out into a large trefoil motif applied in relief, the body decorated on either side with a phoenix in flight with upturned scrolling tail and a cloud motif, cut from thin sheets of clay and applied with incised details, above a band of upright lappets containing ruyi heads, the neck collared by a key-fret band of pearl strings and slip-painted upright petal lappets containing scroll motifs, all beneath an icy blue-green transparent glaze, fitted with a stepped domed cover and a small eyelet for attachment to the ewer, surmounted by a seated lion delicately modelled with a thick beard, long mane, and bushy tail bent to one side, its left foreleg resting on a ball with thin freely modelled ribbons and a bell tied around its neck, overall 34 cm., 13 3/8 in. Estimate 1,200,000—1,500,000 HKD. Lot Sold  4,220,000 HKD

PROVENANCE: Messrs John Sparks, London.
Collection of Mr and Mrs Otto Doering, Snr.
Christie's New York, 9th November 1978, lot 125.
J.J. Lally & Co., New York.

EXHIBITED: The Art Institute of Chicago (on loan).
Chinese Porcelain and Silver in the Song Dynasty, J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 2002, cat. no. 30 (illustrated).

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: John Ayers, 'Some Characteristic Wares of the Yüan Dynasty', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 29, 1954-5, pl. 38, fig. 17.
Margaret Medley, Yüan Porcelain and Stoneware, London, 1974, pl. 10.
Anthony du Boulay, Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, London, 1984, p. 110, fig. 1.
Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1614.

NOTE: This ewer reflects the quest for richer ornamentation in the second half of the Yuan dynasty, which eventually was satisfied by the introduction of underglaze painting in colour. It shows the remarkably wide repertoire of decoration techniques experimented with at the time, such as moulding, incising, slip painting, dotted surface structuring, application of clay sheets, freely modelled motifs and pearl strings.

A very similar ewer without cover in the Tokyo National Museum is published in Yutaka Mino, Chūgoku no tōji. Hakuji/Chinese Ceramics. White Porcelain, Tokyo, 1998, col. pl. 79, perhaps the piece illustrated also in Mikami Tsugio, ed., Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 13, Tokyo, 1981, col. pl. 42. A simpler version of this design, perhaps made somewhat earlier than the present ewer, was among the porcelains recovered from the shipwreck off Shinan, Korea, which can be dated to AD 1323; that ewer has a similar phoenix design in relief, but is lacking any applied motifs and has a plain spout, handle and cover; see Relics Salvaged from the Seabed off Sinan. Materials I, Seoul, 1985, pl. 67. A similar smaller ewer without cover, from the collection of a Vietnamese Princess, was sold at Christie's New York, 22nd April 1999, lot 256.

A pair of meiping vases with similar, but perhaps also somewhat simpler lion covers, excavated from a tomb of AD 1324 in Wannian county, Jiangxi province, is published in Wenwu 1977, no. 4, pl. 9, fig. 5. A fragment of a similar ewer, excavated from a Yuan city site in Inner Mongolia, is published in Chen Yongzhi, ed., Nei Menggu Jininglu gu cheng yizhi chutu ciqi/Porcelain Unearthed from Jininglu Ancient City Site in Inner Mongolia, Beijing, 2004, p. 20, fig. 13; and a similar fragment of a dragon handle, excavated from the Yuan remains at Luomaqiao, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, in Ceramic Finds from Jingdezhen Kilns (10th - 17th Century), Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1992, cat. no. 116.

 

Sotheby's. The Meiyintang Collection - An Important Selection of Imperial Chinese Porcelains, 07 Apr 11, Hong Kong www.sothebys.com