A fine pair of coral-red ground Famille-Verte floral bowls. Yu Zhi marks and period of Kangxi - Photo Sotheby's

each delicately potted with rounded sides rising from a slightly splayed foot to a gently flared rim, richly painted on the exterior with exotic meadow flowers, including blooming peonies and day lilies, interspersed by a variety of green foliage and grasses, all naturalistically rendered in great detail in red, blue, dark and light green, pale yellow, aubergine and black enamels, reserved on an overall ground of dark orange-red enamel, the interior left undecorated, the base inscribed with a four-character underglaze-blue mark reading Kangxi yu zhi('made to imperial order in the Kangxi period') in regular script within double squares; 10.7 cm., 4 1/4 in. Estimation: 6,000,000 - 8,000,000 HKD

PROVENANCE: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19th November 1986, lot 280.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 26th October 2003, lot 72.

NOTE DE CATALOGUE: Bowls of this type belong to a group of wares that are notable as they were made in the palace style but actually produced in Jingdezhen. Reign marks with the wording yu zhi ('made for the imperial use of…') following the 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 province 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 palette of the Kangxi period. 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, Shanghai, 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; a pair from the Edward T. Chow collection 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 later sold in these rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 143; and another pair from the Wah Kwong, T.Y. Chao and Meiyintang collections, published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1724, was sold several times at auction, most recently in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 4. 

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. 158-160 and 166, together with a rare Palace Workshop example with a Kangxi yu zhi mark in pink enamel, pl. 123. A Daoguang example is illustrated together with another Yongzheng yu zhi mark bowl in Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain. The Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912), London, 1951, pl. XLV.

Sotheby's. Exceptional Qing Porcelain from the Collection of Dr. Alice Cheng. Hong Kong | 09 oct. 2012 www.sothebys.com