A peach bloom-glazed brushwasher, tangluoxi, Kangxi mark and period (1662-1722). Diameter 4 1/2 in., 12.2 cm. Photo Sotheby's
Provenance: The Ashcroft Collection.
Sotheby’s London, 14th November 2000, lot 165.
Note: Copper-red glazes, which had not been revisited since the Ming dynasty, were not only successfully fired but technically improved during the Kangxi period. Recent research by Peter Lam and others indicate that the famous ‘peach bloom’ group was produced during the early years of the Kangxi period under the supervision of the very able Zang Yingxuan. In 1681, with civil disturbances quelled, the emperor sent Zang from the Imperial Household Storage Office in Beijing to oversee the rebuilding of the kilns and serve as imperial supervisor. Jonathan Hay comments on the significance of the appointment, “The porcelains produced under Zang’s supervision between 1683 and 1688 demonstrate a commitment to the goals of precision, technological invention and variety that determined the entire subsequent history of Qing imperial porcelain. They accustomed the court to ceramic bodies of unprecedented purity and fineness, glazes in previously unknown colors and textures, and decorative painting both under the glaze and in overglaze enamels, of exquisite exactness,” from “The Diachronics of Early Qing Visual and Material Culture”, in The Qing Formation in World Historical Time, ed. Lynn A. Struve, Cambridge, 2004, Chapter 7, p. 318.
The glaze was notoriously difficult to achieve. To manage the fugitive copper-lime pigment, it is believed to have been sprayed, via a long bamboo tube with fine silk covering one end, onto a layer of transparent glaze and then fixed with another layer, so as to be sandwiched between two layers of clear glaze. The distinctive glaze has several beguiling Chinese names among them “drunken beauty” and “baby face”. ‘Peach bloom’ was most likely coined by the Western scholar Stephen W. Bushell in the 19th century. The glaze was used exclusively on forms for the scholar’s table; water pots, small vases, and brushwashers. Ralph M Chait, in "The Eight Prescribed Peachbloom Shapes Bearing Kang-hsi Marks," Oriental Art 3 (Winter 1957), 130-13 seems to have ascribed the glaze to only eight forms. John Ayers in "The Peachbloom Wares of the Kangxi Period (1662-1722)", Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 64, 1999-2000 adds a ninth form to the group, however variations of the forms would imply that these scholar’s wares may never have been conceived as a set. The technique marks one of the great ceramic innovations of the Kangxi period, but probably due to the demanding process it remained in use for only a short time and was not revisited until around 1900 when reproductions of the famous glaze were made.
The first peach bloom vases to reach the United States appear to have come from Beijing out of the famous collection of the Prince of Yi (d.1861), a provenance cited for the Walters Art Museum’s famous peach bloom vase and discussed in Hiram Woodward, “Seventeenth Century Chinese Porcelain in Various Worlds”, The Journal of the Walters Art Museum, vol. 70-71, 2012-2013, pp. 31-33. Mr. Walters acquired the vase at the 1886 Morgan auction for the then exorbitant amount of $18,000. The price was such that the New York Times wrote an article questioning the merit of such a purchase. Collectors defended the purchase and time has certainly proved it a wise acquisition.
A washer in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 19; another is published in Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 208. A group of eight peach bloom wares, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is illustrated in Suzanne G. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1989, p. 237; and another seven were included in the exhibition Chinese Porcelain from the 15th to the 18th Century, Eskenazi, London, 2006, cat. nos. 4-10, where on p. 40, related washers are mentioned in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, in the Baur collection, Geneva, and in the Meiyintang collection. It is interesting to note that extant examples of this ware show little sign of use indicating that they were appreciated as works of art by the imperial household or given as imperial gifts.
Sotheby's. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, New York, 14 march 2014