Lot 117. A fine Famille-rose 'Dragon and Phoenix' jar, Jiaqing seal mark and period (1796-1820); 26cm., 10 1/4 in. Estimate 80,000 — 120,000 GBP. Lot sold 122,500 GBP. Photo Sotheby's
the ovoid body rising from a recessed base to a short waisted neck with rolled rim, brightly enamelled around the exterior with a phoenix in flight and a scaly dragon in pursuit of a flaming pearl, all amidst leafy foliate strapwork, fire and ruyi cloud scrolls, between lotus lappet and ruyi bands at the base and neck and a foliate band at the neck, the interior and base glazed turquoise, the mark in iron-red set within a reserved white-ground rectangle to the base.
Note: The present jar is especially fine for its painted decoration of a single large five-clawed scaly dragon in iron-red enamel, depicted in an especially lively and robust manner, that is in sharp contrast with the pink-bodied phoenix drawn with soft brushstrokes to highlight the bird’s feminine quality. The overall composition is characteristic of the early Jiaqing period, when designs were often set amid meandering peony and hibiscus on a white body that served as the painter’s canvas, and when the influence of the Qianlong period painting style remained strong and evident. For example, see a large Qianlong mark and period famille-rose vase painted with bright enamels and iron-red with landscape panels on a ground of floral design, sold twice in our Hong Kong rooms, 22nd May 1984, lot 142, and again, 13th November 1990, lot 310; and another Qianlong vase, the body covered with floral decoration, included in the exhibition Ethereal Elegance, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2007, cat. no. 126, together with a Qianlong wall vase, also painted in a related fashion with flower scrolls and upright petals around the base, cat. no. 130.
The dragon and phoenix motif is full of auspicious connotations, and vessels decorated with two of the most important mythical animals in Chinese tradition were typically made as wedding gifts. The dragon is the symbol of the emperor and represents fertility, while the phoenix embodies the warmth of the sun and helps produce male offspring. The dragon, together with the phoenix, which is also the leader of all winged creatures, symbolises the emperor and the empress, as well as representing marital bliss. When the two animals face each other, as seen on this jar, they convey the message of a happy reunion and good omen.
A closely related jar, with its original cover, was sold at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2009, lot 462; and another, but with a spreading foot, was sold three times in our rooms, in New York, 20th February 1975, lot 289, again in Hong Kong, 13th November 1990, lot 308, and more recently in these rooms, 7th November 2012, lot 103. Compare also a jar painted with a similar design overall above a lappet band, sold at Christie’s London, 5th June 1995, lot 170.
Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art. London, 14 may 2014