A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

Lot 2913. A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722); 5 5/8 in. (14.2 cm.) diam. Estimate: HK$12,000,000-18,000,000/US$1,500,000- 2,500,000. Price realised HK$16,840,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

HONG KONG.- Following the success of Imperial Chinese Porcelain- Treasures from a Distinguished American Collection in 2013, Christie’s will offer Imperial Chinese Treasures from a Distinguished American Collection, an addition of 18 works from this renowned collection on Wednesday, May 28. This group of works represents some of the finest and rarest Ming and Qing dynasty Imperial porcelain and glass wares. 

Leading the sale is a fine and extremely rare copper-red decorated pear-shaped vase, yuhuchunping, Hongwu period (1368-1398) (Lot 2908, Estimate: HK$15,000,000-20,000,000/US$1,875,000-2,500,000). The generous proportions of this Hongwu pear-shaped vase provided the ceramic decorator with a broad expanse of porcelain on which to paint the well- balanced peony scroll that dominates its decorative scheme. This scheme is enhanced by the richness of color seen in the copper red pigment, and the artistic confidence of the decorator’s brush. This vase is also very rare for its well-preserved color and in being undamaged, since so many other examples of this form have damage to their fragile mouth rims. 

2014_HGK_03320_2908_001(a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch) (1)

5c1b6b000b7775b701edce82b2921b3b

 

2014_HGK_03320_2908_002(a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch)

2014_HGK_03320_2908_001(a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch)

2014_HGK_03320_2908_004(a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch)

2014_HGK_03320_2908_005(a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch)

Lot 2908.fine and extremely rare copper-red decorated pear-shaped vase, yuhuchunping, Hongwu period (1368-1398). Estimate: HK$15,000,000-20,000,000/US$1,875,000-2,500,000)Lot sold HK$18,040,000 (US$2,337,984) to an Asian Private. © Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

The vase is well potted with a pear-shaped body supported on a short foot rising to a slender neck flaring at the rim, boldly painted in a deep mushroom-pink tone with an undulating scroll bearing four peony blossoms alternating in profile and full-faced amidst broad pointed leaves, all between a band of pendent trefoils around the shoulders and upright petal lappets around the foot. The neck is further painted with upright plantain leaves above a keyfret chain and a classic scroll. The inner mouth rim is adorned with a band of classic scroll; 12 5/8 in. (32 cm.) high.

Provenance: A prominent South American estate
Sold at Sotheby's New York, 31 March-1 April 2005, lot 102

An Exceptional and Rare Hongwu Copper Red Pear-shaped Vase
Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director, Asian Art

The generous proportions of this Hongwu pear-shaped vase Yuhuchunping are characteristic of the late 14th century, and provided the ceramic decorator with a broad expanse of porcelain on which to paint the well-balanced peony scroll that dominates its decorative scheme. This decorative scheme is enhanced by the richness of colour seen in the copper red pigment, and the artistic confidence of the decorator's brush. The vase is also very rare in being undamaged, since so many other examples of this form have damage to their fragile mouth rims. Even a similar vase preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing has suffered loss to its everted mouth rim (1).

Copper oxide was utilised to produce red on high-fired ceramics as early as the Tang dynasty, and from that time onwards it has provided a formidable challenge to the potter. The various steps that went into the production of fine copper red decorations are so sensitive that great care has to be taken with the composition of the base glaze, the percentage of copper, the temperature and degree of reduction in the firing, and the placement of the vessels within the kiln. Even today, with all the technological advances that have occurred since the 14th century, a potter trying to produce copper red wares may open the kiln and find not the desired, beautiful, raspberry red, but dull grey or even areas where the colour has all but faded completely.

The exceptional difficulties faced by Chinese imperial kilns trying to produce underglaze red decoration on porcelains is well illustrated by various memorials sent to the imperial court by censors. Even as late as the 5th year of the Longqing emperor's reign (AD 1571), a despairing censor called Xu Shi sent a memorial to the throne begging the emperor to reduce the burden placed on the workforce by excessive palace orders for Jingdezhen porcelain. One of the most significant parts of his request was that the order for underglaze red decorated porcelains should be replaced by those decorated with overglaze iron red. Bearing in mind not only that Chinese emperors did not usually accede gracefully to suggested curbing of their imperial demands, but also the fact that porcelains decorated in overglaze iron red would have to be fired twice - with concomitant losses, such a request would not have been made lightly. It provides, however, a good indication of the difficulty that the potters experienced in producing porcelains using underglaze copper red and helps to explain the rarity of fine quality porcelains of this type.

As is often the case, it is probable that this tantalizing decorative technique was discovered empirically or by accident. The first high-fired Chinese wares on which copper red was used, for decoration and also as a monochrome glaze, appear to date to the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). A very small number of monochrome copper red glazed stonewares, and a larger number of vessels painted with designs in copper red were made at the Tongguan kilns at Changsha in Hunan province in the 9th century. In some instances the changing of the fluid designs from copper green to copper red may have been fortuitous, but in other cases it was definitely the potter's intention. A vessel which makes this intention clear is a jar in the Cernuschi Museum, Paris, which is decorated with alternating red spots and green lines (2). In the 10th century splashes of copper red were applied to a small number of white-slipped stoneware vessels from northern China, perhaps providing the inspiration for the striking copper red splashes on Jun wares made in Henan province during the Song and later periods. In the late 1980s excavations at the Rongxian kilns in Guangxi province revealed very rare fragments of Song dynasty copper red monochrome porcelains (4). These Song dynasty Guangxi wares from a provincial kiln that generally produced pieces in imitation of Qingbai and Yaozhou wares, are the earliest porcelains so far discovered in China that employed copper to achieve a red monochrome glaze. The only other evidence of the use of copper red in the Song dynasty is the appearance of copper red spots (in the same style as the iron brown spots on tobi seiji wares) on a very small number of Longquan celadons, which were made in the 12th and 13th centuries (5).

a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch_d5800762_006h

It seems that it was not until the Yuan dynasty that decoration using copper red was adopted by the potters of Jingdezhen, at which time they appear to have made a concerted effort to master this challenging decorative material. This was an era of experimentation and in the case of copper red decoration three techniques of application were tried - splashes, reserved decoration and painted decoration. Very few splashed wares are known (6)(fig. 1), but the technique appears on a small number of pieces found at Gao'an in Jiangxi province, including a stem cup with revolving bowl and an applied relief chi dragon (7). These splashed porcelains may have been influenced by the popular Jun wares of the north, but also recall the splashed northern white wares of the 10th century. The reserved wares of the Yuan period, although interesting, were not generally a success. On these vessels the design was incised into the body of the vessel, under the glaze, and copper red was applied in a band avoiding the area of the design.

a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch_d5800762_007h

The decoration should have stood out in white against the red. Unfortunately in almost all cases the glaze, which was similar to that used on qingbai wares, tended to run, taking the red with it and obscuring parts of the design (8)(fig. 2). When underglaze copper red with reserved decoration was attempted in the Hongwu period it was in association with a different, less fluid, glaze and employed a good deal less copper.

a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch_d5800762_008h

The success of this approach can be seen on the bowl with reserved decoration both inside and out sold at Christie's London in 1988 (9)(fig. 3), exhibiting a much more successfully controlled design. By the early 15th century reserved designs created using stencils did not generally suffer from running of the coloured areas, but were still susceptible to poor colour development.

a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch_d5800762_009h

In concert with developments in the use of underglaze cobalt blue, the application of copper red decoration that endured most successfully into the early Ming dynasty was that of painted designs in red on white. This technique offered just as many challenges to the potter as the other styles, since the colour still had a tendency to 'bleed' into the surrounding glaze, as on a jar in the Shanghai Museum (10)(fig. 4) , or to turn grey, as on some of the bowls excavated at Dongmentou Zhushan (11). In some cases the colour disappeared almost entirely. Nevertheless, such was the appreciation of these porcelains that the potters persevered and a few fine examples of 14th century red and white, such as the current pear-shaped vase, have survived to the present day. However, successfully fired vessels, preserved in good condition, such as the current vase, are extremely rare.

It was not only for their rarity and beauty that copper red decorated porcelains were esteemed. The colour red has traditionally been associated in China with happiness and celebration. It is also worth noting that, according to the Da Ming Hui Dian (12), in the second year of his reign (AD 1369) the Hongwu emperor issued an edict decreeing that thenceforth vessels on the imperial altars should no longer be of metal but of porcelain. In time specific colours were required for the different altars, and red was the colour ascribed to the Chaoritan, the altar of the sun. Nevertheless, at various times in China's ceramic history the manufacture of copper red wares has been abandoned simply because of the degree of difficulty involved in its production and the high failure rate. Those porcelains with copper red glaze or painted decoration that have been preserved through the centuries are, therefore, all the more greatly treasured by connoisseurs.

It has been suggested by a number of authors that the Hongwu Emperor was particularly fond of ceramics decorated in copper red. This imperial preference appears to have been confirmed by the results of excavations carried out at the Nanjing Palace, the construction of which was started by General Zhu Yuanzhang (AD 1326-980) in the south-eastern part of the city (then called Jinling) in 1366, some two years before he finally defeated the Mongols and re-established a native Chinese dynasty in 1368 under the reign name Hongwu. Roof tiles and other architectural ceramics in China are usually decorated with brightly coloured lead-fluxed glazes, like those on the famous yellow roof tiles of the Forbidden City in Beijing. In 1989, however, archaeologists excavating within the early Ming Palace walls between the Xiye Gate and the Temple of the God of Earth and Grain found eight 14th century white roof-end goutou and dishuitiles decorated with relief designs painted in underglaze red. The round tiles were decorated with dragons, while the cloud-shaped tiles bore phoenixes in flight (13)(fig. 5).

Excavations carried out at the imperial kilns at Zhushan, Jingdezhen have also provided a wealth of information regarding the porcelains made for the court during the Hongwu reign. This archaeological material has confirmed that designs on underglaze cobalt blue porcelains and those on underglaze copper red wares followed largely similar paths in the second half of the 14th century, as can be seen in the case of the underglaze blue lobed jar excavated from the site (14), which closely mirrors the similarly shaped jar in the Shanghai Museum mentioned above. These Hongwu painted porcelains provide a fascinating bridge between the decorative styles of the Yuan and those of the Yongle reign of the Ming dynasty.

The specific profile of the current vase reflects an interesting stage of transition in the pear-shaped vase form at Jingdezhen. This Hongwu vase lies between the rather light version of the shape seen in the Yuan dynasty, and the heavier vessels typical of the Yongle reign with shorter neck and lower centre of gravity. The current vase has a wider lower body than the Yuan examples (15), which provides for a greater contrast with the narrowed neck, and gives a more striking and sinuous S-form to the profile. While lower than on Yuan vases, the widest part of the body has not yet descended so close to the foot as it was to do in the Yongle period. Finely potted and elegant, this red and white pear-shaped vase exemplifies the best of Hongwu ceramics. Indeed the shape of this vessel precisely accords with that of a pear-shaped vase excavated in 1960 from the tomb of Song Sheng, Hongwu's loyal official, who had numerous honours and titles bestowed upon him by the Yongle emperor (AD 1403-24) including Marquis of Xining, and whose two sons married daughters of the emperor (16). One of the characteristics of this form is the fine potting of the widely flaring mouth. Unfortunately this attractive feature leaves the shape very vulnerable to damage, and the vast majority of the extant pieces have been broken around the mouth rim. This underlines the rarity of the current vessel's good condition.

This pear-shaped vase is also interesting for its place in the development of decorative schemes. The Hongwu period was one of transition in the development of decorative styles on underglaze decorated porcelains. In the late 14th century there was a change of emphasis from the Yuan style, and in the Hongwu reign minor bands were reduced in size and the major bands gain in size and importance. This can clearly be seen on the current vase, where the confident peony scroll dominates the greater part of the form. The cloud-collar of the Yuan dynasty has been reduced to a lappet band above the main design. The latter is typical of the period and can also be seen on an underglaze copper red pear-shaped ewer in the collection of the Percival David Foundation (17)(fig. 6), and also on an excavated blue and white pear-shaped ewer from Dongmentou (18). Another blue and white pear-shaped ewer from the same excavation also has a lappet band but of slightly more complex form (19). This second ewer also shares with the current red and white vase a classic scroll around the foot, above which are rather delicate petal panels, in both cases containing scrolling cloud-like motifs. These petal panels can be seen as a lighter, less formal version of the Yuan petal bands seen around the base of vessels like van Hemert jar sold by Christie's London in July 2005, lot 88. Another point of similarity worth noting is in the development of the plantain leaves on the necks of the Hongwu copper red vase. While on Yuan vessels, like the mid-14th century David Vases, the leaves have a thick, darkly painted, scalloped edge and a darkly painted central vein, the Hongwu example has a narrower edge and the central vein has merely been outlined, giving the band a much lighter appearance in keeping with the slender form of the neck.

This vase has a key-fret band between the classic scrolls and the plantain leaves on the neck. Three vases with otherwise identical decorative designs are known - one is the pear-shaped vase sold by Christie's Hong Kong on 30 May 2006 (20)(fig. 7). In place of the key-fret band on the lower neck, these three have a band that is made up of overlapping concentric arcs suggesting water (21). This too represents a development from Yuan design. Its origins lie in the stylised depiction of background water seen within the major cloud collar bands of some Yuan vessels. A typical example is the large jar decorated in underglaze blue and red excavated from the Yuan hoard at Baoding in Hebei province, where the concentric arcs provide the ground for floating lotus blossoms (22).

While quite a wide variety of flowers appear as vertical sprays on Hongwu porcelains, the variety of floral scrolls used in the main decorative band of vessels is more limited. The most popular floral scrolls were those comprising the chrysanthemum, lotus or peony. The bold peony scroll on the current vase displays three aspects of painting style characteristic of fine Hongwu porcelains. Firstly, a greater prominence has been given to budding flowers, which provide pleasing highlights to the leafy scrolling stems. Secondly the stamens in the centres of the full-face flowers are ringed by a white band. This is a very effective device, which provides contrast with the deep colour of the petals. A similar device was used on Hongwu chrysanthemum scrolls, while the lotus flowers were often given an inner ring of white petals. The third Hongwu characteristic is the use of an almost triangular profiled blossom which alternates with the full-face flower. This provides variation within the undulating scroll, which in turn accentuates the form of the vessel. The ceramic decorator of the late 14th century also frequently gave the flower petals white tips. This could be a risky strategy with so volatile a medium as underglaze copper red, but on this vase, where the control of the copper red has been successful, it lightens the appearance of the flower head and provides an effective contrast with the deep red of the rest of the petals.

This vase combines the pleasing proportions of its well-potted form with skilful decoration in successfully-fired underglaze copper red to create a vessel with visual impact commensurate with its rarity.

(1) Illustrated in Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 34, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 212, no. 197.
(2) Illustrated in Rosemary E. Scott (ed.), Chinese Copper Red Wares, Monograph Series No. 3, Percival David Foundation, London, 1992, plate 2.
(3) Ibid., plates 3 and 4.
(4) Rosemary Scott & Rose Kerr, 'Copper Red and Kingfisher Green Porcelains: Song dynasty technological innovations in Guangxi Province', Oriental Art, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 25-33.
(5) A bowl of this type from the collection of the Shanghai Museum is illustrated by Zhu Boqian in Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, p. 239, no. 222.
(6) A fine example is in the collection of Mr. C.P. Lin. It is illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration: Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, No. 17.
(7) Illustrated by Zhu Yuping in Yuandai qinghua ci, Shanghai, 2000, pp. 252-3, no. 9-6.
(8) For an example in the Percival David Foundation, see Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration: Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain op. cit., No. 16.
(8) Christie's London, 6 June 1988, lot 150.
(9) Wang Qingzheng (ed.), Underglaze Blue and Red, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 64, no. 36.
(10) Chang Foundation, Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Taipei, 1996, pp. 84-5, no. 9.
(11) Da ming hui dian, 'Gongbu' section, in a discussion of qiyong, chapter 201, 2715.
(12) Nanjing Museum and the Art Gallery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, A Legacy of the Ming: Ceramic Finds from the Site of the Ming Palace in Nanjing, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 35, nos. 7, 7.1, 8, 8.1-3.
(13) Chang Foundation, op. cit., pp. 68-9, no. 1.
(14) For a typical Yuan example see the red and white vase in the Percival David Foundation, detailed in reference note 6.
(15) Sir John Addis, 'Hung Wu and Yung Lo White', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, Vol. 41, 1975-77, p. 51, plate 24b.
(16) Illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration: Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, op. cit., p. 33, no. 19.
(17) Chang Foundation, op. cit., pp. 70-1, no. 2.
(18) Ibid., pp. 74-5, no. 4. This more complex lappet form can also be seen on the underglaze red Hongwu vase sold at Christie's Hong Kong in September 1992, lot 468.
(19) Of the other two, one is in the collection of the Newark Museum, included in the Exhibition of Chinese Art from the Newark Museum, China Institute of America, New York, 1980, no. 20. The other, which was missing the upper part of its neck, was sold by Sotheby's Hong Kong in November 1990, lot 126.
(21) This design also appeared on a similar vase sold at Christie's London in December 1995, lot 97
(22) See note 16. Two other such jars are known although neither has the same decoration within the cloud collar. One is in the Percival David Foundation, and the other was sold at Christie's London in June 1972, lot 156.

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722) (Lot 2913, Estimate: HK$12,000,000-18,000,000/US$1,500,000- 2,500,000) is another notable piece in the collection. This bowl is one of the finest porcelain vessels made for the Kangxi Emperor, decorated with floral designs against an egg-yolk yellow ground, and four-character yuzhi marks written in rouge enamel. This is a superb example of enamel painting from the first quarter of the 18th century with depictions of auspicious flowers including a myriad of blooming roses, chrysanthemums, as well as daylilies. 

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722)

Lot 2913. A very rare imperial yellow-ground falangcai ‘floral’ bowl, Kangxi pink-enamelled four-character yuzhi mark within double squares and of the period (1662-1722); 5 5/8 in. (14.2 cm.) diam. Estimate: HK$12,000,000-18,000,000/US$1,500,000- 2,500,000. Lot sold HK$16,840,000 (US$2,182,464) to an Asian Private. ©  Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

The bowl is finely potted with thin rounded walls rising to a slightly everted rim, exquisitely enamelled around the exterior with a myriad of blooming flowers including roses and buds in delicate shades of pink, lush chrysanthemum in soft tones of lilac, blue and pink as well as daylilies picked out in blue and pale lime green, all amidst dense foliage in two shades of green and against a brilliant egg-yolk yellow ground. The interior and base are covered with a transparent glaze.  

Provenance: Acquired in France
Sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 April 2007, lot 504

A Rare Masterpiece of the Enameller's Art
Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director, Asian Art

This bowl belongs to a relatively small group of porcelain vessels made for the Kangxi Emperor which have egg-yolk yellow grounds, floral designs and four-character yuzhi marks written in rouge enamel. All of the examples of this group preserved in international collections display very fine painting, but the current bowl is undoubtedly one of the finest of all. The rendering of the flowers is exquisite and the artist's appreciation of the textures and volume of the petals of the different flowers has created a design that is reminiscent of paintings by the famous artist Yun Shouping (1633-1690)(fig. 1).

Nouveau Dessin OpenDocument12

Nouveau Dessin OpenDocument13

The overglaze enamels used on this bowl incorporate the whole range of new colours developed at the end of the Kangxi reign in response to the Kangxi emperor's admiration of European enamels, and his determination that Chinese craftsmen should also be able to produce fine enamelled wares. The Emperor's admiration for these foreign enamels is well documented, as are the steps he took to ensure comparable Chinese production. These included the establishment of ateliers in the Beijing palace, among which were those charged with producing enamels. In his quest for exquisite enamelled wares bearing the whole range of colours seen on European pieces, Kangxi involved a number of the European Jesuit missionaries, including the German Kilian Stumpf, who was co-opted in 1696 to supervise the new glass imperial glassworks. The result of all the research and development carried out at the imperial ateliers was that by the final years of the Kangxi reign a whole raft of new enamel colours were available for use by the ceramic decorators. Plain, white glazed, porcelains were sent from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province in the south to the palace in Beijing, where they were inspected personally by the emperor. After his approval had been granted they were transferred to the appropriate workshop for decoration.

On this bowl can be seen a number of the newly developed enamel colours that were to revolutionise Chinese porcelain decoration. The ground colour on this bowl is one of these. The earlier Kangxi yellow was paler, transparent, and more lemon-toned. The new yellow enamel used as the ground colour for this bowl is thicker, opaque and a rich egg-yolk colour. It apparently became a favourite with the emperor, judging by the relatively high proportion of yellow-ground bowls preserved in the palace collections compared to those of other colours. The enamel colour used for the yuzhimarks on the bases of these bowls was either cobalt blue or rouge pink - both new colours. The pink, in which the mark on the current bowl is written, was the new pink derived from colloidal gold, which gave its name to famille rose. This pink composed of ruby glass ground and suspended in a clear enamel matrix allowed greater delicacy and control than the European 'Purple of Cassius', as can be seen on the roses and one of the chrysanthemums on the current bowl. The blue enamel had been produced after considerable effort to minimise the effects of the manganese found in the Chinese cobalt ore, and can be seen used to excellent effect on both chrysanthemums and daylilies on this bowl. Although relatively little of it can be seen on the surface of the painting, the other very important new enamel colour that has been used on this bowl is opaque white. This white enabled the decorator to mix colours and produce pastel shades, and also to paint other colours over the white enamel to achieve delicate shading. Both techniques can be seen on this bowl.

There are two distinct groups of imperial Kangxi yellow-ground bowls - those with bold formal floral scrolls and those, like the current bowl, with more gracefully naturalistic plants growing up from the junction of the sides with the foot of the bowl. It seems possible that the latter group are slightly later in the period than the formal scroll group, since they are closer in decorative style to porcelains of the Yongzheng reign and also appear to employ a the full range of enamel colours, some of which were only developed towards the very end of the Kangxi reign. The way the enamels are used on the naturalistically painted Kangxi bowls have a delicacy and use of open space which presages that of the early Yongzheng wares. A comparison of both the flowers and the leaves on the current bowl with those on fine imperial Yongzheng enamelled porcelains shows how similar they are in treatment. The delicate shading of the rose and chrysanthemum petals on the current bowl shows this particularly clearly.

There are two very slightly smaller bowls in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which are very similar in their form to the current vessel, and share naturalistic floral decoration (illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 39, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 6, no.4 and p. 8, no. 6). Both have rich egg-yolk yellow grounds and are decorated with naturalistically disposed peony blossoms. One (no. 6) has a blue enamel yuzhi mark, while the other (no. 4) has a pink enamel yuzhi mark. Two smaller yellow-ground bowls with floral designs in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Fine-Enamelled Ware of the Ch'ing Dynasty - Kang-hsi Period, Cafa, Hong Kong, 1967, pp 74-5, no. 25, and pp. 78-9, no. 27), also have delicate, naturalistically-painted floral decoration. One of these (no. 25) is decorated with lotus and aquatic plants, while the other (no. 27) is decorated with a variety of autumn flowers, including chrysanthemums. The depiction of these latter flowers is very similar to that of the chrysanthemums on the current bowl. The rouge enamel Kangxi yuzhi mark on the 'autumn flower' bowl in the National Palace Museum, Taipei also shares with the current bowl the distinctive calligraphic style of its rouge enamel yuzhi mark.

The current bowl has a very finely painted decorative scheme, which depicts three flowers that are especially popular with Chinese decorators - chrysanthemum, daylily and rose. These are all shown in a naturalistic arrangement, as if growing from the junction between the foot and the lower part of the exterior sides of the bowl. Each of the flowers has been chosen for its special meaning. In China the chrysanthemum is regarded as one of the 'four gentlemen of flowers', along with lotus, orchid and bamboo. Chrysanthemums have a long history of cultural significance in China and are mentioned in such early classical literature as the Shijing (The Book of Odes). They are symbols of longevity and wealth as well as being the flowers representing autumn. The reason chrysanthemums are associated with longevity is because the word for chrysanthemum (ju) sounds similar to the word (jiu) meaning 'a long time', and also because infusions made from their petals have medicinal properties. Perhaps because of their multiplicity of petals, chrysanthemums are also associated with wealth. This bowl is decorated with chrysanthemums in four different colours. The pink and the blue flowers are painted using two tones of their respective colours. The white blossom has pale blue brush-strokes towards the end of the petals and pink highlights towards the centre of the flower. These combine to give the flower a particularly etherial appearance. The fourth chrysanthemum blossom is painted in a subtle combination of colours. The white petals appear to be outlined in deep blue, while the tips of the petals are highlighted in purple and the part of the petals nearest to the centre of the flower are shaded with apple green.

The roses on this bowl are also painted with considerable ingenuity, and in a way that emphasizes the soft, velvet, texture of their petals. Only two colours are used, one of which is the new opaque white enamel and the other the new colloidal gold pink enamel. The base colour of the petals is white and the pink has been applied in various densities to produce different intensities of the colour. It is also noticeable that while some of the petals are outlined using an extremely thin pink line, other petals are outlined using a narrow area of reserved white. This technique provides a pleasing and effective contrast with the technique used on the other flowers on the bowl. The roses on this bowl are of a type known as Chinese rose - a flower that combines beauty with auspicious associations. Since the rose has such a long flowering season, it is sometimes known as 'the flower of eternal spring' or 'flower of eternal youth' (changchunhua), and it is therefore a symbol of long life. Another of the names applied to this flower derives from the fact that it bears blossoms in almost every month - it is therefore known as the 'monthly rose' (yueji), and this in turn leads the rose to be a rebus for the 'four seasons' ( siji qu), or 'year-long'.

The daylilies on this bowl are painted in yet another style, which serves to emphasise one of their particular features. The trumpet-like flowers are shown with the ends of their petals elegantly curling, creating a subtle impression of movement. One of the daylily flowers is painted in white with different intensities of cobalt blue creating the characteristic stripes and speckles on the upper surface of the petals. The anthers in the centre of the flower are painted in yellow, using the new enamel's ability to appear impasto on the surface of the vessel. The second of the daylily flowers is essentially white, but has been given characteristic stripes and delicate spotting in black, deep pink and yellow, in a way that renders the flower colourful, but still delicate, in appearance. Like chrysanthemums, daylilies also have an ancient literary history in China, and they too are mentioned in the Shi Jing (Book of Odes). Daylilies are also mentioned in China's earliest materia medica the Shen Nong Bencao Jing (Herbal Classic of Shen Nong), which was traditionally attributed to the mythical Emperor Shen Nong (the Divine Farmer) who was supposed to have lived c. 2800 BC, although the Shen Nong Bencao Jing probably dates to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220).

The daylily was already known in Western Asia by the 1st century AD and is mentioned in the writings of both Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) and the Cilician physician, pharmacologist and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (c. AD 40-90) in his De Materia Medica. The botanical name for the daylily, is Hemerocallis, which comes from the Greek hemera, meaning day, and kalos, meaning beautiful, and their elegant form has ensured that they have remained popular flowers in the West, as well as in China. However, it is not only for their beauty that daylilies have remained a popular motif on the Chinese decorative arts. The flower also has auspicious associations, which have encouraged its frequent inclusion in floral designs of many kinds. In Chinese the daylily is known as xuancao, and xuan is a traditional honorific way to refer to one's mother. The flower is also a symbol of longevity, and thus daylilies could be used to honour one's mother and to wish her long life. The roots of daylilies were used to prepare medicine, which was believed to be effective against fevers and liver complaints. In China daylilies are also popularly called wangyoucao ('grief dispelling plant') or yi'nancao ('boy-favouring herb'). It was believed that they could raise the spirits and banish grief, while a pregnant woman who wore daylilies could be expected to bear a boy child. 

This rare bowl thus bears a design rich in auspicious wishes, and is also a superb example of enamel painting which fully utilizing the new enamel colours perfected in the first quarter of the 18th century. Not only were these used to painterly effect on obvious parts of the design, such the blossoms, but also on smaller areas, such as the underside of the tips of rose leaves, the edge of calyxes, and the centres of buds. The bowl is undoubtedly a masterpiece of the enameller's art.

Another highlight is a magnificent and rare famille rose vase, tianqiuping, Yongzheng six-character seal mark and of the period (1723-1735) (Lot 2914, Estimate: HK$12,000,000-15,000,000/US$1,600,000-1,900,000). This impressive vase is gracefully composed of two fluttering butterflies with a cluster of luxuriant flora including peony plants in shades of pastel pink, yellow, and white. The big blossoms dominate the larger part of the porcelain surface while deliberately leaving smaller areas of undecorated surface to achieve a harmonizing balance and pleasing visual effect. Its well-proportioned construction and exquisite enameling truly attest to the consummate skills of the artisans at the imperial kilns during the Yongzheng period. 

10291190_10203221552113540_8371852635919124490_n

2014_HGK_03320_2914_000(a_magnificent_and_rare_famille_rose_vase_tianqiuping_yongzheng_six-cha)

2014_HGK_03320_2914_001(a_magnificent_and_rare_famille_rose_vase_tianqiuping_yongzheng_six-cha)

2014_HGK_03320_2914_002(a_magnificent_and_rare_famille_rose_vase_tianqiuping_yongzheng_six-cha)

2014_HGK_03320_2914_003(a_magnificent_and_rare_famille_rose_vase_tianqiuping_yongzheng_six-cha)

a_fine_and_extremely_rare_copper-red_decorated_pear-shaped_vase_yuhuch_d5800762_009h

Lot 2914. A magnificent and rare famille rose vase, tianqiuping, Yongzheng six-character seal mark and of the period (1723-1735); 20 1/8 in. (51 cm.) high. Estimate: HK$12,000,000-15,000,000/US$1,600,000-1,900,000. Lot sold HK$12,040,000 (US$1,560,384) to an Asian Private. ©  Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

The vase is robustly potted with a large globular body rising to a slightly flared cylindrical neck, delicately painted with luxuriant peony plants bearing large blossoms rendered in shades of pastel pink, yellow, white and iron red and lush leaves in two tones of green, shrewn with a slender stem of crab apple blossoms and buds and a tall magnolia branch picked out in white and soft-brown. The exuberant scene is further adorned by two fluttering butterflies of more subtle tones of sepia and yellowish-white.  

Provenance: Asian Private Collection
Sold at Sotheby's London, 16 June 1999, lot 807
Sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 10 April 2006, lot 1724

Note: This impressive vase is gracefully composed with a cluster of luxuriant flora dominating the larger part of the porcelain surface while deliberately leaving a smaller area of undecorated surface to achieve a harmonising balance and pleasing visual effect. Its well-proportioned construction and exquisite enamelling truly attest to the consummate skills of the artisans at the imperial kilns during the Yongzheng period.