Lot 3617. A fine and rare celadon-glazed 'Kui Dragon' jar, Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795)26 cm., 10 1/4  inEstimate 6,000,000 — 8,000,000 HKD (700,315 - 933,753 EUR). Unsold. Photo Sotheby's.

of baluster form with generous globular sides rising from a waisted foot, boldly carved with archaistic kuidragons and phoenix, their sinuous bodies picked out with raised bosses and terminating in curled tendrils, the short flaring neck rising to a lipped rim encircled by a wan-symbol frieze, the foot bordered with a border of upright lappets, applied overall with a thick glaze of a rich olive-green tone pooling in the recesses to highlight the carving, the base crisply carved with a six-character seal mark within a recessed square.

ProvenanceA private Japanese collection.
Christie's Hong Kong, 30th May 2006, lot 1356.

ExhibitionMin Xin no bijutsu [The Art of the Ming and Qing], Osaka Municipal Museum, Osaka, 1982, cat. no. 179.

NotesCarved with a marvellous matrix composed entirely of sinuous kui dragons, this vase is an attractive example of the rare celadon-glaze wares of this olive-green shade made during the Qianlong reign. It follows in the Longquan celadon style made for the court during the early Ming dynasty and reflects the Qianlong Emperor’s studious and acute interest in antiquity. Two related examples were sold in our New York rooms, 5th May 1979, lot 40, and the other, 6th November 1981, lot 306.

In colour, form and decoration, the present vase has been inspired by imperial early Ming Longquan ware. The most appreciated Ming Longquan celadon wares were characterised by their glossy, rich greenish glaze with a yellowish or milky hue. Their neat shapes were often meticulously carved overall with intricate patterns similar to the official porcelains produced in Jingdezhen. Recent excavations at a kiln site in the Dayao area of Longquan have unearthed shards with reign marks, which verify historical documents which recorded that Longquan kilns were once suppliers for and supervised by the early Ming court (see the catalogue to the exhibition Green: Longquan Celadon of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2009, p. 21).

While drawing from Ming celadon traditions, the Qing craftsman has subtly imbued the present vase with a contemporaneity that firmly positions it within the taste of the Qianlong Emperor: the curves of the original guan shape have been extended into a sweeping baluster form and the sumptuous complex design of kui dragons have replaced the striding dragons of Ming prototypes, such as one, from the collection of Bo Ewer, sold in our London rooms, 24th July 1973, lot 56. Compare also a blue and white dragon jar, with related uniform petal lappets encircling the foot, included in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 3.

Perhaps what is most fascinating about the decoration of the present vase is that from a distance it appears to depict a floral scroll motif commonly found carved on early Ming celadon; it is only upon closer inspection that the kui dragons are seen. The vase is unusual for the Qianlong Emperor, as celadon wares produced during his reign largely continued the heritage of his father, Yongzheng, with a tendency to elaborate on earlier models. Like his predecessor he was enamoured with archaistic designs, but the revivals of his time followed Yongzheng prototypes more typically than reinventing original Song or Ming antiques from scratch. However the design may have been loosely inspired by chilong and lingzhi decorated vessels from the Yongzheng period; see a Yongzheng underglaze blue and red decorated tianqiuping, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi. Yongzheng. Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1989, p. 190, pl. 19; and a copper red Qianlong version, but of double gourd shape, sold in these rooms, 8th April 2010, lot 1867.

For Qianlong celadon-glazed vases of related olive tone, see one carved with stylised lotus scrolls and leafy tendrils, inscribed with a similar Qianlong seal mark and of the period, from the Huaihaitang collection and included in the exhibition Ethereal Elegance. Porcelain Vases of the Imperial Qing, Art Museum, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2007, cat. no. 51; and another, but with a cut-down rim, sold in our London rooms, 7th November 2012, lot 430. The similarities in seal mark, style of decoration and glaze strongly suggest they belong to a group produced at the same time and by the same craftsmen.

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 07 oct. 2015, 02:30 PM