Lot 5. An Exquisite White Jade ‘Birds and Rockwork’ Group, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period. Est. HK$1 – 1.5 million / US$129,000 – 194,000Photo: Sotheby's.

the lustrous white stone exquisitely worked in the form of a pair of birds, possibly mandarin ducks, against layers of pierced and jagged rockwork, one bird partially concealed behind the other, each meticulously rendered with a short beak and a shapely and finely incised crest atop the head, the plumage picked out with precision, one webbed foot of the bird at the front further realistically portrayed, boxwood stand: 11.1 cm, 4 3/8  in.

NotesThis charming piece is impressive for the exceptional luminous and even tone of the stone from which it has been fashioned, the quality of which has been accentuated through the exquisite carving of the two birds, possibly ducks, and the lustrous finish. By restricting the intricate carving to their feathers, the carver draws attention to the quality of the stone. This piece may have once adorned a table in one of the Qianlong Emperor’s many studios and served various purposes, such as a paperweight, brushrest, or purely for aesthetic enjoyment. Both the style and quality of the carving, together with its boxwood stand which has been finely carved in openwork with crashing waves, suggest an imperial provenance.

See related small jade pebbles carved with animals and rocks, such as two sold in our New York rooms, the first carved with chickens, 11th/12th April 1990, lot 290, and the second with a pair of cranes, from the collection of William and Robert Arnett, 20th March 2012, lot 221; another modelled with monkeys, from the De An Tang collection, included in the exhibition A Romance with Jade, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, cat. no. 56, and sold in our London rooms, 7th June 2000, lot 57; and a fourth with a tiger, sold in these rooms, 21st May 1987, lot 650. Compare also a brushrest carved in openwork with phoenix, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 224; another, attributed to the Ming dynasty, from the Guan-fu collection, included in the exhibition Chinese Jades from Han to Ch’ing, The Asia House Gallery, New York, 1980, cat. no. 112; and a third carved with a crane and a deer, sold in our London rooms, 17th October 1978, lot 299, and again in our New York rooms, 27th February 1981, lot 475.

The birds depicted on this piece appear to be mandarin ducks, which are notable for their auspicious meaning. From the Yuan dynasty onwards, depictions of ducks swimming in pairs represented fidelity, marital bliss and happiness, as ducks are said to mate for life. Ducks are also associated with official life, as the name for duck, ya, is written with the radical for jia (first or best), and during the Qing dynasty, mandarin ducks were indicative of civil officials of the seventh rank.

Sotheby's. Roger Keverne - 50 Years in the Trade, Hong Kong, 05 oct. 2016, 10:00 AM