A rare ru-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795)

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Lot 182. A rare Ru-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795). Estimate 100,000 — 150,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.

of lobed octagonal section, the compressed ovoid body rising from a slightly spreading foot to a ribbed neck and flared rim, covered in a pale blue crackled glaze, the countersunk base inscribed with a seal mark in underglaze blue; 21.4 cm, 8 1/2  in.

Provenance: Collection of Garfield McNamara, California.
Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st June 2011, lot 3712.

NotesDeceptively simple in form and design, this elegant vase exemplifies the technical perfection achieved by craftsmen working at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen. Monochrome vessels required the highest level of skill and precision in every stage of their production, from the purity of the clay and precision of the potting to the evenness of the glaze and control of the firing. The slightest irregularity would result in the rejection and destruction of the piece, thus pushing the craftsmen to the limits of the abilities.

The highly tactile and subtle glaze of this piece has been created in imitation of Ru ware, one of the ‘five great wares’ of the Song period along with Ding, geguan and Jun. The Qianlong Emperor contributed greatly to the fame of the ware by composing a large number of poems on Ru and having them engraved on pieces from the imperial storerooms. At least twenty extant Ru pieces bear his inscriptions, although he did not always correctly identify them. The Qianlong Emperor inherited this fascination with Ru ware from his father, the Yongzheng Emperor, who first sent a number of pieces of Ru ware from the palace in Beijing to the porcelain kilns in south China to have them copied, or else to hold them up as standards of quality and stimulants for inspiration. The Qianlong Emperor continued in this tradition, and commissioned during his reign a growing number of elegant monochrome wares inspired by Song originals.

A vase of this form and similar subtle glaze in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s Special Exhibition of K’ang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch’ien lung Porcelain Ware from the Ch’ing Dynasty, Taipei, 1986, cat. no. 102; one in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, pl. 524; a pair from the J.M. Hu collection, now in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, is published in Selected Ceramics from the J.M. Hu Collection, Shanghai 1989, pl. 72; and another vase, in the Huaihaitang collection, was included in the exhibition Ethereal Elegance, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2008, cat. no. 27.

Vases of this type were also sold at auction: one from the collection of Herschel V. Johnson, was sold twice in these rooms, 21st February 1967, lot 66, and 20th February 1978, lot 200; three were sold in our Hong Kong rooms, the first, 25th November 1981, lot 329, the second, 16th May 1989, lot 177, and again, 11th April 2008, lot 2987, and the third, 8th April 2010, lot 1922; and another vase, from the collections of W.W. Winkworth and E.T. Hall, was sold at Christie’s London, 7th June 2004, lot 148.

A rare Ru-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795)

2A rare Ru-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795). Sold 2,300,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th April 2010, lot 1922.  Photo: Sotheby's.

the slightly compressed bulbous body rising from an octagonal foot to a columnar neck and an everted trumpet mouth, the body accented with eight sets of triple vertical ribs extending above the foot and merging into a single rib at the octagonal-facetted neck, the body and neck further divide by four horizontal rings, all beneath a pale watchet-blue glaze suffused with a fine network of golden crackles, the glaze thinning along the ribs exposing the white body, the underside inscribed with an underglaze blue with a six-character reign mark; 21.3 cm., 8 3/8 in.

Note: This type of raised ring vessel evolved from excavated Song Guan ware from the Laohudong Guan ware kilnsite of the Southern Song in Hangzhou.  Similar vases can be found in the Huaihaitang Collection, illustrated in Ethereal Elegance, Art Museum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2008, cat. no. 27 and a pair from the Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Hu Collection in the Shanghai Museum illustrated in Imperial Monochromes: The Zande Lou Collection, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 2005, cat. no. 29. 

For the prototype of this piece, see a guan vase and attributed to the Song dynasty, included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Sung Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum. Ju Ware, Kuan Ware, Chün Ware, Taipei, 1973, pl. 30.

Sotheby's, Important Chinese Art, Londres, 09 nov. 2016, 11:30 AM