a_fine_and_rare_underglaze_blue_and_copper-red-decorated_vase_meiping_d5430796g

Lot 276. A fine and rare underglaze blue and copper-red-decorated vase meiping,  Qianlong underglaze blue seal mark and of the period (1736-1795), 14 3/8 in. (36.5 cm.) high. Estimate GBP 350,000 - GBP 450,000Price realised GBP 601,250. © Christie's Images Ltd 2011

The finely potted vase decorated around the broad shoulders and tapering body with a composite lotus scroll, the undulating stems and feathery leaves in underglaze blue and the flower-heads in bright copper-red, all between upright leaves encircling the foot and lotus panels enclosing copper-red florets around the shoulder, the base of the short neck with a band of classic scroll and a further band of short upright leaves.

Provenance: Sotheby's London, 16 June, 1999, lot 801.

Note: This example, made for the court of the Qianlong Emperor, has the characteristic strong but elegant form associated with his reign period. The shoulders are broad, but the vessel tapers quite sharply towards the foot, giving it an elegant, well-balanced, profile. The decoration on this vase takes its inspiration from the decoration on meiping of the early 15th century, and it is interesting to note that when the Qianlong Emperor wished to compliment a piece of contemporary porcelain he often compared it to the porcelains of the Xuande (1426-35) or Chenghua (1465-87) reigns. The works of art from these Ming dynasty reigns were the most admired by Qing dynasty connoisseurs.

In this case the Qianlong Emperor has required that the ceramic decorators at the imperial kilns should exceed their Ming predecessors in demonstrating their skills. The 15th century vases with similar decoration were only painted in underglaze blue, while this 18th century vessel is painted in both blue and underglaze copper-red. This makes for most effective decoration, but underglaze copper-red was notoriously difficult to fire successfully. It is to the credit of the ceramicists who made it that this vase has fired so perfectly with rich, raspberry red flowers, but no doubt many failures were suffered in order to produce it. Although there are rare examples of underglaze blue and red on the same vessel in the early 15th century, these usually depicted waves and dragons or sea creatures.

Another very similar Qianlong vase with the very similar underglaze blue and underglaze copper red decoration from the imperial collection is preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III),Hong Kong, 2000, p. 227, no. 207). A slightly smaller Qianlong meiping vase of similar shape and the same decorative scheme was sold in our Hong Kong rooms 30 April 2000, lot 527. This vase had previously been in the Collection of the famous French collector and former Vice President of the Committee of National Museums, Edouard Aynard. A similar vase is also illustrated in Qing dai taoci daquan, Taipei, 1989, p. 234. A vase decorated with slightly different floral scrolls, but of overall similar design is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. II, Taipei, 1981, no. 20). 

This particular style of floral scroll using underglaze copper red for the flowers and underglaze cobalt blue for the stems and leaves also appears on rare examples from the reign of Qianlong's father the Yongzheng Emperor. A large Yongzheng jar with chilong handles is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III),Hong Kong, 2000, p. 251, no. 229), while a similarly decorated double gourd, two-handled, Yongzheng flask is in the collection of the Nanjing Museum (illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 48). A Yongzheng pear-shaped vase with similar decoration is in the collection of the Shenyang Museum (illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum - Chinawarepart 1, Shenyang, 2008, pp. 78-9, no. 3) and another is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III),Hong Kong, 2000, p. 214, no. 195). A further variant from the Qianlong reign can be seen on a large vase in the Shenyang palace collection, which has similar floral scrolls, but with puce enamel added to the blossoms (illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum - Chinaware part 1, Shenyang, 2008, pp. 96-7, no. 2). 

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 10 May 2011, London, King Street