A very rare famille rose ‘magpie’ bowl, Daoguang six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1821-1850)

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Lot 750. A very rare famille rose ‘magpie’ bowl, Daoguang six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1821-1850), 5 3/8 in. (13.7 cm.) diam. Estimate USD 35,000 - USD 50,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2017

 The bowl is decorated on the exterior with ten black and white magpies perched in pairs on branches beside flowering tree peony, with a further magpie on the ground and a twelfth magpie in flight. 

ProvenanceSotheby’s Hong Kong, 15 May 1990, lot 251.
S. Marchant & Son, London, 1991. 
Private collection, Europe.

LiteratureS. Marchant & Son, Exhibition of Nineteenth Century Mark and Period Porcelain, 1991, p. 51, no. 50.

NoteThe distinctive black and white magpie is an auspicious bird, whose name in Chinese, xique, is a pun for happiness, xi. Magpies were also regarded as birds of prophecy, foretelling the arrival of guests. The birds are frequently depicted among prunus blossoms, but the present decoration with wutong branches is very unusual. Since the wutong tree signifies ‘together’, tong, the combination of magpies and wutong can be seen as a wedding motif representing ‘happiness together’. 

The delicacy of the enameling style and colors on the present bowl can be related to Yongzheng and Qianlong famille rose wares. Compare, for example, a Yongzheng-marked bowl decorated with a related design of magpies with prunus from the Chinese National Collection illustrated by S. Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain, London, 1951, pl. LI, no. 2, and a Qianlong-marked bowl in the Percival David Collection of Chinese Art, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World’s Great Collections, vol. 6, Tokyo, 1982, no. 273. 

Twelve Magpies bowl, Yongzheng mark and period

Twelve Magpies bowl, Yongzheng mark and period (1723-1735), Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Bowl with magpies, Qing dynasty or Republican period, about AD 1800–1949

Bowl with magpies, Qing dynasty or Republican period, about AD 1800–1949. Porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue Qianlong mark and fencai enamels, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, PDF.888 © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum

A Daoguang-marked bowl, decorated with similar delicacy with a pair of birds perched on rockwork amid flowers including peony and probably prunus, is illustrated by H. van Oort, Chinese Porcelain of the 19th and 20th centuries, The Netherlands, 1977, p. 23, pl. 12. A related Guangxu-marked dish with two pairs of magpies and prunus branches in the Kwan Collection is illustrated in Imperial Porcelain of the Late Qing, Hong Kong, 1983, p. 118, no. 118.

Christie's. Marchant: Nine Decades in Chinese Art, 14 September 2017, New York