Lot 3206. A superb and rare blue and white 'boys' bowl, Ming dynasty, Chenghua period (1465-1487); 22.5 cm, 8 7/8 in. Estimate 6,000,000 — 8,000,000 HKD (625,910 - 834,547 EUR). Unsold. © Sotheby's 2018
with deep rounded sides supported on a sturdy short foot, the exterior of the thick walls exquisitely depicted in shaded tones of cobalt with a continuous garden scene depicting twenty boys divided in several groups, including one with a boy riding a hobby-horse in the shade of a large leaf held up by another, another with two boys portrayed catching fish with their hands immersed in the water of a large fishbowl, and another of four boys rendered sitting on the ground, the dynamic and joyous scene further detailed with ornamental rockwork and verdant trees, the balustraded background picked out with a lotus pool, all against a distant mountainscape and ruyi clouds encircling the rim, below a double-line border repeated on the inner rim, the straight foot skirted with a key-fret border.
Provenance: Sotheby's London, 23rd May 1972, lot 127.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 31st October 1974, lot 69.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 14th November 1989, lot 25.
Exhibited: Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Ceramics from the Collection of the Kau Chi Society of Chinese Art, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1981, cat. no. 71 (illustration mirrored).
Literature: S.T. Yeo and Jean Martin, Chinese Blue and White Ceramics, Singapore, 1978, col. fig. 28.
Note: This joyful bowl, with its perfectly potted body and adorable design, is characteristic of the refined and idiosyncratic porcelains of the Chenghua reign (1465-1487). Its fine porcelain body is endowed with a sophisticated design executed in a captivating and complex, yet free and easy, manner, all under an outstanding tactile glaze.
The precise dating of these unmarked bowls has been much debated. They are now mostly attributed either to the Chenghua reign (AD 1465-87) or the ‘Interregnum’ period (AD 1436-64) of the three short reigns of Zhengtong, Jingtai and Tianshun, the only mid-Ming periods when imaginatively painted porcelains of imperial quality, but without reign marks, are known to have been made. The design was first developed in the Yongle period (AD 1403-24), as seen in the exhibition catalogue Chinese Porcelain. The S.C. Ko Tianminlou Collection, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1987, cat. no. 15; and is also known from examples of Xuande mark and period (AD 1426-35), see Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, no. 152.
Two bowls of this type in the Shanghai Museum are illustrated in Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections : A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pls 3-55 and 56, attributed to the mid-15th century; another bowl attributed to the Zhengde period (1506-1521) is published in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, p. 117, fig. 220; and one in the British Museum, London, is published in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no. 6: 2, attributed to the Chenghua reign. Further bowls with Chenghua attributions include one, from the collections of George Eumorfopoulos, Mrs Alfred Clark, Frederick Knight and T.Y. Chao, sold in our London rooms in 1940, and three times in these rooms, in 1982, 1985 and, most recently, 19th May 1987, lot 240; and another, from the collections of A.D. Brankston, H.R.N. Norton and Raymond F.A. Riesco, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2013, lot 3113. See also a bowl from the President Herbert Hoover, Mr and Mrs Allan Hoover and Meiyintang collections, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 4, London, 2010, pl. 1671, and sold in these rooms, 9th October 2012, lot 46.
From the collections of A.D. Brankston, H.R.N. Norton and Raymond F.A. Riesco. An exceptionally rare blue and white 'Boys' bowl, Chenghua period (1465-1487), 8 1/2 in. (21.5 cm.) diam. Price realised HKD 9,640,000 at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2013, lot 3113. © Christie's Images Ltd 2013
From the President Herbert Hoover, Mr and Mrs Allan Hoover and Meiyintang collections. An outstanding blue and white 'Boys' Bowl, Ming Dynasty, Interregnum-Chenghua period; 21.4 cm., 8 1/2 in. Sold for 7,820,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 9th October 2012, lot 46. © Sotheby's 2012
Two stacks with a total of ten similar bowls are depicted in the Guwantu [Pictures of Antiques] handscroll from the collection of Sir Percival David in the British Museum, London, which records objects from the imperial collection during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735) and is dated in accordance with 1728 (see Regina Krahl, ibid., p. 49, fig. 12).
Guwantu [‘Pictures of Antiques’], detail, ink and colours on paper, handscroll, dated to the 6th year of the Yongzheng period (1728). Formerly Sir Percival David Collection, British Museum, London. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Compare bowls with four various designs of boys at play of Chenghua mark and period, recovered from the latest Chenghua stratum of the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, all related to but different from the present design; see the exhibition catalogue The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, cat. nos 54-57, where two are illustrated pp. 52-53 and dust jacket; the other two illustrated in the exhibition catalogue A Legacy of Chenghua: Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, nos C72 and C73.
The traditional ‘100 boys’ (baizi) theme of the Song dynasty (960-1279) was revived and highly popular in the decorative arts of the Ming dynasty. Throughout Chinese history, the strong desire for sons was directly related to the need for male offspring to perform ancestral sacrifices and ensure the continuation of the family line. By the Ming dynasty, however, the birth of sons was not enough; families hoped for sons who would excel in their studies and take top honours in the civil examinations, bringing wealth and honour. Thus the boys depicted in Ming court paintings and the decorative arts are not merely ordinary boys at play; well-dressed and placed in a courtyard of the upper class, they engage in activities representative of longevity, prosperity, well-being and the embodiment of adult aspirations. For example, the motif of a boy carrying a lotus leaf on the present bowl represents fertility and dates back to the Song dynasty whereby they carried lotus leaves during the Qixi (Double Seven) festival; placed next to the boy riding a hobby horse, a pun for ‘on top of a horse’, they together convey the wish for noble descendants to come immediately or soon. Furthermore, the boys catching fish (yu) swimming in a large jardinière is a pun for 'abundance'.