Lot 123. An impressive and rare 'famille-rose' 'Boys at play' lantern-shaped vase, Qianlong iron-red seal mark and period (1736-1795); height 12 1/2 in., 31.4 cm. Estimate 300,000—500,000 USD. Lot sold 602,500 USD. Courtesy Sotheby's 2009.
the tall oviform body exquisitely painted with boys in various pursuits, two picking lingzhi and berries, another flying a butterfly kite while two boys cheer on, holding their respective attributes of a ruyi scepter and a lotus flower, a cluster of three playing with dangling Buddhist emblems surrounding a boy holding a vase of peonies, set among a bucolic landscape of distant mountains, craggy rockwork and dramatically gnarled pine trees, all between large ruyi-head borders at the foot and shoulder, the latter rising to a waisted neck culminating in smaller ruyi-head lappets below the everted mouth, the ruby-enameled sgraffiato ground contrasting with the green, pink and yellow enamels comprising scrolling lotus motifs, gilding at the rim and top of keyfret foot, the interior and base glazed turquoise.
Provenance: Christie's Hong Kong, 29th and 30th October 1995, lot 756.
Thereafter with the present owner.
Note: The depiction of multiple boys at play in a garden -- representing the wish for many sons -- was a popular theme in the decorative arts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the present vase, each of the boys are engaged in activities potent with symbolism: the boy flying a kite is meant to wish one 'rise in rank' and a successful career; the one holding a lotus refers to 'may my descendants live in harmony' (zisun hehe); and the boy with the vase (ping) is a pun for peace.
Qianlong period vases featuring this motif can be found in several important collections, though this vase appears to be distinctive in its combination of the oviform and waisted-neck silhouette, ruby-ground palette and use of sgraffiato. A Qianlong seal mark and period vase in the Qing Court collection and illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration: The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 128, p. 146, compares favorably, matching the ruby-ground ruyi-head borders at the neck and foot, as well as the sgraffiato. It is completed, however, with a cover atop the short keyfret-designed neck. Another similar vase, sharing the same shape, differs primarily in its use of green enamel in place of the ruby-ground. Illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Nanjing and Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 87, it features the 'Eight Buddhist Emblems' on the waisted neck. The Shanghai Museum has an impressive example, painted with lotus-scrolls on the neck in a fashion similar to the present vase, illustrated in The Complete Works of Chinese Ceramics, Qing, Part II, Shanghai, 2000, pl. 19, p. 51.
Sotheby's. Chinese Works of Art. 17 Mar 09. New York