A pair of unusual blue and white 'scholar and pine' wine cups, Kangxi six-character marks in underglaze blue and of the period (1662-1722)

Lot 129. A pair of unusual blue and white 'scholar and pine' wine cups, Kangxi six-character marks in underglaze blue and of the period (1662-1722); 2 3/8 in. (6 cm) diam. Estimate GBP 15,000 - GBP 25,000Price realised GBP 18,750. © Christie's Images Ltd 2018.

Each thinly potted cup is decorated to the exterior with two scholars seated below pine trees next to a pond. Each is decorated to the centre of the interior with a medallion depicting a further scholar and pine. 

ProvenanceFrom a private collection in the UK.

NoteThis pair of cups is delicately potted and has an unusually graceful shape.  The cups are of upturned bell shape with narrow foot and flared mouth rim.  The shape is known as yangzhong bei (upright bell-shaped cup) in Chinese and is associated with the Jiajing reign (1522-1566) of the Ming dynasty.  The foot is significantly narrower in proportion to the height and mouth rim than the better-known Kangxi ‘month cups’.  The lotus petals around the base of the cups, which are outlined in fine deep blue and filled with two distinct blue washes, are also unusual.  Interestingly, a Jiajing marked cup of the same shape with similar lotus petal band and with a roundel on the interior comparable to those on the current pair of cups, was sold by Christie’s New York on 21 September 2000, lot 332.  The exterior of the Jiajing marked cup was also decorated with scholars seated by a river under a pine tree.  The pine tree on the Jiajing cup even curves over the seated figure in a similar way to those on the current cups.

The theme of scholars tranquilly seated in landscape enjoying nature was a prevalent one in the late Ming and early Qing dynasty, while the choice of pine trees to provide a context and frame for the scholar was popular in Chinese art from at least the Southern Song dynasty, when it was used to great effect by court painters such as Ma Yuan (?? c. 1160–65 – 1225) and his son Ma Lin (?? c. 1180 – after 1256).  In the turbulent years of the late Ming and early Qing period the notion of retreat and the bucolic idyll was one which found considerable favour amongst scholar officials who dreamed of retiring from office and enjoying a simple life in which they could write, paint, compose poetry and indulge in drinking wine from cups like the current pair. 

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, London, 15 May 2018