A fine and rare famille-rose 'Mille-fleurs' bottle vase, Jiaqing seal mark and period (1796-1820)


Lot 160. A fine and rare famille-rose 'Mille-fleurs' bottle vase, Jiaqing seal mark and period (1796-1820). Height 12 1/4  in., 31.1.cm. Estimate: 250,000 — 350,000 USD. Lot sold 471,000 USD. © Sotheby's.

finely potted, the slightly compressed globular body sweeping to a tall cylindrical neck and flaring rim, brilliantly enameled in varying tones of pinks, greens, iron red, blue, yellow and lavender with a rich profusion of flowers centering on a large peony bloom with petals of pale pink edges deepening to crimson at the center, amid further blossoms including chrysanthemum, morning glory, rose, hibiscus and aster, all against a dense ground of green, leafy foliage, a gilt line encircling the top of the base and the rim, the interior and base glazed turquoise, the base with a six-character seal mark in iron red reserved within a white square.

Provenance: Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st-3rd May 1994, lot 678A.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th November 1996, lot 892.

Note: The mille-fleurs pattern – in Chinese wan hua dui, ('ten thousand flowers piled up',) or bai hua tu, ('hundred flowers design') – with its joyful evocation of nature's abundance is such a universally appealing motif that it is extremely well known despite being exceedingly rare. It was developed on porcelain in the imperial factories under the keen eye of the Yongzheng emperor and the rigorous scrutiny of the kiln supervisor Tang Ying. With its multitude of enamel colors, complex and densely interwoven layout, naturalistic representation of blooms and leaves and an astonishing attention to detail, this design must have been one of the most challenging for the imperial porcelain painters to master. The Chinese name for this type of dense design jiacai ('mixed or mingled colors') appropriately describes the multitude of famille-rose shades used. 

The idea for this demanding design appears to originate from the imperial enameling workshops in the Forbidden City in Beijing, where in the Kangxi reign it was tried on a minute copper vessel, a water pot of less than 3 cm height, which is still preserved in the Palace Museum today. Although a large number of different flowers appear on that vessel, their arrangement is less dense and the background was covered with yellow enamel.

A Jiaqing mark and period vase of ovoid form, in the Nanjing Museum, is published in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p. 357; its possible pair, in the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated in Chugoku toji zenshu, vol. 21, Kyoto, 1981, pl. 144; and another of compressed globular form was sold in our London rooms, 17th November 1999, lot 765.

For a Qianlong mark and period version, see a baluster vase in the Musée Guimet, Paris, included in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, vol. 7, Tokyo, 1981, pl. 52; and a compressed pear-shaped vase, from the Avery Brundage Collection and now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, published in He Li, Chinese Ceramics. A New Comprehensive Study, New York, 1996, pl. 665.

Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, New York, 12 sept. 2018, 10:30 AM