A rare underglaze-blue and copper-red 'West Lake' quadrangular vase, Kangxi Mark and Period (1662-1722)

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Lot 317.A rare underglaze-blue and copper-red 'West Lake' quadrangular vase, Kangxi Mark and Period (1662-1722). Height 20 in., 50.8 cm. Estimate: US$50,000 - US$70,000Lot Sold 112,500 US$. Courtesy Sotheby's.

of square section and rectangular form tapering towards the base, finely painted in varying tones of blue with each panel featuring a different depiction of the West Lake; one with two boatmen in skiffs ferrying passengers about to pass one another in between a pair of large boulders, another panel with a scholar walking along the waterside with a staff followed by a young attendant with a pagoda and pavilion in the distance, the third panel with a scholar pausing on a bridge to admire the fish swimming below and an attendant following close behind, and the fourth panel depicting three scholars seated casually lakeside conversing under a weeping willow tree with a small retreat nearby, the leaves and blossoms all picked out in bright underglaze copper-red, and each with an associated poetic inscription and seal mark of either Mu Shi Ju or Zhu Ying the flaring neck with a sprig of flowers to each side representing the 'four seasons' lotus, peony, chrysanthemum and prunus, all below a chevron border around the rim, the countersunk base with a six-character mark, coll. no. 145.

Provenance: Berwald Oriental Art, London, 2000.

Literature: Jeffrey P. Stamen, Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed, Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, Bruges, 2017, cat. no. 22.

Note: This vase is distinguished not only by the evident painterly skill but also as a rare example of an inscribed work bearing the famous Mu Shi Ju and Zhu Ying seal marks and a six-character Kangxi reign mark. There has been much speculation about the identity of these specialized studios and the extent of a relationship with the imperial workshops and further research is required in order to resolve these fascinating issues. The vase presents vivid depictions of four of ‘Ten Scenic Spots’ of West Lake in Hangzhou; Autumn Moon Over Calm LakeSunset Glow over Leifeng PagodaViewing Fish and Lotus Fronds at Flower Pond and Listening to Orioles Singing in the Willows. These vistas were described and named as early as the Southern Song dynasty and repeatedly memorialized in poetry. The first three of these titles inscribed on the vase are attributed to Yang Zhou, a Ming dynasty poet active during the Jiajing period. The fourth was written by the famous Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei.

West Lake, a relatively small body of water divided into five sections linked by three bridges, has long been regarded as one of the most inspirational and beautiful places in China. The Kangxi emperor, enamored of the site, visited five times and, on his second trip in 1699, commemorated the Ten Views of West Lake with calligraphic inscriptions which the local governor had carved into stelae and enshrined within purpose-built pavilions. 

The beauty of the scenery has long served as muse to poets and artists, transforming it to near legendary status as a physical manifestation embodying the highest expression of the literati spirit. Two of the inscriptions, Autumn Moon over Calm Lake and Viewing Fish and Lotus Fronds at Flower Pond include the seal mark, Mu Shi Ju, ‘Studio of Wood and Rock’ the other two poems have a seal mark, Zhu Ying, 'bamboo shadow'. These and related studio marks appear on scholarly-themed wares of the highest quality. As with many literati-style wares, available prints were a significant resource and three of the poems inscribed on the present vase appear in A Summary of the West Lake dated to the 26th year of Jiajing corresponding to 1548.

A similar vase, with an apocryphal Jiajing mark, but lacking underglaze red, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 18.  A vase of the same form, with similar decoration, inscriptions and Mu Shi Ju seal marks, but lacking copper red and with an apocryphal Jiajing mark is in the Shanghai Museum and illustrated in Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collection, Shanghai Museum, Shaghai, 2006, cat. no. 100. Examples bearing a Kangxi reign mark include a vase in the Shanghai Museum depicting scenes from the Night Visit to the Red Cliff illustrated in Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 31. 

Sotheby's. Kangxi: The Jie Rui Tang Collection, Part II, New York, 19 Mar 2019, 02:00 PM