Lot 249. A yellow jade 'Boys and Cat' group, 17th-18th century. Height 2 1/2  in., 6.4 cm. Estimate 40,000 — 60,000 USD. Lot sold 125,000 USDCourtesy Sotheby's.

supported on a short stem-foot encircled by a raised fillet, the body rising conically before sweeping in at the shoulder to a cylindrical neck and galleried rim, stylized 'cicada' pendants carved in low relief extending from the shoulder down the body, the neck, shoulder, and lower body each set with four beast-mask handles carved in high relief and suspending loose rings, the petal-fluted domed cover surmounted by a floriform knop, the pale green stone evenly suffused with icy white inclusions, wood stand (3).

Provenance: Purchased in Hong Kong, 1964

LiteratureRobert P. Youngman, The Youngman Collection of Chinese Jades from Neolithic to Qing, Chicago, 2008, pl. 184.

NoteChildren at play was a favorite subject for artisans of the Ming dynasty, who frequently depicted boys engaged with animals, games, and other pastimes in every medium including painting, lacquer, porcelain, and jade. The present carving is notable for both the luminous quality of the stone and the quality of the craftsmanship. The figures of the children and the cat are deftly portrayed with well-proportioned bodies, natural gestures and expressions, and just the right amount of attention to bring each figure to life without becoming stifled by excess detail. The boys' garments, for instance, are defined by only a handful of lines indicating their hems and essential folds, however, the subtle variations in the depth, angle, and polish of each line convincingly convey the boys' carefree movements and the way their simple robes behave in response. The rounded lines and generous contours of their faces similarly capture the sweetness and joy of the subjects.

Similar treatments of boys can be seen in a gray jade figure of a boy carrying a lantern, from the Chi-jou Chai Collection, included in Chinese Jades from Han to Ch'ing, Asia Society, New York, 1980, cat. no. 97; a yellowish-green jade carving of a group of boys carrying a vase, from the Bie Shan Tang Collection, exhibited in Chinese Jade Carving, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1983, cat. no. 204; a pale green jade carving of a child holding a lotus leaf, from the Tingsong Shuwu Collection and included in the same exhibition, ibid., cat. no. 167; and a white jade carving of three boys holding a lotus, from the Chang Shou Studio Collection, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th April 2017, lot 3315. 

Sotheby's. The Robert Youngman Collection of Chinese Jade, New York, 19 March 2019