09 mai 2019

An exceptionally rare and large blue and white 'Immortals' double-gourd vase, Jiajing six character mark and of the period

An exceptionally rare and large blue and white 'Immortals' double-gourd vase, Jiajing six character mark and of the period

An exceptionally rare and large blue and white 'Immortals' double-gourd vase, Jiajing six character mark and of the period

 

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Lot 84. The J.Dearman Birchall Vase - An exceptionally rare and large blue and white 'Immortals' double-gourd vase, Jiajing six character mark and of the period (1522-1566); 55.5cm (21 3/4in) high. Estimate £ 80,000 - 120,000 (€ 93,000 - 140,000)Sold for £ 350,062 (€ 399,637). © Bonhams 2001-2019

Heavily potted with tubular neck and large lower and smaller upper bulbs, supported on a splayed foot, deftly painted in vibrant tones of underglaze-blue around the exterior of the lower globular body with Daoist deities and Immortals with various attributes and gifts including Han Xiangzi with flute and Zhang Guolao with bamboo drum and sticks, enclosed by stiff-leaf and petal-form lappets, the waisted center with a scroll of lingzhi, the upper bulb with further immortals including Liu Hai on his three-legged toad crossing a sea of crested waves, between lappet bands, the narrow cylindrical neck with further scrolls of auspicious lingzhi fungus. 

Provenance: J.Dearman Birchall (1828-1897), Bowden Hall, Gloucestershire, collection no.32, and thence by descent.

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Watercolour, The Morning Room, Bowden Hall, Gloucestershire, 19th century.

Note: J.Dearman Birchall (1828-1897) was born in Leeds, the son of a successful Quaker wool merchant with roots in manufacturing and retailing local tweed. A successful innovator and merchant, Dearman led his family firm to prizes for their cloth at the International Exhibitions in London (1862), Paris (1867), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Paris again (1878) and Sydney (1879). 

All the time he was trading cloth, he was also acquiring Chinese porcelain and Persian fabrics. His diaries note that in 1875 and 1877 he bought from, and sold porcelain to, the Dutch-based dealer Joel Duveen, the first Duveen to make a base in the United Kingdom in 1866, opening a shop in Hull (Barnett and Duveen, 49 Waterwork Street). By 1890, both his collection and Duveen's domination of the Chinese porcelain market had expanded vastly. As Dearman aged, in 1892 Duveen offered to buy back his whole collection to ship out to his insatiable new 'robber baron' clientele in New York, collectors like Henry Clay Frick and J.Pierport Morgan. But the collection survived this tempting offer, and remained on open display in Dearman Birchall's home, where he could indulge his Leeds business skills in more congenial surroundings and support a variety of charitable and philanthropic causes which rightly gave him considerable local prestige. 

However, this appreciation of the subtle qualities of 'sapphire blue' Chinese ginger jars, especially the legendary 'hawthorn' jars, did not normally involve much knowledge about Chinese reign marks. Nor did the early collectors, except a few enlightened ones educated by scholars in the London museums, have either the opportunity or the knowledge to acquire genuine Imperial reign-marked ceramics made for the Chinese domestic market. The finest Kangxi was apparently largely made for the Export trade, and Birchall was even asking Duveen to find it for him in Holland. However, at some point before the 1890s, Birchall was enabled to buy some ceramics which fell way outside the well-beaten collecting taste of late Victorian England; and, as his inventory records, to his credit he knew what date these Imperial pieces were. 

However, this appreciation of the subtle qualities of 'sapphire blue' Chinese ginger jars, especially the legendary 'hawthorn' jars, did not normally involve much knowledge about Chinese reign marks. Nor did the early collectors, except a few enlightened ones educated by scholars in the London museums, have either the opportunity or the knowledge to acquire genuine Imperial reign-marked ceramics made for the Chinese domestic market. The finest Kangxi was apparently largely made for the Export trade, and Birchall was even asking Duveen to find it for him in Holland. However, at some point before the 1890s, Birchall was enabled to buy some ceramics which fell way outside the well-beaten collecting taste of late Victorian England; and, as his inventory records, to his credit he knew what date these Imperial pieces were. 

The Jiajing emperor was particularly fervent in his Daoist beliefs among the Ming dynasty emperors. He poured large sums of money into the construction of Daoist temples and the performance of Daoist rituals. Following frustration with his ministers and court politics at large, he developed into an adherent of alchemical Daoism and his overriding concern became the quest for Immortality. Self-promoting officials at court were quick to realise that they could advance further up the official hierarchy and stay in favour with the emperor by writing Daoist-style memorials and notes to him. Unsurprisingly the court arts of his reign frequently bore themes associated with Daoism and longevity. 

The double-gourd shape was the ideal canvas for a Daoist theme as it was associated with containing magic potions and Daoist elixirs. The lower bulb is painted with popular Daoist deities processing with gifts for a bearded Daoist deity, probably Shoulao, shown seated on a flat rock throne beneath a spreading pine tree, accompanied by an auspicious crane. Shoulao glances to his left at Liu Hai and his three-legged toad dancing wildly. Behind him a man carries a large auspicious lingzhi fungus. Next is an official carrying a large vase from which issue a pictogram, an ewer and another pictogram, possibly in reference to a magic elixir. Behind him, a boy carries a large peach. Such peaches were grown by the Queen Mother of the West in her enchanted garden. Eating such fruit conferred immortality. Then comes Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Immortals who is identified by his flute. Behind him is Zhang Guolao, another of the Eight Immortals, shown with bamboo drum and sticks. A dog running towards someone is an emblem of forthcoming riches. Another of the Eight Immortals is Cao Guojiu in court dress and holding castanets. Next comes an Immortal between deer and crane carrying a two-headed tortoise. The landscape is festooned with auspicious plants such as pine trees and lingzhi. The Jiajing emperor himself was particularly partial to memorials sent by officials recording unusual and auspicious natural phenomenon such as the sighting of white deer, etc. 

A similar blue and white double-gourd vase with the same motif of Immortals, Jiajing six-character mark and of the period, is illustrated by S.W.Bushell and W.M.Laffan, Catalogue of The Morgan Collections of Chinese Porcelains, New York, 1907, pl.XIV, no.243, which was later sold at Sotheby's London, 15 June 1982, lot 287. Compare also with another very similar blue and white double-gourd vase with the same motif of Immortals, Jiajing six-character mark and of the period, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7 October 2006, lot 918.

Large double gourd-shaped porcelain bottle with underglaze blue decoration, Ming dynasty, Jiajing mark and period (122-1566), 55 x 31 cm, Franks

Large double gourd-shaped porcelain bottle with underglaze blue decoration, Ming dynasty, Jiajing mark and period (122-1566), 55 x 31 cm, Franks.1672© Trustees of the British Museum.

Bonhams. Fine Chinese Art, London, 16 May 2019 

 


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