Lot 620. A rare copper-red and underglaze-blue waterpot, pingguo zun, Kangxi mark and period (1662-1722). Height 3 7/8  in., 10 cm. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 USD. Lot Sold 836,000 USD. © Sotheby's.

of compressed globular form, elegantly potted with generous rounded sides rising from a concave base to an incurved mouth recessed into the shoulder, the exterior intricately painted in rich tones of raspberry red depicting four stylized full, round blooms of chrysanthemum, peony, lotus and hibiscus, each borne on a curved leafy spray and surrounded by stylized foliage, all below a narrow classic-scroll band, the incurved mouth encircled by a lotus meander and the foot with triangular lappets, divided by underglaze-blue line borders, the base inscribed in underglaze blue with a six-character mark in three vertical columns.

Provenance: Collection of John Milton Bonham (1835-1897)..

Note: In his desire to revive the porcelain industry and to regain standards of quality that had long been lost, one of the Kangxi Emperor’s priorities appears to have been the recreation of designs and glazes in copper red, which were notoriously difficult to fire successfully and had been neglected since the outstanding achievements of the Xuande period (1426-35). Among the earliest pieces successfully produced during his reign were porcelains painted in underglaze blue and copper red, such as the present piece.

Early in his reign, the Kangxi Emperor employed the gifted painter, Liu Yuan (c. 1638-1685) for a decade from c. 1678 to 1688, to create porcelain designs. This approach of involving a designer was highly unusual at the time and resulted in a new departure for porcelain decoration. The finely penciled lines of the four different flowers with extending scrolling leaves, for example, would seem to owe their elegant design to Liu Yuan’s influence.

Closely related waterpots are held in important museums and collections worldwide; see one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi. Yongzheng. Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, 1989, pl. 22; one in the Shanghai Museum, published in Underglaze Blue and Red. Elegant Decoration of Porcelain from Yuan, Ming and Qing, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 118; another, from the Meiyintang Collection, included in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 2, London, 1994, pl. 733, where the author identifies the stylized flower sprays as peony, lotus, chrysanthemum and hibiscus; and a fourth waterpot from the collection of C.P. Lin, included in the exhibition Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration, Percival David Foundation, London, 1992, cat. no. 113, previously sold in these rooms, 28th November 1979, lot 221, and illustrated in Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Twenty Years 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 88. Further examples sold at auction include one from the collection of the Xuantong Emperor (r. 1909-11), sold in our New York rooms, 16th April 1983, lot 488; and one formerly in the collections of Herschel V. Johnson and Roger Pilkington, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 6th April 2016, lot 54.


A fine and rare copper-red and underglaze-blue waterpot, pingguozun, mark and period of Kangxi (1662-1722)

Formerly in the collections of Herschel V. Johnson and Roger Pilkington. A fine and rare copper-red and underglaze-blue waterpot, pingguozun, mark and period of Kangxi (1662-1722)Estimate HKD 1,800,000 — 2,400,000 (203,205 - 270,940 EUR)Lot Sold 10,400,000 HKD (1,174,073 EUR) at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 6th April 2016, lot 54. Photo: Sotheby's.

Cf. my post: A fine and rare copper-red and underglaze-blue waterpot, pingguozun, mark and period of Kangxi (1662-1722)

Waterpots of this form were also produced in other glaze colors; see a peachbloom example, formerly in the J. Pierpont Morgan Collection, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, illustrated in The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Decorative Arts, Part II. Far Eastern Ceramics and Paintings. Persian and Indian Rugs and Carpets, Washington, D.C., 1998, pl. 72.; and a clair-de-lune glazed waterpot in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Wang Qingzheng (ed.), Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, pl. 240. 

Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, New York, 10 september 2019