07 septembre 2019

A rare and large underglaze-blue and copper-red decorated vase, Qing dynasty, 18th century


Lot 662. A rare and large underglaze-blue and copper-red decorated vase, Qing dynasty, 18th century. Height 19 1/4  in., 48.8 cm. Estimate 100,000 — 150,000 USD. © Sotheby's.

superbly potted, the rounded sides sweeping to a waisted neck and everted rim, all raised on a splayed base, the body finely painted in a vivid cobalt blue and crimson red with two registers of shaped reserves enclosing scholarly scenes of idyllic retreats depicting pavilions nestled among trees and towering rockwork, fishermen poling their sampans through placid waters, sweeping vistas of flowering plants and trees amid imposing boulders along a shoreline with mountains in the distance, divided by raised single-line filets, the shoulder applied to either side with a molded butterfly-form handle, the neck with two stylized shou characters below a chevron band, all against a rich cobalt-blue diaper ground strewn with copper-red florets.

ProvenanceChristie's New York, 6th November 1980, lot 386.

Literature: Anthony du Boulay, Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, Oxford, 1984, p. 207, pl. 4.

NoteThe present vase is exceptionally rare and exemplifies the mastery of the Jingdezhen craftsmen in both the superlative expression of its archaistic hu form to the near flawless application of the complex technique required in the use of underglaze red and underglaze blue. The colors emerged from the kiln each in its most desirable tone, an intense sapphire blue and a vivid crimson red. The design concept demanded both artistry, as seen in the painterly rendering of the atmospheric landscape reserves, and labor intensity in order to create the rich and intricate diaper ground enlivened with strewn delicate florets.

Copper red was notoriously difficult to fire due to the temperamental nature of the copper pigment. J.M. Addis in Chinese Porcelain from the Addis Collection. Twenty-two Pieces of Chingtechen Porcelain Presented to the British Museum, London, 1979, pp 9-10, discusses the experimental techniques of the Yuan dynasty and suggests that the earliest use of copper-oxide was probably as a broad band forming the background for an incised design. By the early Ming dynasty during the Yongle and Xuande reigns monochrome copper-red porcelains were perfected but the large number of discarded sherds at the Jingdezhen kiln sites highlights the difficulties experienced by even the most highly accomplished Imperial potters of that time to achieve satisfactory results. After the Xuande reign, the copper pigment was therefore almost completely abandoned. Copper-red glazes were revived on a grand scale under the Kangxi Emperor after two centuries of neglect and famous monochrome techniques, langyao and ‘peachbloom’ were developed during this reign. Despite those technological feats, it is the combined palette of underglaze blue and red that constitute what is considered the earliest Imperial commission by the Kangxi Emperor; a series of scholarly-taste landscape-decorated wares made for the Zhonghe Pavillion with cyclical dates corresponding to 1671-3.

The present piece evokes these early Kangxi Imperial wares in the painting style of the landscapes.  However, the quality and even application of the fugitive pigment, the generously rounded interpretation of the form, accentuated by raised bands, and the extravagant butterfly-form handles, place this vase in the early 18th century. The Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors favored works that were visually stunning but that were also steeped in tradition. Related vases, painted in the underglaze red and blue palette with borders of intricate diaper patterns similar to the present example, include a lantern-form vase decorated with the ‘Sanxing’ sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th May 1982, lot 261; also an example decorated with deer and pine trees from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, included in the exhibition Imperial Perfection. Chinese Palace Porcelain of Three Great Emperors, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 2004, cat. no. 27; and another with a Qianlong seal mark and of the period, decorated with deer in a landscape sold at Christie's London, 9th December 1985, lot 124. Compare also three large, blue or red-diaper ground decorated vases; the first, of rouleau form, attributed to the Kangxi period and depicting the ‘Three Star Gods’, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 23rd May 1978, lot 99; another large bottle vase with dragons on a densely patterned red ground, described as 18th century, sold in these rooms 17th September, lot 263; and the most closely related example, a large handled bottle vase with a blue diaper ground with red florets identical to the present example enclosing shaped panels of landscapes and dragons, the shoulder with similar shou characters sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 24th-25th November 1981, lot 264.

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

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