Lot 3619. A fine and rare doucai 'butterfly' dish, mark and period of Yongzheng (1723-1735); 20.9 cm, 8 1/4  in. Estimate 2,800,000 — 3,800,000 HKD (356,524 - 483,854 USD). Lot Sold 3,500,000 HKD (445,655 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.

superbly potted with rounded sides rising from a straight foot to a flared rim, finely painted in vivid enamels within an underglaze-blue outline, the interior with a central medallion enclosing butterflies of various patterns and designs in flight amidst scattered leafy sprigs of peony, orchid, camellia, pink, peach, prunus and bamboo, the exterior similarly decorated with further butterflies and floral sprays, inscribed to the base with a six-character reign mark within a double circle.

Provenance: Collection of Mrs Mary Jane Morgan (d. 1885), New York.
Catalogue of the Art Collection formed by the late Mrs. Mary J. Morgan, The American Art Galleries, New York, 8th-15th March 1886, lot 429.
Christie's London, 16th April 1980, lot 104.
A Japanese private collection.
A European private collection formed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Christie's Hong Kong, 29th May 2013, lot 2112.

Note: Exquisitely painted with a delightful motif of butterflies and scattered flower sprays, this dish is an archetypal example of Yongzheng porcelain and captures the graceful and refined character of these wares. The technical proficiency and creativity achieved by craftsmen active at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, in the 18th century is evidenced in their ability to create highly vibrant compositions as on the present dish, by manipulating the restricted doucai palette and thereby creating a variety of colours and textures. This is evidenced in the detailed rendering of the butterflies, their wings rendered in subtle tones and minute details to capture their fragile nature while their bodies and antennae meticulously painted with very fine cobalt pencilled lines.

The Yongzheng Emperor took a keen interest in the production of porcelain at the Jingdezhen imperial kilns, and his personal taste greatly influenced the workshop’s artistic direction. The Emperor’s preference for harmonious proportions, sophisticated and yet uncontrived designs resulted in the development of a distinctive style celebrated for its subdued elegance and material refinement. While butterflies are a relatively common theme on porcelain of the Kangxi period (1662-1722), the motif was given here a fresh modern aesthetic through the generous spacing of each design element and the exceptional level of detail.

Dishes painted with this motif are very rare and no other closely related example appears to have been published. Compare a Yongzheng mark and period dish, painted in doucai and famille-rose enamels with roundels of butterflies on the exterior and five butterflies on the interior, sold in our London rooms, 7th June 2000, lot 129. See also a doucai bowl painted with this motif, but lacking the reign mark, from the collection of Edward T. Chow, sold in these rooms, 19th May 1981, lot 559.

This motif is also known painted in underglaze blue, such as a Yongzheng mark and period dish, in the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, pl. 149; and a smaller dish sold in these rooms, 19th November 1986, lot 228, and again at Christie’s New York, 15th September 2011, lot 934, from the collection of Xu Hanqing.

For a prototype of this design, compare a famille-verte dish with butterflies among fruiting sprays, with a spurious Chenghua reign mark and attributed to the Kangxi period, illustrated in Michel Beurdeley and Guy Raindre, Qing Porcelain, Famille Verte, Famille Rose, London, 1987, pl. 94, and sold in these rooms, 3rd May 1994, lot 209.

Sotheby'sAn Important Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Hong Kong, 08 Oct 2019