Lot 41. An extremely rare imperial blue and white 'musk-mallow and lingzhi' vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795); 27.5cm (10 7/8in) high. Estimate HK$ 10,000,000 - 12,000,000 (€ 1,200,000 - 1,400,000). Courtesy Bonham's.
Finely potted, the baluster shaped body with curved sides rising to a rounded shoulder, surmounted by a slender waisted neck with a lipped mouth, flanked by a pair of crisply moulded ruyi-shaped handles, the body exquisitely painted in bright shades of cobalt-blue with a broad register enclosing four musk-mallow blossoms, encircled on a ground of finely detailed flower blooms and lingzhi fungus on a foliate scroll vine, set on a slightly splayed foot skirted with bands of pendant plantain leaves and ruyi-heads, the shoulder similarly painted below a band of ruyi-heads below the rim, the underside inscribed with a seal mark in underglaze blue.
Provenance: Annie Madeline Glover (b.1883), Bath, UK, and thence by descent, by repute
An important Asian private collection.
Note: According to the previous owners, the vase was acquired by Annie Madeline Glover (b.1883, Brixton, London), who arrived in Shanghai to teach in September 1910. There she married James Arthur Burke-Scott in 1912, had a son in 1913 and was widowed in 1918. Subsequently she and her son Pat moved back to England in 1922 on the P&O ocean liner SS Egypt, eventually settling in Bloomfield Park, Bath.
The present vase is exceptionally rare for its combination of form and decoration, exquisitely combining inspiration from the celebrated Chenghua dynasty blue and white 'palace bowls', with western-influenced painting techniques re-interpreted during the celebrated reign of the Qianlong emperor.
The elegantly potted baluster shape is an innovation of the vases of related form made during the Yongzheng reign; compare a blue and white vase, Yongzheng mark and period, but with loop handles and everted rim, illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2010, no.85. See also a related yellow-ground green and aubergine enamelled vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, of similar form from the Qing Court Collection, but without handles, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Miscellaneous Enamelled Porcelians, Plain Tricoloured Porcelians, Shanghai, 2009, no.132; another related doucai vase but with loop handles, Qianlong seal mark and period, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasurers of the Palace Museum: Porcelians in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Shanghai, 2007, no.252. The innovative form and subtle blue and white painting on the present vase indicate an early Qianlong reign date, suggesting this vase may have been made during the tenure of Tang Ying (1682-1756), the renowned superintendent of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen.
The exquisite and subtle musk-mallow design painted in soft shades of blue was clearly inspired by Chenghua period 'palace bowls' but may also be seen as continuation of the Yongzheng period style of painting. The tonal gradation of the flower petals and leaves were inspired by the shuanggou or 'double outlines' and pingtu 'even coat' painting techniques applied on most Chenghua blue and white wares. See a Chenghua musk-mallow 'palace' bowl in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, illustrated in Imperial Porcelain: Recent Discoveries of Jingdezhen Ware, Osaka, 1995, no.229; and another in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Radiating Hues of Blue and White: Ming Dynasty Blue-and-White Porcelains in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, 2016, no.59.
This subtle painting palette on the present vase differs from other Ming style blue and white made during the Qianlong reign which were inspired by blue and white porcelain made during the earlier Yongle and Xuande reigns. The earlier reigns often displayed the 'heaping and piling' effect caused by the iron content in the imported cobalt blue, and Qianlong reign wares made inspired by such pieces, equally imitated this effect; see for example a blue and white vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2010, no.136. A similar underglaze palette can also be observed on a blue and white 'bajixiang' vase, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in ibid., no.137.
Combined with its unusual form, the imperial atelier achieved a sense of exoticism in the present lot through the distinctive decoration. While the musk-mallow design takes its inspiration from the extremely treasured 'palace bowls' of the Chenghua period, its combination of multi-lobed flower petals and contrasting pointed and serrated leaves reflect the Western painting tradition which was made popular through Jesuit missionary painters working for the Qianlong emperor.
The ruyi-shaped handles can be seen during the Qianlong reign mostly on enamel decorated vases; see a turquoise-ground famille rose vase and a ruby-ground famille rose vase, Qianlong mark and period, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 2009, nos.118 and 127.
The combination of the foreign style painting tradition with Chinese decorative elements can be also found on two examples: a pair of enamelled vases, Qianlong seal marks and period, made in 1742 (seventh year of the Qianlong reign), which is also decorated with similar western-style flowers and leaves and lingzhi fungus, in the Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Stunning Decorative Porcelain from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, no.33; and a blue and white jar with hydra-shaped handles, Qianlong mark and period, with similarly painted serrated leaves and bajixiang symbols, illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2010, no.137.
See three various examples of Ming-style blue and white vases, Qianlong seal marks and of the period, which were sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2009, lot 1699 and 8 October 2013, lot 3032, and at Christie's Hong Kong, 30 May 2018, lot 3004.
A superb and extremely rare blue and white 'elephant' handle vase, seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); 31 cm., 12 1/4 in. Sold for 14,100,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2009, lot 1699. Courtesy Sotheby's.
A fine and rare blue and white ‘Lotus’ vase, Seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); 20 cm., 7 7/8 in. Sold for 10,240,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3032. Courtesy Sotheby's.
A fine and very rare blue and white double-gourd vase, Qianlong six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795); 9 1/8 in. (23.3 cm.) high. Sold for 36,100,000 HKD at Christie's Hong Kong, 30 May 2018, lot 3004. © Christie's Images Ltd 2018
A Study on the Qianlong Blue and White‘Musk-Mallow and Lingzhi’ Vase
Huang Weiwen, The Palace Museum, Beijing
During the Qianlong period (1736-1795) the economy prospered and the empire was at its strongest. With the support of strong financial resources and the best materials and craftsmen, a large number of exquisite imperial porcelain pieces were produced in the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen under the supervision of Tang Ying, to meet the huge demand in the palace for daily utensils, ceremonial utensils and gifts.
Judging from the court archives of the Qianlong period, before Tang Ying resigned as Superintendent of the Kilns in the twentieth year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1756), porcelain was made largely according to the emperor’s will and models from the court. For example, in the 3rd year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1738), the Imperial Household Department recorded in the gezuo chengzuo huoji qingdang: Jiangxi (Imperial Palace Workshops Archives: Ceramics Production of Jiangxi) that:
‘On the 25th day of the sixth month, Superintendent of the seventh rank Samuha and supervisor Bai Shixiu came to say that eunuch Gao Yujiao passed to them one Xuande blue and white bowl and cover with handles, […] one blue and white straightnecked‘Guanyin’ vase, […] one Chenghua blue and white ‘Eight Buddhist Emblems’ bowl […] by Imperial command, these were given to Superintendent Tang Ying […] an example should be made based on the blue and white straight-necked ‘Guanyin’ vase with broader neck and flaring mouth rim, […] exact copies should be made for the rest of the models. The original models should be sent back once the firing is complete and returned to the storehouse. Paintings of the larger examples are included along with the smaller models. By order of the Emperor’.1
Furthermore, in the fourth year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1739), the gezuo chengzuo huoji qingdang: Jiangxi records that:
‘On the 15th day of the twelfth month Superintendent of the seventh rank Samuha and supervisor Bai Shixiu came to transport the bowls, vases, and plates, including the original models, in total counting to 3,751 pieces, to be delivered to the Inner Household Dept by Gaoyu of the eighth rank, eunuch Mao Tuan, and Hu Shijie for inspection. Four were returned, the rest were sent to the Yuanming yuan so that when His Majesty visits, he can ask Liu Cangzhou to grade them. By order of the Emperor’. 2
Again in the seventh year of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (corresponding to 1742), the gezuo chengzuo huoji qingdang: jishi lu records:
‘On the 14th day of the sixth month, the comptroller Bai Shixiu and the deputy Dazi, delivered 191 pieces from Tang Ying for inspection to Gaoyu. It was decreed that this year’s porcelain was very ordinary. 49 pieces are to be retained, but the rest are to be distributed. Prince Yi and Minister Haiwang to be sent to Tang Ying and select with him those pieces which could still be used, the ones that cannot be used are to be sold by Tang Ying. In future productions of porcelain, only send things made according to painted models and models from the Court, do not make ordinary pieces. There is no need to send lower standard pieces to the capital, just sell them there. By order of the Emperor’. 3
The above-mentioned examples from the Qing court archives indicate that the porcelain produced by the imperial kiln in the early Qianlong period was essentially based on the emperor’s will and fired according to the samples sent from the court. A few of the kiln porcelains of the Qianlong period are indeed even recorded in the archives. Evidently, however, during the 60 years of the Qianlong emperor’s reign, the amount of porcelain produced according to his tastes was very large. Some of the inevitable ambiguity in the archives, especially regarding the descriptions of the different varieties, shapes and decorations, together with the different terms used by us today, make it difficult to find exactly those pieces that have been passed down to us in the archives.
The Qianlong Blue and White ‘Musk-Mallow and Lingzhi’ Vase (Lot 41) is just such an example of a piece whose exact description cannot be obviously found in the Qing archives, yet in form, design and decoration is an exquisite example of imperial kiln porcelain of the Qianlong period.
In terms of form and shape, the present vase is similar to a Qianlong marked doucai vase decorated with flowers, also flanked by a pair of handles (fig.1), from the Qing Court Collection and now in the Palace Museum, Beijing. It is also similar in form to a yellow ground vase with Qianlong mark and from the Qing Court Collection (fig.2). These vases of similar form should correspond to the category of ‘Guanyin’ vases mentioned in the Court archives above as ‘straight-necked ‘Guanyin’ vase with broad neck and flaring mouth rim’ 4 (fig.3). The characteristics of the vase with the neck being slightly broader and flaring match the descriptions in the above file.
In terms of decoration, the general theme of imperial porcelain is ‘auspiciousness’, that is, if there is an image it must have meaning, and that meaning must be auspicious. The present bottle is mainly decorated with musk-mallow and the auspicious lingzhi fungus which have a slight Western painterly influence. The mouth rim is decorated with ruyi and the handles flanking the neck are in ruyi form, which in turn are based on the lingzhi fungus. Examples of Qianlong period blue and white porcelain with the main motifs of lingzhi fungus are extremely rare and are more commonly seen on contemporaneous famille rose pieces. The auspicious design of lingzhi is more often called the ‘ruizhi’ pattern in the Qing court archives. For example, in the seventh year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1742), the gezuo chengzuo huoji qingdang: Qianqing gong states:
‘On the 12th day of the eighth month,comptroller Bai Shixiu and deputy Daizi came to say that eunuch Gaoyu gave them two zun vases in the foreign palette [i.e. famille rose] decorated with ruizhi [i.e. lingzhi], foreign flowers and cicadas, by order of the Emperor, they are to make matching boxes to enter the Qianqing palace. By order of the Emperor’. 5
National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig.4). It is similar in pattern to a double-gourd greenground vase from the Qing Court Collection and now in the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig.5). Both examples combine the lingzhi fungus with Western style floral patterns.
fig.4 A enamelled western-style flowers and leaves and lingzhi fungus vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, National Palace Museum, Taipei.
fig.5 A turquoise-ground enamelled doubleground vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, Qing Court Collection, Palace Museum, Beijing.
1. First Historic Archives of China, Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, 2005, p.278, vol. 8.
2. First Historic Archives of China, Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, 2005, p.92, vol. 9.
3. First Historic Archives of China, Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, 2005, pp.139-140, vol. 11.
4. First Historic Archives of China, Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, 2005, p.283, vol. 8.
5. First Historic Archives of China, Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, 2005, p.6, vol. 11.
Bonham's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 26 november 2019