2010_NYR_02339_1298_000(a_very_rare_and_superbly_carved_rhinoceros_horn_cup_kangxi_period) (2)

2010_NYR_02339_1298_000(a_very_rare_and_superbly_carved_rhinoceros_horn_cup_kangxi_period) (3)

2010_NYR_02339_1298_000(a_very_rare_and_superbly_carved_rhinoceros_horn_cup_kangxi_period) (4)

Lot 1297. A very rare and superbly carved rhinoceros horn cup, Kangxi period (1662-1722); 5 1/8 in. (13 cm.) high, 350.9gEstimate 300,000 - USD 500,000. Price realised 902,500 USD. © Christie's Image Ltd 2010

The flaring sides superbly carved with a scene inspired by Du Fu's poem 'Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup', with Lin Jin, Prince of Ruyang, accompanied by two attendants, one tending to his horse, the other balancing upon his back a pole strung with various cloth-bound accoutrements, including his master's bow, while the prince looks longingly towards two elegant women and a peddler pushing a wine cart, the two groupings separated by a meandering stream spanned by a foot bridge, the scene set within a lush mountainous landscape punctuated by pine, willow and wutong trees growing amidst rocky outcrops, with a retreat with tall triangular roof nestled amidst the trees in the distance, the handle formed by pierced rockwork and a pine tree, its boughs arching over the rim and into the interior of the cup, the flowing waters of the stream continuing to the underside of the cup carved with further rockwork framing a finely carved square seal reading You Kan, the material of a rich walnut tone, box.

Provenance: Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm McHenry, Sacramento, California.

Note: This extraordinary cup features the Tang dynasty scholar, Li Jin, Prince of Ruyang and nephew of Emperor Xuanzong, as well as one of the protagonists of the famous poem 'Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup' by the Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu. Li Jun was known for his love of alcohol and for his skill with the bow and drum. On the current cup, Li Jin is shown distracted by two elegantly dressed ladies, and by a wine cart peddler, all to the apparent consternation of his accompanying servant tending to his horse. Du Fu's poem, 'Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup', enjoyed a renewal of popularity as a theme during the Transitional and Kangxi periods, particularly as a motif on porcelains of the period, as evidenced by the Kangxi-marked blue and white wine cup sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1 December 2009, lot 189, which also depicts Li Jun distracted by a wine peddler. 

Figural cups bearing the seal or signature of You Kan are extremely rare. A rhinoceros horn cup carved with a garden scene with a scholar seated in a 'moon-viewing' chair and tended by his boy attendant, bearing a seal partially obscured by a section of rock, but beginning with You, and attributed to You Kan, is illustrated by P. Moss, The Literati Mode, Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, 1986, pp. 200-1, where the author cites another stylistically very similar cup by You Kan in the collection of the late Dr. Ip Yee, illustrated in 'Notes on a Collection of Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Carvings', International Asian Antiques Fair, Hong Kong, 1982, pp. 22-3, no. 2. Dr. Ip's collection contained nine signed cups, four of which are by You Kan, and the group was bequeathed to the Palace Museum, Beijing. See, also, the rhinoceros horn cup carved with a scene very similar to that on the present cup and bearing the seal, Zhi Sheng, the studio name (zi) of You Kan, sold at Sothebys, New York, 17 April 1985, lot 141.

The following rhinoceros horn carving bear either the signature or seal of two of the most revered artists working in this medium: You Kan (zi Zhi Sheng) and You Yutong (zi Yuyuan).

You Kan is amongst the most famous rhinoceros horn carvers, with more works attributed to his hand than any other carver. He is also one of the few identifiable carvers whose name is listed in traditional sources. It is now generally accepted that You Kan is, in fact, the legendary You Xibei ('Rhinoceros Horn Cup' You), who was active during the period, c. 1660-1720, and who was summoned by the Kangxi Emperor to the capital to work at the Imperial ateliers. The incredible range and virtuosity of the extant cups signed You Kan justify his fame. He carved in the archaistic manner, but excelled in intimate and evocative depictions of flora and fauna. The exquisitely carved banana leaf-form cup, with an alert praying mantis and a charmingly rendered katydid, represents one of the most daring and imaginative designs of the examples bearing his signature. Figural cups bearing his name are exceptionally rare, and the brilliant composition and masterful carving of the cup depicting the legendary lover of wine, Lin Jin, accompanied by his attendants in a majestic mountainous landscape, displays a unsurpassed mastery of this genre. 

You Kan is amongst the most famous rhinoceros horn carvers, with more works attributed to his hand than any other carver. He is also one of the few identifiable carvers whose name is listed in traditional sources. It is now generally accepted that You Kan is, in fact, the legendary You Xibei ('Rhinoceros Horn Cup' You), who was active during the period, c. 1660-1720, and who was summoned by the Kangxi Emperor to the capital to work at the Imperial ateliers. The incredible range and virtuosity of the extant cups signed You Kan justify his fame. He carved in the archaistic manner, but excelled in intimate and evocative depictions of flora and fauna. The exquisitely carved banana leaf-form cup, with an alert praying mantis and a charmingly rendered katydid, represents one of the most daring and imaginative designs of the examples bearing his signature. Figural cups bearing his name are exceptionally rare, and the brilliant composition and masterful carving of the cup depicting the legendary lover of wine, Lin Jin, accompanied by his attendants in a majestic mountainous landscape, displays a unsurpassed mastery of this genre. 

Like You Kan, You Tong has also been linked to You Xibei, and, indeed, many sources identify You Kan and You Tong as the same artist from Wuxi, who was active in the late Ming and early Qing periods. While several superb cups bear the signature of these two renowned artists, and it is difficult to ascertain with certainty which examples were indeed by their hand, the present cups remain unquestionable masterpieces of the medium.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 16 - 17 September 2010