Lot 3209. A black and white jade 'cat and butterfly' carving, Ming dynasty (1368-1644); 6.8 cm., 2 3/4 in. Estimate 2,000,000 — 3,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 2,420,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.
carved from a slightly cube-shaped block, in the form of a grinning cat trampling leaves with its feet, clenching a sprig of banana leaves in its mouth, its tail curled alongside its left flank, set with a butterfly on its back, the stone of white tone with patches of black sandwiching on the top and bottom of the animal.
Property from the Peony Collection.
Exhibited: Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 70 (and illustrated on the back cover).
Jades from China, The Museum of East Asian Art, Bath, 1994, cat. no. 307.
Note: The carver has cleverly retained the form of the jade stone in the present carving by incorporating the dark colour of the skin and thereby accentuating a sense of determination and playfulness to the cat. Despite the flatness of the top of the stone, the softness traditionally associated with the animal is conveyed through the rounded forms of the cat and butterfly as well as the curved lines of the banana leaf. For another carving of a cat and butterfly, see a white jade example from the Gerald Godfrey collection sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30th October 1995, lot 832.
The Chinese word for 'cat' (mao) is homophonous with the word for 'age eighty to ninety' and the butterfly (die) for 'age seventy to eighty'; thus these are symbolic of longevity. Such a piece would have been presented as a birthday gift.
Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 08 april 2011