Lot 3997.  A set of four rare grisaille and pale iron-red decorated deep dishes, Qianlong period, Dechengzhai zhi four-character hall marks in iron-red (1736-1795); 7 7/8 in. (20 cm.) diamEstimate 1,000,000 - HKD 1,500,000. Price realised HKD 1,220,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

Each dish is finely potted with steep sides rising to a slightly flared, rounded rim, delicately decorated in a painterly technique in grisaille and shades of iron-red with a different mountainous landscape scenes. The mark is written in a line on the base on each dish, box.

ProvenanceFrank Caro/C.T. Loo, New York
Property from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. James E. Breece III, sold at Christie's New York, 18 September 2003, lot 373.

LiteratureJ. Hay, Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China, London, 2010, p.220-221, no. 131-132.

NoteThe inscription on the base of these four dishes, Dechengzhai Zhi, may be translated as 'Made for the Studio of Virtue and Honesty', and appears on porcelains ranging in date from the Qianlong to the Daoguang reigns. Geng Baochang notes in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Beijing, 1993, p. 384, the appearance of the Dechengzhai mark on a dish from the Qianlong period decorated with grisaille landscapes. On p. 387 of the same volume the author notes the use of this mark on a Daoguang famille rose-decorated cricket jar and cover. However, it is the Qianlong dish that relates to the current pieces.

The current dishes are closely related to a pair of similar dishes in the collection of the Percival David Foundation, now housed in the British Museum, illustrated by R. Scott in Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art - A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 105, pl. 109. The David Foundation dishes and the current set are all of distinctive form with relatively deep rounded sides and sharply everted rims. They share the same treatment of the foot and although the David Foundation dishes bear a different mark to the current quartet, the marks are all written in overglaze iron-red, in a single vertical line, in precisely the same style of calligraphy. The landscapes are different on all six dishes, but they are all painted in a similar style, which owes artistic debts to the Yuan dynasty painter Ni Zan, and to the late Ming literatus Dong Qichang. Each of the landscapes is painted in sepia overglaze enamel with small highlighting areas of iron-red, in imitation of ink painting on silk or paper. The David Foundation dishes bear a mark reading Yayu Tang Zhi, 'Made for the Hall of Gentle Rain'. This was the hall name of Lu Jianzeng (1690-1768), a scholar official, the highlight of whose career was his appointment as Chief Salt Commissioner of Liang Huai in 1737. For further details see: R. Scott, For the Imperial Court - Qing Porcelains from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, Singapore/London, 1997, p. 126. The David Foundation dishes may have been made around the same time as the publication of his collection of literary works by pre-Song writers (Yayu Tang congshu), in 1756. The current set of four dishes probably also dates to the mid-18th century.

This dating is further corroborated by a pair of bowls in the National Palace Museum, Tapei dated to 1743 decorated en grisaille to the interior with very similarly rendered landscape scenes included in the exhibition, Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 72, no. 13.

Christie's. The Imperial Sale,  Hong Kong, 30 May 2012