Lot 37. A very rare famille rose 'butterflies and peonies' dish, Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period (1723-1735); 20cm (7 7/8in) diam. Estimate £ 3,000 - £ 5,000. Sold for £ 212,562 (€ 235,057). Courtesy Bonhams.
The dish finely potted with gently curving sides rising from a short inward-tapering foot to a slightly everted rim, delicately enamelled with two butterflies fluttering in mid-air beneath a branch of flowering peony blossoms.
Provenance: Bluett & Sons, London (label), circa 1924 - 1930
Sotheby's London, 24 July 1951, lot 161
Robert Stanley Hope Smith collection (1910-1979), collection no.R32, and thence by descent.
We would like to thank Dominic Jellinek for providing further information on the Bluett's provenance.
Note: The blossoming peony branches on the outside extend over the rim of the dish continuing well into the interior. This decorative pattern, known as 'guozhi 過枝' (overextended branches), is a homophone of the phrase 'guozhi 國治', meaning prolonged peace under good government. It was first developed towards the end of the Ming dynasty, and later became popular during the Yongzheng reign. It was especially favoured at court which is shown in Imperial examples such as a larger dish (29.5cm) with peach flower design in the Baur Collection, illustrated by J.Ayers, The Baur Collection, vol.IV, Geneva, 1974, A589; and a charger (50.1cm) in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, p.67.
See a closely related dish with butterflies and peonies design, Yongzheng six-character mark and period, which was sold at Christie's London, 7 November 2017, lot 275.
The Robert Stanley Hope Smith Collection
Robert Stanley Hope Smith, known to friends and family as Stanley, was born on 13th December 1910 in Horton, Bradford. During the 2nd world war he served with his local Home Guard Regiment. He was a solicitor and partner at Browning Oliver and Smith in Bradford and was known to have worked closely with the refugee Polish community which settled there in the late 1940s and early 50s, helping them establish a future within the city that still prospered with a textile industry.
He married Joan Shelton, a schoolteacher, on 4th September 1946, bought a small semi-detached house, Colwyn, Park Mount Avenue in Baildon and had one son, John.
According to his diary he began collecting "Famille Rose" and "Famille Verte" pieces in 1946 from local auction houses, shops and privately in Harrogate, Leeds and Bradford. His wife Joan also shared his passion and they made further purchases on weekend trips to country houses and antique fairs.
He made his first Sotheby's purchase via absentee bid on 2nd October 1950 and on the 15th December the same year was elected a member of the Oriental Ceramic Society. In 1959 Frank Davis, another north of England OCS member, wrote to say that he would surely be welcomed by the "learned lot" in London but it is unlikely Stanley ever made it there because of the disability that made travel difficult.
Over the following decades he was delighted to acquire pieces from well-known collections formed by Lord Cunliffe, Montague Meyer, Leonard Gow, along with OCS exhibition pieces. What may have not been key pieces for them became the core of his collection.
Stanley and Joan lived an unassuming life, intellectually stimulated by eclectic subscriptions to periodicals. He played the organ at church services in Baildon, watched his son play rugby for his school and county, and on summer afternoons tended his allotment. They loved the Yorkshire Dales, visiting country houses, occasionally staying in hotels in the Lake District. On Sundays they drove a specially adapted Jaguar across the Yorkshire moors.
Members of their family were the few fortunate enough to see the porcelain collection displayed in the back room of Colwyn on a dresser alongside the piano and harpsichord. They assumed that Stanley collected even broken pieces of Chinese pottery because they were all that he could afford, unaware that Kintsugi was key to his passion, for he had suffered from polio as a child and walked with a cane.
Stanley died in November 1979. Joan remained a member of the Oriental Ceramic Society for the rest of her life. In later years her grandchildren remember her reading to them in front of an open fire from auction catalogues, OCB periodicals and Oriental art study books, teaching them about the Chinese dynasties and their dates while referring to the pieces still on display in the back room where they had remained undisturbed for the previous 45 years. She died in 2000 and the collection was subsequently put into storage. The family has decided that the time has come for others to enjoy and admire the collection and hope that it will bring as much pleasure as it did for Stanley and Joan.
Bonhams. Fine Chinese Art, London, 5 Nov 2020