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Lot 3308. A Fine and Extremely Rare Imperial Doucai and Famille-Rose ‘Anbaxian’ Octagonal Vase, Qianlong Mark and Period (1736-1795). H 43.8cmEstimate Upon Request. Sold Price: HKD 55,200,000 (USD 7,076,923). Copyright 2021 © Poly Auction Hong Kong Limited

An octagonal vase with a splayed foot and a galleried mouth rim. An articulately proportioned body that gradually rises to a slightly rounded shoulder and further extends to the neck to reach the rim. The vase is divided into six sections that are connected with rounded protruding horizontal bands. Six sets of doucai and fencai decorative schemes fill the surface of the vase. The rim painted in gilt, the adjacent surface decorated with floral motifs accompanied by multiple ‘shou (longevity)’ medallions. Floral motifs then extend downwards to the neck which is adorned with five bats on clouds, lingzhi and peaches.

Provenance: 1. Collection of Jean Nicolier, Paris, France, late 1920s
2. Collection of Héliot family, Paris, France, 1955
3. Duchange family collection, Paris, France.

NoteSymbols for the ‘Eight Immortals’ occupy the middle area that is vertically divided into eight sections. These symbols are depicted alongside the floral ground. They include Han Zhongli’s fan, Zhang Guolao’s fish drum, He Xiangu’s lotus flower, Lan Caihe’s flower basket, Li Tieguai’s gourd, Cao Guojiu’s castanets, Lu Dongbin’s sword and Han Xiangzi’s flute. Floral decorative elements continue towards the foot, and the turquoise-glazed base is inscribed with a six-character Qianlong reign mark in iron-red glaze. The present lot is a richly adorned vase that encompasses auspicious messages of longevity and fortune.

The vase is of superb quality and is likely personally designed by the superintendent Tang Ying (1682-1756) for the celebration of Wanshoujie in the palace. Currently, there is no known piece alike. Porcelains made under the supervision of Tang Ying can be classified into three categories. Most of the works designed by Tang Ying belong to the first category which consists of porcelains produced specifically for use within the imperial palace. The second category are porcelains made for rituals and worship. The third, items gifted to friends and for Tang Ying’s personal use. Usually, the most outstanding works are found to be used within the imperial palace, particularly larger sized objects such as the vase in discussion, are mainly put on display.

Majority of Qianlong duocai porcelains are comparatively more petite in scale and often take the forms of dishes, bowls and jars. Doucai vases occupy a minority of Qianlong imperial wares and octagonal vases are rarely available. The present lot is a quintessence of Qianlong imperial ware. A Qianlong ‘Eight Immortals’ Vase from the Shanghai Museum is closely associated with the present lot, illustrated in Gems from the Collection of Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 2004, fig. 132. There is an undeniable resemblance between the shape, size and structure of the two works, with the exception of stylistic discrepancies on the painted images and colours of glazes used. The vase from the museum collection depicts the ‘eight immortals’ as human figures, whereas the ‘eight immortals’ are represented by their respective treasures on the present lot. Symbolic parallels presented by the two vases suggest a close production date or a common source of inspiration.

The ‘eight immortals’ symbols encompass the wish for longevity. Qianlong period porcelains with the ‘eight immortals’ symbols are more often found in dishs. Vases are not commonly ornamented with these emblems, but a Qianlong tianqiuping with an identical symbolic motif from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Oklahoma was sold in Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 May 2018, lot 8888 at 130 million HKD. Symbols of the ‘eight immortals’ are more often found with wares in other forms, one example is a Daoguang ‘Eight Immortals’ dish that was made deliberately for the Wanshoujie Festival that celebrates longevity. See Zhao Congyue, Porcelains with Inscription of Shendetang Collected by the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2014, pl. 2.

The present lot is outstanding for its meticulous design. The design scheme consists of secondary decorative elements such as the ‘shou’ characters, lotuses, peaches, bats, and auspicious clouds that are in dialogue with the central ‘Eight Immortals’ theme. These symbols complement each other and accentuate the implied wishes for a pleasant and a long life.

See a Qing fencai foliate dish adorned with peaches and bats, as well as symbols of the ‘Eight Immortals’ that are only painted near the rim, sold in Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7 May 2002, lot 533. The present lot demonstrates an identical set of symbols drawn more eminently on a larger medium.

A number of Ming Qing imperial wares are seen to have adopted the ‘Eight Immortals’ Symbols’ design. In the third year of the Qianlong reign, an imperial order has been placed specifying the making of a wucai ‘Eight Immortals’ Symbols’ dish. See Feng Xianming, Zhongguo gu taoci wenxian jixi [A Complete Explanation of Ancient Chinese Ceramics], Taipei, 2000, p. 231. See another Qianlong vase with dragon handles and the ‘Eight Immortals’ symbols, sold in Sotheby’s Hong Kong 7 April 2015, lot 3608, now in the Shanghai Museum collection. See another in the collection of The Palace Museum in Beijing, a cloisonné enamel ‘Eight Immortals’ Symbols’ vase with two ‘shou’ characters at the belly and a ‘卍’ symbol, see The World Rejoices As One: Celebrating Imperial Birthday in the Qing Dynasty, 2015, pl. 104.

Doucai is created by combining an underglaze and an overglaze. First, an outline is drawn with underglaze blue, a layer of clear glaze is applied on top, then fired at the kiln at high temperature. The fired product is then further embellished with colourful glazes and then fired at a lower temperature. Doucai originated in the Xuande period and was revived during the Kangxi reign. During the Yongzheng period, enamels were introduced which subsequently led to more innovative and intricate designs with vibrant colours.

Qianlong doucai wares were a continuation of skilled craftsmanship developed in the preceding reign. Novelty, vibrance, sophistication are characteristics of Qianlong period pieces. An important contemporaneous feature is using gilt to embellish outlines, which is evident on the mouth rim, the ‘shou’ character and other details of the present lot. A more remarkable feature of this lot is the size, which is unusually larger than most works with a similar design.

It was exactly because of Qianlong emperor’s enthusiasm in crafts, history, culture and innovation that led to a plethora of superb porcelains from that period. The present vase follows the bats and longevity motif from Yongzheng porcelains and incorporated European aesthetics in the depiction of the recurring floral motif that are delicately outlined with underglaze blue. There are only three Qianlong period fencai and doucai porcelains in the world currently. Including a small fencai jar with a scene of children at play and a ‘monkeys’ vase where underglaze-blue was used sporadically as ornamentation. The two are currently in the collection of The Palace Museum, illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong: Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 31, pl. 22 and p. 346, pl. 27. Compare another from the National Palace Museum in Taipei, illustrated in Catalog of the Special Exhibition of K'ang-Hsi, Yung-Cheng and Ch'ien-Lung Porcelain Ware from the Ch'ing Dynasty in the National Palace Museum, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, no. 84.

Based on the stylistic features of the inscribed reign mark, it is very likely that this is a piece produced at the beginning of the Qianlong reign. Currently, there is no known identical example. But the Shanghai Museum houses a piece that resembles the size, form, design of the present lot. The reign mark on the piece at the Shanghai Museum is also very similar to the one on the present lot, which suggests that the two pieces could have been made by the same craftsman. An identical one sold at China Guardian, 3 June 2006, lot 1718. See also a Tianqiuping originally from the Philbrook Museum of Art, later sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30 May 2018, lot 8888.

Poly Auctions. Imperial Treasures: A Selection of Qing Imperial Porcelains, Hong Kong, 21 April 2021