Lot 82. A large pale green jade archaistic phoenix-form vessel (Guang), Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795). Height 9½ in., 24 cm. Lot sold: 277,200 USD (Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 USD). © Sothebys.
Paris, 13th October 1969, lot 192.
Collection of Dr Wou Kiuan (1910-1997).
Wou Lien-Pai Museum, 1969-present, coll. no. Q.9.8.
Literature: Rose Kerr et al., Chinese Antiquities from the Wou Kiuan Collection. Wou Lien-Pai Museum, Hong Kong, 2011, pl. 178.
Note: Archaistic jade vessels of this phoenix shape and large size are exceedingly rare. The form of the present piece is inspired by the archaic bronze vessel yi, known in China from at least the Western Zhou dynasty (c. 1046-771 BC). Yi were ewers with tapering spouts, usually supported by multiple legs, for pouring water in ritual ceremonies (see lot 39). This exquisitely carved jade vessel from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) is a playful interpretation of archaic bronze models, encapsulating the reverence for the past and expansion of political power in the Qianlong era. To cater to the Emperor’s special taste for antiquities, vessels from the distant past, such as yi and guang, provided inspiration for the creation of a wide range of jade carvings. With the Qing court capturing the jade-rich region in western China in the mid-18th century, there was an increased supply of jade, so that sizeable boulders became available for making large vessels such as the present piece.
While no other closely related example of jade yi appears to have been published, a similar but small jade vessel, measuring 16.6 cm in height, is preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig. 1), illustrated in Li Jiufang, Zhongguo yuqi quanji / Complete Collection of Chinese Jades, vol. 6: Qing, Shijiazhuang, 1993, pl. 37. It has been described as guang, which are wine containers in a form similar to yi, but with shorter spouts and mostly paired with lids. Both the present ewer and the Palace Museum piece are finely carved with a phoenix in high relief with a loose ring suspended below its beak, spreading its wings, which are rendered as archaistic scroll designs, across the broad sides. On both vessels, the handle has the form of openwork scrolls with a sinuous chilong clambering up to the rim. The Beijing vessel is, however, lacking the low-relief decoration on the neck and is supported by a much shorter foot.
Fig. 1 A jade archaistic archaistic (Guang), Qing dynasty © Palace Museum, Beijing
Compare also two smaller white jade archaistic guang vessels featuring phoenixes: one with a less elaborately carved phoenix head and a 'flaming pearl' in high relief on one side, included in the Ching Wan Society Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition, National Museum of History, Taipei, 2012, recently sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2019, lot 3027; the other, with a domed cover carved with two chilong, decorated with a slender archaistic phoenix on each side of the body and a beast head suspending a loose ring, sold at Christie’s London, 13th May 2008, lot 65.
A finely carved and very rare white jade archaistic ewer, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm.) high. Price realised HKD 7,325,000 (Estimate HKD 4,500,000 – HKD 5,500,000) at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2019, lot 3027. © Christie’s 2022
In imitation of an archaistic bronze gong, the ewer is finely carved with stylised phoenix panels on both sides, standing on a splayed foot with an incised key-fret band, and surmounted with a gently flared neck decorated with archaistic phoenix and scrollwork, and a flaming pearl in high relief on one side, carved below the lipped rim with a phoenix head suspending a loose ring, the scroll handle is well carved in the round with a playful chilong, its sinuous body coiled through the handle, the translucent stone is of an attractive milky-white tone with small areas of amber inclusions.
Literature: Ching Wan Society Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition: Objects of vertu, Taipei, 2012, pp. 48-49.
Exhibited: National Museum of History, Taipei, Ching Wan Society Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition 20 October – 9 December 2012.
Note: The Qianlong emperor’s great love of jade combined with his passion for antiques resulted in his commissioning significant numbers of archaistic jade items for his court. The vessel from which the present lot takes inspiration is the archaic bronze gong. Archaic bronze examples would normally have been accompanied by a cover in zoomorphic form, such as an example illustrated in the woodblock printed catalogue Xiqing Gujian, ‘Inspection of Antiques’ (fig. 1). However, this exquisite white jade version was evidently produced without a cover. It is the ultimate testament of a consummate master craftsman to have been able to conceive and combine elegant form with confident subtly defined motifs, working the pure white raw material to its best and fullest advantage.
The present ewer is especially distinguished by the size and quality of its material. The stone displays attributes of the finest ‘mutton-fat’ jades - white, even, unctuous and devoid of flaws. The source of the material was Xinjiang, most likely in the 1750s after the capture of this area by the Qing Empire, which brought a steady flow of Khotan jades to the Qing court.
Extremely few other examples of this rare form, impressive size, and outstanding quality are known, most of which are preserved in the Qing court collection. A similar white jade gong of slightly smaller but wider proportion (16.6 cm. high, 18 cm. wide) is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo yuqi quanjj – 6 – Qing, Shijiazhuang, 1991, no. 37 (fig. 2), which is also made without a cover. For white jade gong with covers, compare to two examples in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, one of which is closely modelled after the bronze original in form and decoration (14.4 cm. high, 16.6 cm. wide), the other similar in style to the present ewer but of smaller size and a more flattened form, see The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch’ing Court, Taipei, 1997, nos. 13 and 20, respectively.
For other Qianlong white jade gong that have appeared on auctions, compare to one sold at Christie’s London, 13 May 2008, lot 65 (19.8 cm. high), which has a protruding lip at one end of the mouth in the form of a large beast head to accommodate the cover; and another carved in the round with a phoenix supporting the upright hollow vessel, sold at Bonham’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2018, lot 27 (18.8 cm. high).
A very rare imperial white jade archaistic vessel and cover, Guang, Qianlong (1736-95); 7 7/8 in. (19.8 cm.) high. Price realised GBP 1,364,500 (Estimate GBP 60,000 – GBP 80,000) at Christie’s London, 13th May 2008, lot 65. © Christie’s 2022
In the form of an archaic bronze guang, the pouring vessel of an oval cross-section, decorated in shallow and high relief on each side of the rounded body with a slender archaistic phoenix, the slightly waisted neck with a flaming pearl to one side below a protruding lip at one end in the form of a large and elaborate beast head suspending a loose-ring, the scroll-form handle entwined with a chilong clambering up over the rim, all supported on a stepped spreading foot, the domed cover with two further chilong flanking a floral finial, the well-polished stone of an even pale celadon-white tone with some very minor white inclusions.
Provenance: The Général Omer Blot Collection.
Note: A white jade vessel of similar form is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, National Palace Museum, Taiwan, 1997, no. 20.
The bronze vessel from which the present lot takes inspiration is the guang; archaic examples would normally have been accompanied by a cover in zoomorphic form. Early bronze vessels dated to 11th/10th century B. C. are illustrated by W. Watson, Ancient Chinese Bronzes, pls. 31a and 31b. It is the ultimate testament of a consumate master craftsman to have been able to conceive and combine elegant form with confident subtly defined motifs, working the pure white raw material to its best and fullest advantage.
For a spinach jade 'dragon-tail' guang with the exterior carved as a dragon and inscribed with a Qianlong poem eulogising archaism, dated to A.D. 1787, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, vol. 9, no. 318; another spinach jade guang without inscription in the National Palace Museum, Taibei, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, p. 127.
Sotheby's. A Journey Through China's History. The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection Part 1, New York, 22 March 2022