Lot 2123
  • 2123


60,000,000 - 80,000,000 HKD
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  • Height: 7 3/8 inches

superbly potted, the slightly compressed spherical body sweeping up to a tall slender neck with a cupped mouth, in a tour-de-force of painting the fine white body covered in a clear glaze and decorated with four round white medallions each containing finely enamelled flowers, one with yellow day lilies growing beside pink and red poppies with small blue daisies on the side, the second with pink and red roses blooming from a bush with bamboo and asters, the third with a nandina bush laden with ripe red berries arching over a stand of narcissus with lingzhi fungus to the side, the final medallion with rich yellow hollyhock growing beside red and yellowish green leafy stems, all reserved on the blue ground decorated with pink and yellow bats swooping amidst multi-coloured clouds, between a border of lappets picked out in rose-pink enclosed by a narrow yellow border and two shades of green radiating from the foot and a puce-ground border painted with archaistic green and pink dragons on the shoulder, the raised collar picked out in orange, the splayed foot encircled by a pale blue ground border painted with a feathery pink scroll above a thin yellow line, all below a tall neck decorated with stylised multi-coloured flowers borne on scrolling leafy stems against a rich yellow ground, all between two borders of ruyi heads, one predominantly blue and the other pink, the cupped mouth with a border of small petals on the underside, the base inscribed with a blue enamel mark Qianlong nianzhi within a double square, the mate offered in the proceeding lot


Collection of Alfred E. Hippisley, Commissioner of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service of China at Shanghai and Peking from 1876 to 1884 (one of a pair, together with the following lot).
Anderson Galleries, New York, 31st January 1925, lot 265 (one of a pair, together with the following lot).
Collection of J.T. Tai (one of a pair, together with the following lot).


The U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., on loan from 1887 to 1912 (together with the following lot).


Alfred E. Hippisley, A Sketch of the History of Ceramic Art in China, with a Catalogue of the Hippisley Collection of Chinese Porcelains, Washington, D.C., 1902, pl. 21; reprinted from the Report of the United States National Museum, Washington, 1900, pp. 305-416 (together with the following lot).
The Hippisley Collection of Chinese Porcelain Formed by Alfred E. Hippisley, The Anderson Galleries, New York, 1925, lot 265 (together with the following lot).


The overall condition is excellent with only some characteristic bubbling to the blue enamels and three very minute enamel flakes to the green enamels on the leaves, the largest measuring 2mm, on the medallion with hollyhocks. The other two flakes are on the day lily and poppy medallion. With a silk-lined leather case, probably made in the late 19th century or turn of the century.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The J.T. Tai Falangcai 'Four Seasons' Bottle Vases
by Regina Krahl

The highlight of the J.T. Tai group is this pair of vases exquisitely enamelled with Flowers of the Four Seasons. Both vases are painted with the same combination flowers but in different compositions, in roughly mirror-symmetric arrangements. This is typical of porcelains enamelled in Beijing, which tend to be unique, so that pairs are designed as complementary rather than identical companions. The four naturalistic garden scenes around the sides are dramatically staged in reserved circular panels to evoke moon gates in a south-Chinese garden, through which one can glimpse harmonious displays of flowering plants at different times of the year. The plants are arranged in classic combinations full of auspicious connotations, abounding with wishes for long life. Spring is represented by nandina and narcissus, summer by hollyhock, autumn by day lilies and poppies, and winter by roses that flower year-round and evergreen bamboo. The delicate painting manner is reminiscent of Beijing-enamelled (falangcai) glass – an impression reinforced by the outstanding quality of the white porcelain; compare a miniature glass vase of the Qianlong period in the Palace Museum, Beijing, with related falangcai decoration, illustrated in Zhang Rong, Luster of Autumn Water. Glass of the Qing Imperial Workshop, Beijing, 2005, pl. 84 (fig. 1).

The stylisation of moss-covered ground and low shrubs in the background through minute shaded dots is a painting device probably introduced by Western painters working at the court. It appears already on falangcai porcelains of the Yongzheng period; compare a bowl of Yongzheng mark and period from the Chang Foundation, Taipei, illustrated in James Spencer, Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1990, pl. 147 (fig. 2).

The surrounding design of bats among rainbow-coloured clouds against an azure-blue sky shows a particularly successful balance of colours, which does not seem to be known from other vessels. It is reminiscent of the blue cloud background on a pair of dragon-decorated bowls in the National Palace Museum, illustrated in Liao Pao Show, Huali cai ci: Qianlong yangcai/Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, Taipei, 2008, pl. 15, where they are identified as yangcai, although the record of the seventh year of Qianlong that appears to refer to them (listed on p. 266) calls them falang hua (foreign decoration). The use of such large amounts of this intense blue enamel is uncharacteristic of Jingdezhen workmanship.

The stylised flower scrolls on the yellow-painted neck of our bottles are stylistically most closely related to Beijing-enamelled copper, which would have been executed by the same painters in the same workshops. This manner of painting was developed in Beijing in the Kangxi reign for painting on metal (fig. 3) and was retained through the Yongzheng into the Qianlong period. Characteristic are formalized scrolls with thick stems of even width, clearly outlined in a darker tone, terminating in blunt rounded tips and occasional pointed hooks, and bearing lobed leaves with a distinct central rib and veins. They are painted in multiple colours but without real shading. This painting style was not adopted at Jingdezhen, where stylised flower scrolls on a coloured ground were transformed into more abstract, feathery scrollwork terminating in pointed tips and occasional rounded hooks, and emphasized by dramatic shading (fig. 4).

The fanciful borders of curly archaistic dragons on the shoulder again appear very similarly on Beijing-enamelled metalwork (fig. 5) as well as on other falangcai porcelains (fig. 6), while those drawn at Jingdezhen typically imitate more closely the angled forms of archaic bronze designs (fig. 7).

Finally, the remarkably wide range of unusual enamel tones employed on these vases needs to be mentioned, which is altogether different from the standard 'famille rose' palette employed at Jingdezhen. It is apparent even in minor supporting motifs such as the petal panels above the foot, which here are composed of five unusual shades. 

All these differences between Beijing and Jingdezhen imperial orders seem to coincide with the application of different reign marks. Although in the Qianlong period, Jingdezhen sometimes replaced their customary six-character underglaze-blue seal marks with four-character overglaze-blue enamel marks, these generally appear to have been written in seal script (zhuanshu) as well, occasionally on a turquoise-enamelled base, while the Beijing pieces bear enamel marks in kaishu (regular script). This difference between Beijing and Jingdezhen enamel marks was already commented on by Peter Lam in a lecture at the Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 15 December 2009, entitled 'A Dating Framework for Qianlong Imperial Ware' (publication in Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, forthcoming ).

Most closely related to the present vases in painting style, although very different in design, is a falangcai vase in the Shanghai Museum (fig. 8). While the body is painted with a figure scene in European style with intense shading, the neck shows a dragon and bats among yellow-ground scrollwork similarly rendered as the design on the neck of the present vase; see Michel Beurdeley and Guy Raindre, Qing Porcelain. Famille Verte, Famille Rose, London, 1987, pl. 166 (picture probably reversed), or Chūgoku tōji zenshū [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], vol. 21: Keitokuchin saikai jiki [Jingdezhen polychrome painted porcelains], Kyoto, 1981, pl. 139; or Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], vol. 15, Shanghai, 2000, pl. 75.

Two pairs of vases of related design in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, on the other hand, which superficially seem closer to the present piece, are in fact rather different in their painting manner. Liao Pao Show, op.cit., pls. 30 and 31 and pp. 275 and 281 has linked the two pairs to imperial commissions of yangcai zhichuiping ('paper mallet vases') commissioned in 1743. The difference in quality between these two pairs of vases, supposedly commissioned in the same month of the same year, is disturbing, however, and they also differ in their reign marks, the former pair, which is superior by far in its painting, bearing the blue enamel kaishu mark, the latter, much poorer in quality, showing an enamel seal mark on a turquoise base. A third pair in Taipei, ibid., pl. 32 and p. 281, shows the typical Jingdezhen scrollwork overall on a yellow ground, and is again inscribed with a seal mark on a turquoise base (fig. 9).

The present vases formerly belonged to Alfred E. Hippisley (1842-1940), who in the early Guangxu period, from 1876 to 1884, served as Commissioner of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service of China in Beijing and Shanghai. As one of the first Western collectors to discover and appreciate the beauty and finesse of Qing imperial porcelain, long before their qualities became universally recognized, he acquired imperial porcelains already in the late Qing period, partly from a Prince Yi, probably Zaiyuan, the 6th Prince Yi (1819-61), a trusted advisor of the Xianfeng Emperor and one of the Regents acting for the child emperor Tongzhi. In the late 19th century Hippisley loaned some three hundred items, overwhelmingly of Qing date, including these vases, to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where they were published in the Institution's Annual Report of 1887-88. His collection was dispersed at auction at the Anderson Galleries, New York in 1925 and at Sotheby's London in 1935. Other porcelains from the Hippisley collection are among the highlights of the Sir Percival David Collection, now on view in the British Museum, London (e.g. Regina Krahl, 'Qing Imperial Porcelain and Glass', Arts of Asia, vol. 39, no. 3, May-June 2009, pls 8, 14 and 19).