A FINE AND EXTREMELY RARE FAMILLE-VERTE 'BIRD' BOWL MARK AND PERIOD OF KANGXI
- 12.8 cm., 5 in.
exquisitely painted around the shallow rounded sides with a brown and white bird with a long tail perched on a pendant peach branch in an asymmetrical composition covering most of the sides, the branch bearing finely shaded red fruits, bright green leaves with paler undersides and yellow worm-eaten patches, and pale aubergine branches, the slightly domed centre of the bowl with a single peach on a branch, the sunken base with the six-character mark within a double circle, wood stand
Collection of Captain Charles Oswald Liddell (who lived in China 1877-1913).
Bluett & Sons, London.
Collection of Wildred A. Evill.
Sotheby's London, 30th November 1965, lot 93.
The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain, Bluett & Sons, London, n.d. (1929), cat. no. 89.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 167.
Laughingthrush and Peaches
This small bowl is unique and exceptional in the sensitivity of its painting, which echoes ink paintings on paper or silk. The bird with its distinctive white-rimmed eyes, which is perched on a branch laden with peaches, is a huamei, laughing-thrush, or Chinese thrush, a popular cage bird because of its bright, chirpy song. A very similar bird perched on a flowering peach branch appears in a zoological manual recording birds, their features, habits and habitats, of which a section is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (see Gugong niao pu/Manual of Birds, Taipei, 1997, vol. 3, p. 30) (fig. 1). This handbook was produced for the Qianlong Emperor between 1750 and 1761 by the court painters Yu Xing and Zhang Weibang, following an earlier version painted by Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732), court painter under the Kangxi Emperor.
Several larger bowls as well as Kangxi 'birthday dishes' are known painted with a related, but rather different design, executed by a different hand in a different manner, and showing a different bird. They are rendered in a more ostentatious, 'boneless' (no-outline) painting style, which is effective already from a distance, whereas the present bowl invites and requires close inspection to appreciate its fine detail. Compare, for example the pair of bowls sold in these rooms 23 October 2005, lot 371, now in the collection of Alan Chuang, and illustrated in Julian Thompson, The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 39; or another pair from the Ton-Ying and Barbara Hutton collections, one later in the T.Y. Chao collection and now the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo, the other later in the British Rail Pension Fund and The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, sold in these rooms 18 November 1986, lot 122 (fig. 2), and 16 May 1989, lot 75, respectively (fig. 3). The latter bowl is illustrated again, together with a 'birthday dish' from the Shanghai Museum collection, in Peter Lam, 'Lang Tingji (1663-1715) and the Porcelain of the Late Kangxi Period', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 68, 2003-4, pp. 42-3, pls 18 and 19. Other similar bowls are in the British Museum, London, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Eisei Bunko, Tokyo.
The birds on these larger bowls and dishes seem to represent a different species and are generally identified as magpies; the fruiting branches look similar to those on the Meiyintang bowl, but are often identified as apricot. This may be due to the fact that the design of a magpie and three apricots is interpreted as illustrating a pun on the wish for achieving first place in the three main official exams, provincial, metropolitan and palace; see Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 84. Apricots are, however, generally – at least in the illustrations of the Ben cao gang mu [Pandects of Natural History], China's classical pharmaceutical handbook – depicted as ovoid fruit rather than in this heart shape with distinct ridge from the stem to the tip, which is the characteristic form of the peach. The branch on the present bowl, in any case, holds more than three fruit, and the bird is different, too. The Meiyintang bowl thus differs in almost every aspect from all other examples with related design, and may perhaps represent a first model, made with greater attention to detail, which provided the blueprint for the larger, somewhat modified series.
Peter Lam, who has closely studied the calligraphy of reign marks under Lang Tingxi's tenure as supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, describes (ibid., p. 35) the marks that appear on this group of vessels – the same as on the present bowl – as "very calligraphic, not too regular nor angular" and has argued that they were all written by the same calligrapher and are roughly contemporary with Lang Tingji's term of service in Jiangxi from 1705 to 1712. The birthday dishes were made towards the end of this period, around 1712, for the Emperor's 60th birthday in 1713. The present bowl may therefore be attributed to a somewhat earlier date within this period.
Captain Charles Oswald Liddell lived in China from 1877 to 1913 and married in Shanghai. During these years he acquired porcelains from the collections of Yikuang, Fourth Prince Qing, the last Regent of the Qing dynasty, and from the private secretary and adviser of Li Hongzhang, influential statesman and diplomat around the same time. Upon his return to England he settled in Wales, where he added distinct Oriental flavour to an ancient manor house, Shirenewton Hall, by planting a Japanese-style garden with East Asian plants, erecting Oriental pavilions, and installing a large Chinese temple bell on the lawn. His collection was largely sold at Bluett & Sons, London, in 1929.