Five is a propitious number, and the five red bats painted on the bowl are among the most popular themes in Chinese decorative arts. Red bats provide a rebus or visual pun for vast good fortune, and five bats provide a rebus for wufu, the Five Blessings of longevity, health, wealth, love of virtue and a good end to life. Bats painted upside down provide a further rebus, since the word for ‘upside down’, dao, is pronounced similarly to the word for ‘arriving’, and thus an upside-down bat signifies 'happiness is arriving'.
Related to the present bowl is a Yongzheng copper cup and saucer enamelled in the imperial Enamelling Workshops of the Forbidden City with similar peach-and-bat designs, and an enamelled copper water pot formed as a peach branch with two fruit and painted with bats, respectively exhibited in Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, Taipei, 2009, cat. no. II-18, and China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-6, cat. no. 295.
Two court paintings further demonstrate the popularity of the bat motif at the Yongzheng court: a landscape by Chen Mei (c. 1694-1745) with a large number of bats in the sky, inscribed Ten Thousand Blessings (bats) to the Emperor and presented to the Yongzheng Emperor on his birthday in the 4th year of his reign (1726) (fig. 1), ibid., cat. no. 270; and another, by court artist Jin Jie (fl. 18th century), depicting three elderly men in a landscape with red bats, titled Flying Bats Filling the Sky (i.e. Infinite Blessings), in Harmony and Integrity, op. cit., cat. no. II-112.
Only a dozen comparable Yongzheng bowls of the peach-and-bat design are recorded. A pair was formerly in Dr. T.T. Tsui’s Jingguantang collection, published in The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV: Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 155, and The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, pl. 119. The pair, now separated, was composed of a bowl that was sold in these rooms 14th November 1989, lot 315; at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 1999, lot 539; in our London rooms, 16th May 2007, lot 104; and in these rooms, 7th April 2015, lot 112, together with another similar bowl. The other bowl of the Tsui pair came from the John F. Woodthorpe and C.M. Moncrieff collections and was sold three times in our London rooms, 9th December 1952, lot 140; 6th April 1954, lot 106; and 21st February 1961, lot 171.
A pair formerly in the Eisei Bunko, Tokyo, an art collection with its origins in the Nanboku-cho period (1336-92) formed by the Hosokawa family, one of the top daimyo clans in Japan, is now also separated: one bowl entered the Meiyintang collection and was sold in these rooms on 5th October 2011, lot 16, the other, still in the Eisei Bunko today, is illustrated in Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 12:, Tokyo, 1956, col. pl. 11. Another pair in the Baur collection, Geneva, is illustrated in John Ayers, The Baur Collection Geneva: Chinese Ceramics, Geneva, 1968-74, vol. 4, nos. A 594 and 595. A pair from the collections of Chen Rentao, Paul and Helen Bernat and T. Endo was sold in these rooms 15th November 1988, lot 44, and 29th April 1997, lot 401, and at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th May 2007, lot 1374, and is illustrated in Sotheby's. Thirty Years in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 326. This pair is now also separated and one was included in the Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition: Twelve Chinese Masterworks, Eskenazi, London, 2010, cat. no. 11, while the other is in a private collection in Taiwan. Another pair was sold at Yamanaka & Co., London, 1938, and was included in their catalogue Chinese Ceramic Art, Bronze, Jade etc., no. 116, pl. 12 (illustrating one of the pair). Also known is one bowl from the Avery Brundage collection, in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, published in Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, p. 204, pl. 7.44.1.
One other related pair of different proportions, from the Allen J. Mercher and John M. Crawford, Jr. collections, was sold at Parke-Bernet New York, 10th October 1957, lot 261, and in these rooms, 24th May 1978, lot 252. The peach-and-bat design was also used for enamelling porcelains at the imperial workshops in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Compare a pair of Yongzheng falangcai porcelain bowls in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, also painted with peach trees and five bats, but in a less pronounced design, exhibited in Painted Enamels of Qing Yongzheng Period (1723-1735), National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2013, pl. 82.
Other Yongzheng vessel forms with the peach-and-bat design are also very rare. Compare a Yongzheng covered box formerly in the Van Slyke and Meiyintang collections, sold in these rooms 8th April 2013, lot 3036, which appears to be the only example recorded (fig. 2). Examples of large dishes include one from the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan, sold in these rooms, 29th April 1997, lot 400, and one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, in China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-6, cat. no. 181. A group of smaller dishes is discussed in An Exhibition of Important Chinese Ceramics from the Robert Chang Collection, London, 1993, cat. no. 92; see also an example in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 5, New York, 1981, col. pl. 67; and another dish in Denise Patry Leidy, Treasures of Asian Art. The Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, New York, 1994, pl. 198. Other examples include a pair of Yongzheng dishes formerly in the collections of Barbara Hutton (1912-1979) and the British Rail Pension Fund, exhibited on loan at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1985-1988, illustrated in Sotheby's Hong Kong Twenty Years, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 202, no. 276, and sold twice in our London rooms, 6th July 1971, lot 265, and 8th July 1974, lot 408, twice in our Hong Kong rooms, 29th November 1977, lot 160, and 16th May 1989, lot 88, and recently at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th May 2014, lot 3319.
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