A FAMILLE-ROSE TEAPOT FOR THE QIANLONG EMPEROR
The Qianlong emperor was a fervent tea lover and is said to have composed more than two hundred poems on the subject of tea. He expressed his appreciation of tea culture in his writings and many of his poems make reference to the plucking, processing and preparing of tea. The Chonghua Dian (Hall of Double Glory) within the Forbidden City was the palace hall where the Emperor’s annual tea parties were held in the first lunar month, and where he invited his Grand Secretaries, ministers and members of the Imperial Academy to accompany him in drinking tea, writing poetry and pursuing other leisurely interests.
The idyllic outdoor scene on this vessel depicts a scholar seated in his garden at a stone table before an open handscroll, an attendant serving him tea brewed by a second assistant some distance away. Inscribed on the reverse is an imperial poem, entitled Jihuiquan peng zhulu ge (Brewing Tea by Hui Spring), which is included in the Siku quanshu [The Complete Library in Four Sections], Yuzhishi erji [Imperial Poems, vol. 2], juan 24, p. 4 (fig. 1).
The painting and the poem celebrate the Qianlong emperor’s fondness for the Hui Spring in Wuxi, Jiangsu province and the legendary bamboo brazier which was used to prepare tea using water from the spring, both of which had been treasured by scholars for hundreds of years. The pure natural spring water from the Hui Mountain, appreciated by scholars since the Tang dynasty (618-907), was recorded in Chajing [The Classic of Tea] by Lu Yu (733-804), the highly respected ‘Sage of Tea’, who ranked it second among all natural springs. During the Ming dynasty, a well-known monk named Pu Zhen, zi Xinghai from the Hui Mountain Temple, commissioned artisans from Huzhou, Zhejiang province, to make a bamboo brazier, and served his guests tea made with water from the Hui Spring boiled using this unique brazier. Over many years it became a tradition for scholars to gather on the Hui Mountain to liberate their literati spirit through drinking tea, writing poems, or painting landscapes. The paintings and writings left by these scholars were later compiled into several scrolls and were given the name Zhulu tuyong [Compendium of the ‘Bamboo Brazier’]. These scrolls, together with the bamboo brazier, were regarded as the two treasures of the Hui Mountain Temple. During the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong emperor learned about the Hui Spring and the treasures of the Hui Mountain and visited during his Southern Inspection Tours. He was served tea prepared on the bamboo brazier whilst admiring the handscrolls, and later composed the poem inscribed on this teapot to commemorate his visit. Upon returning from the south, the emperor ordered a replica of the Hui Mountain retreat to be built in Yuquan Mountain near the Forbidden City and instructed his workshops to produce a copy of the original Ming dynasty bamboo brazier with an imperial poem (dated 1751) inscribed to the base. This now resides in the Palace Museum, Beijing.
The original Compendium of the Bamboo Brazier was destroyed by fire in 1779. The following year the Qianlong emperor commanded court painters to repaint the scrolls under his supervision. Upon completion, the emperor gave the new Compendium of the Bamboo Brazier back to the Hui Mountain Temple and ordered that it be stored in a special room. In addition he had the paintings and poems transferred onto a series of steles, also to be kept in the temple. In 1860 the Hui Mountain Temple was destroyed by fire, resulting in the loss of all the scrolls. Fortunately some of the stele survived, including one engraved with a painting by the Qianlong emperor, Zhulu zhucha tu [Brewing Tea in a Retreat]. The remaining stele are now preserved inside the Hui Park in Wuxi City. Given the Qianlong emperor’s attachment to the Hui Mountain retreat, it seems likely that the scholar depicted in the painting on the present teapot is intended to represent the emperor himself.
A teapot closely related to the present example was sold twice in our Hong Kong rooms, 27th October 1992, lot 156, and again, 2nd May 2000, lot 646, now in the Alan Chuang collection, illustrated in Julian Thompson, The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 113 (fig. 2). A third teapot of this type, but with the outdoor pavilion scene and inscription panels surrounded by feathery iron-red scrolls and scattered flower heads, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum.Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 108 (fig. 3). A distinguishing element of these three teapots is the knop, which is decorated on all three examples with a lotus in iron-red and gilding.
Another Qianlong imperial teapot of this form, painted with figures drinking tea in a garden pavilion on one side and an imperial poem on the other, the two panels against a flower scroll-decorated yellow ground that continues onto the knop of the cover, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 31st October 1974, lot 316, and subsequently in the K.S. Lo collection, is illustrated in Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command, Hong Kong, 1976, pl. 86. Moss notes that the distinctive nature and quality of this teapot suggest that it was clearly made for the court and possibly for the emperor’s own use illustrating the shift of imperial patronage from the Palace workshops in Beijing to the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen during the reign of Qianlong. He further notes that it may have been inspired by the artistic genius of Tang Ying, Superintendent of the Imperial Kilns at Jingdezhen (see p. 85). Compare also a teapot of domed form with flared neck, similarly decorated with a tea preparation scene and inscription on the reverse against a yellow ground adorned with flower scrolls, from the collection of Hong and David Cho, sold in these rooms, 22nd March 2000, lot 135, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1212.
Murrell Rickards Bowden Werth (1923-2014) of Norfolk, Virginia was an avid art enthusiast and collector. After having worked during World War II for the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the Counterintelligence Department at the Pentagon, she moved to Neuilly, Paris in the 1950s, where she studied art, befriending the exiled Prince Michael Petrovic-Njegos of Montenegro (1908-1986). Werth returned to the United States, settling in New York City in 1958, where she studied painting with William Kasso, later moving to Venezuela, where she studied with the artist Pierre Desenne. During her lifetime, Merth was a benefactor of many cultural and charitable organizations, including The Chrysler Museum, Physicians for Peace, Church of the Good Shepherd and many more.
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