Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

Hong Kong

well potted of elongated pear shape sweeping up to a slender neck, exquisitely painted in vivid cobalt blue with five sinuous five-clawed dragons animatedly striding in various positions around the vase amidst a dense lotus ground, all between a band of waves and pendent ruyi heads encircling the mouth and waves and classic scroll skirting the foot, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark in underglaze blue
46 cm, 18 1/8  in.
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Collection of Mrs Christian Holmes (1871-1941).
William H. Wolff, Inc., New York, January 1966.
Collecton of Evelyn Annenberg-Hall (1911-2005), New York.
Christie's New York, 29th March 2006, lot 169. 
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8th April 2011, lot 3106.

Catalogue Note

This magnificent dragon vase, superbly potted with an ovoid body gently rising to a tall slender neck, skilfully painted with forceful five-clawed dragons soaring through a dense network of floral scrolls, is outstanding for its large size and summarises the Qianlong Emperor’s admiration for antiquity and his taste for bold statement pieces. It is notable for its dynamic design of dragons amongst floral scrolls, a motif that is known from 15th century blue and white wares and which was revived under the preceding Yongzheng Emperor and produced throughout the Qing dynasty. The dragon is perhaps the most important motif in the repertoire of the Chinese potter and artist. It represents the Emperor and is the symbol of imperial power. The effectiveness of the overall design of the present vase is also due to the brilliant deep blue cobalt, which has been applied to replicate the ‘heaping and piling’ effect of early Ming underglaze-blue designs and reflects the high level of technical achievement attained by the craftsman.

Large dragons depicted amongst lotus scrolls are found on Yongle globular vases (tianqiuping). By the Zhengde reign, the dragons were reduced in size and surrounded by a tighter ground of flower scrolls in a style more closely related to the present decoration, with this motif decorating a range of wares including vases, dishes and bowls. The craftsman has achieved a contemporaneity on the present vase through the elegant pear shape which was more commonly employed for monochromes of the Qing dynasty. Compare a Yongle tianqiuping sold in our London rooms, 1st/2nd April 1974, lot 187; and a Zhengde zhadou, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London 1994, vol. 2, pl. 686, and sold in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 60.

This exquisite dragon vase is extremely rare for its slender form decorated with a striking deep blue design of five dragons among a lotus flower scroll. No other closely related example appears to have been published, although a vase of this shape, similarly decorated with a broad band of underglaze-red dragons amongst a cobalt-blue floral ground between ruyi and lappet borders and stiff leaves around the neck, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 209, together with a Yongzheng baluster vase rendered with a related motif of four dragons against a composite flower scroll, pl. 89. For the Yongzheng prototype to this vase, but of smaller size, see one sold in these rooms, 7th April 2015, lot 108.

This piece belongs to a special group of vases produced during the Qianlong period, with elongated tall neck and pear-shaped body. Examples can be found in important museums and collections worldwide and each vase within the group appears to be uniquely decorated; for example see one painted with figures in a landscape, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated ibid., pl. 119; another decorated with a composite floral motif sold in these rooms, 2nd May 1984; and a third example adorned with a flower scroll design in the Ming style, from the collection of Jolan Hennings, sold at Christie's New York, 9th November 1978, lot 97, and again in these rooms, 25th November 1981, lot 224.

Vessels of this form were also made covered in a monochrome glaze; for example see a large Qianlong flambé-glazed vase, in the Nanjing Museum, included in Zhongguo Qingdai guanyao ciqi [Chinese imperial porcelains from the Qing dynasty], Shanghai, 2003, p. 345; another in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, pl. 345; and a third flambé-glazed vase decorated in gilt with a floral motif, from the Qing court collection, illustrated in Kangxi. Yongzheng. Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 393, pl. 74.

Important Chinese Art

Hong Kong