The Kangxi Emperor successfully revived the Imperial porcelain factories at Jingdezhen after a long dormant period that lasted nearly sixty years. According to palace documents, production was revived on the 19th year of the Kangxi reign, corresponding to 1680, and in 1681 the Emperor sent four officials to Jingdezhen to oversee the rebuilding of the kilns and serve as imperial supervisors. Among them was the talented Zang Yingxuan, Director of the Bureau of Forestry and Craft under the Ministry of Works, who is credited with the development of innovative techniques and designs. In 1682 Zang employed the gifted painter and calligrapher Liu Yuan (c. 1638-1685), known for his illustrations of the book Lingyange gongchen tu (Portraits of Meritorious Statesmen for the Hall of Lingyan), a reproduction of portraits of twenty-four legendary Tang dynasty statesmen who helped Li Shimin establish the Tang dynasty. The Qingshi gao [Draft of the History of Qing] records:
"At that time, the imperial kilns were established in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi. Yuan presented hundreds of paper designs for porcelain samples. These designs draw inspirations from both ancient and modern forms and combine with innovative ideas. They are most notable for figural images, landscape, the birds and flowers, which are better than Ming dynasty wares."
Liu Yuan introduced a finely penciled style, with figures often placed against undecorated backgrounds. His influence is evident on these jars through the clever use of a white background that enhances movement. Technical advances proved essential for the flourishing of this style; the skillful application of different layers of cobalt, as seen here in the sinuous movement of the dragons’ spines, increased the three-dimensionality of designs that would otherwise appear rather flat.
Vases of this type appear in two variations, differing slightly in their form, size and mark. A closely related example in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is published in Illustrated Catalogue of Ch’ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 9; another in the Baur Collection, is included in John Ayers, The Baur Collection, Geneva, vol. 4, Geneva, 1974, pl. A513; a pair in the Frick Collection, New York, is published on the museum’s website, acc. no. 1965.8.164; and a further example was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 26th October 1993, lot 163.
Compare also a larger vase of this type, but with the mark written in two horizontal lines, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Qingdai yuyao ciqi [Qing imperial porcelains], vol. 1, pt. 1, Beijing, 2005, pl. 45; and another from the collection of J. Insley Blair, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th November 2012, lot 2110, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th October 2016, lot 3693.
Jung Hsing Hsiang was one of the largest antique shops in Beijing during the early 20th century. Founded in 1905, it is recorded that Jung Hsing Hsiang was among the first few antique shops in Beijing that received official permission to buy and sell Ming and Qing dynasty imperial porcelain, a category which became its primary focus until its closure in 1945.
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