Lot 343
  • 343


300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Height 29 5/8  in., 75.2 cm
the tall, cylindrical body rising to a waisted neck surmounted by a galleried rim, superbly enameled in exquisitely modulated tones of blue, green, pink, yellow, aubergine, iron red, white and black, with a rich, varied and lively scene centering on an elegant phoenix poised atop rockwork, the pink-and yellow-breasted bird trailing long, flowing bluish-green tail feathers, the keen-eyed yellow head, above a slender, fully-plumed, sinuous neck, gazing at a large densely-petaled pink peony flower issuing from a green, leafy stem arching slightly under the weight of the heavy blossom, another ample bloom in blue to one side, all amid a colorful, bustling array of varying birds including ducks, peacocks, cranes, herons, and orioles and further flowers such as lotus, hydrangea and magnolia, set below a band of floral meander on a green-stippled ground enclosing alternating reserves of crab and fish along the shoulder, the neck with a slender border of pink carp leaping among swirling green waves below lush chrysanthemum blooms emerging from rockwork amid further flowering plants with a butterfly fluttering overhead and a pair of crickets perched on leaves, the base white-glazed, coll. no. 1395


Collection of Alfred Morrison (1821-1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire.
Collection of John Granville Morrison, the Rt. Hon. The Lord Margadale of Islay, T.D., J.P., D.L. (1906-1996).
Christie’s London, 4th May 1970, lot 23.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 16th May 1977, lot 216.
Sotheby's Monaco, 22nd June 1987, lot 1465.
American Private Collection.
Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 2004.


Jeffrey P. Stamen, Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed, Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, Bruges, 2017, cat. no. 56.

Catalogue Note

Celestial Emissary: The Fonthill ‘Phoenix’ Vase This magnificent rouleau vase exemplifies the extraordinary results derived from a series of technical developments achieved towards the end of the Kangxi period. Its impressive size and striking decoration testify to the advances in porcelain production that occurred under the aegis of a progressive emperor who encouraged innovation and progress from the workers in the imperial workshops in Beijing and Jingdezhen. The present vase is one of the earliest examples of the successful and visually effective inclusion of pink and blended-color enamels within a famille-verte context.

The generous application of pink enamel and blended colors alongside a traditional famille-verte palette indicates that this piece was made in the late Kangxi period, when the relatively immutable palette of contrasting colors was gradually replaced by the more versatile famille-rose enamels, hence the term rose-verte. Numerous scholars have discussed the origins and far-reaching consequences of the introduction of pink enamel, which, together with the development of opaque white and opaque yellow, dramatically changed the look of the porcelain and considerably widened the scope of possibilities at Jingdezhen. Nigel Wood, who examined in depth the chemical composition of these porcelain colors, suggests that while the white and yellow enamels probably derived from enamels used on cloisonné ware, pink enamel was probably introduced in China from Europe through Jesuit missionaries (see Nigel Wood, Chinese Glazes, Hong Kong, 1999, pp. 241-243). This short-lived period of cooperation between imperial artists and artisans and European Jesuits inside the Forbidden City, under the watchful eye of the Kangxi emperor, was a boon for China’s material arts that brought about technical and aesthetic changes unimaginable just decades earlier. Enamels sent from Europe or custom-made at the imperial glass factory in Beijing provided a range of hues very different from the wucai or famille-verte palette in use at the same time at Jingdezhen. The European introduction of gold-ruby enamel, a transparent, deep purplish-red color derived from colloidal gold; and the impasto use of a white enamel derived from lead-arsenate, that had been made in the glass workshops for some time, for use on cloisonné enamel wares, but only now was found to be highly effective on porcelains where, mixed with other enamels, it added a whole new range of opaque, pastel tones.

The subject on this piece is notable for its auspicious meaning. As the phoenix is the king of birds, the subject of phoenix surrounded by many birds is known as ‘hundred birds courting the phoenix’ (bainiaochaohuang or bainiaochaofeng). Since the phoenix only appears during peaceful reigns, it is closely connected with the ruler, and this motif stands for the relationship between a ruler and his officials. The birds depicted in such scenes carry symbolic meaning and represent the ‘Picture of the Five Relationships’ (luxutu, wuluntu): the cranes represent the relationship between father and son; mandarin ducks, the relationship between husband and wife; wagtails, the relationship between brothers; and the relationship between friends is represented by the orioles.

Only one other similar vase of this form, massive size and distinctive palette is known, formerly in the collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th April 2017, lot 1116 (fig. 1). Compare also a vase of similar size and shape and painted with birds and flowers, but in the famille-verte palette with underglaze blue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Suzanne G. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, Boston, 1975, pl. 131. A pair of the same type but decorated in a wucai palette, sold twice at Christie’s London, 4th May 1970, lot 23, and 9th July 1985, lot 202, and is now in the Jie Rui Tang Collection, illustrated in Jeffrey P. Stamen, Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed, Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, Bruges, 2017, cat. no. 54. A related vase with bird and flower decoration sold in our Monaco rooms, 29th February 1992, lot 440. Another superbly enameled famille-verte vase of the same massive size but with figural decoration from the Jie Rui Tang Collection sold in these rooms, 20th March, 2018 lot 322.

The present vase belonged to one of the most famous collectors of the Victorian era. Alfred Morrison (1821–1897) (fig.2) was the second son of the wealthy textile merchant James Morrison, who was believed to be the wealthiest ‘commoner’ in 19th century England. James Morrison gifted the Fonthill estate in the Wiltshire countryside to Alfred in 1848 and, after his father's death in 1857, he devoted much of his inheritance to collecting extraordinary art works. In the 1860s, Alfred hired one of the foremost architects of the time, Owen Jones, to design three bespoke galleries to accommodate his large collection of European paintings and Chinese decorative art. One of the grandest of these was a room done ‘in Cinquecento style’ lined with elaborate ebony and ivory cabinets to display Morrison’s impressive collection of Chinese porcelains, among which was the present vase.