A moulded octagonal gourd brushpot Palace Workshops Shangwan Mark and Period of Qianlong
The Sedgwick Collection.
Sotheby's London, 2nd July 1968, lot 47.
Sotheby's London, 24th February 1970, lot 106.
Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, 'Chinese Decorated Gourds', International Asian Antiques Fair, Hong Kong, 1983, p. 51, pl. 3.
Wang Shixiang, The Charms of the Gourd, Hong Kong, 1993, fig. 11.
This brushpot is amongst the few and rare imperial objects that are closely linked to the fancy and interest of two early Qing dynasty rulers, the Kangxi and his grand-son, the Qianlong emperor. Despite the humble origins of the gourd (hulu), decorative objects and utilitarian vessels made using the technique of growing them in decorated moulds has a long tradition in China. However, it was during the Qing dynasty that the craft gained imperial patronage and became part of the Palace Workshop repertoire. Kangxi and Qianlong recognized and appreciated the challenge, skill and ingenuity associated with the fashioning of gourd vessels. Furthermore, the modest material reflected their desire to be in harmony with nature and their love for the austere and simple. Perfectly fashioned gourd pieces were light to the touch, pleasing to the eye and evoked the delight of nature. The gourd's association with the Daoist Paradise further contributed to its attractiveness.
A nearly identical brushpot to the present lot is in the Palace Museum, Beijing and is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Small Refined Articles of the Study, Hong Kong, 2009 (fig. 1). The two brushpots were inspired by a Kangxi period brushpot, made using the same mould technique but decorated with inscriptions in relief on the four panels, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the exhibition Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. I- 49. The Kangxi brushpot, which bears the four-character mark Kangxi shangwan ('Appreciated by the Kangxi Emperor') on the base, was contained in a wood box made during the Qianlong period together with a yellow paper inscribed with the emperor's poem dated to the 23rd year of his reign (equivalent to 1758). Kangxi gave the brushpot to his grandson, Hongli, when he was twelve years old, an event recorded in the Imperial archives dated to the 61st year of Kangxi's reign (equivalent to 1722). See also a vessel of related square form but with a shoulder and neck, also attributed to the Kangxi period and with a four character 'Kangxi shangwan' mark on the base, included in the exhibition Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 91.
It was during Kangxi's reign that imperial gourds were first grown in moulds in the Fengze Yuan (Fengze Garden), located at the northwest side of Lake Taiye, in Xiyuan (West Garden). Xiyuan was within the Zhongnan Hai, adjacent to the Forbidden City (Zijin cheng), where along with gourd fields, rice paddies and mulberry trees were cultivated on the orders of the emperor as a showcase for the nation's agricultural activities. The repertoire of moulded gourd vessels greatly increased under the tutelage of the Qianlong emperor who, according to Wang Shixiang, 'believed that their shapes have a natural and unsophisticated beauty that actually excelled gold and jade'. See Wang Shixiang, The Charms of the Gourd, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 72. Wang in 'Discussion on Gourd Wares', Gugong Bowuyuan Yuankan, 1979, no. 1, pp. 86-91, and translated by Craig Clunas in the O.C.S. Chinese Transactions, No. 10, pp. 19-24, also notes that 'Qianlong period examples are especially elegant – really the best scholarly objects from the Imperial Household'.
See another mould-made brushpot of octahedral form, decorated with a Tang dynasty poem in regular script, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in Wang, The Charms of the Gourd, op.cit., p. 74, fig. 6.
Vessels bearing the four-character mark Qianlong shangwan ('Appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor') indicate that the objects were produced under direct Imperial patronage for the enjoyment and collection of the emperor. For examples of gourd vessels bearing this mark see a dish with a dahlia motif, published ibid., pl. 16, together with a bowl decorated with dragons amidst clouds, pl. 18, and a censer with the taotie design, pl. 24. See also the bowl in this collection, lot 1815.