Lot 243
  • 243


200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • porcelain
the stoutly potted globular body painted in vibrant enamels with a continuous frieze of large and small golden carp swimming amongst aquatic plants, the fish in reddish-orange with fins and scales penciled in iron-red, the lotus blossoms in bright yellow and iron-red with leaves of pale green growing alongside feather and spiky grasses in deep underglaze blue, yellow and green with iron-red and reddish-brown outlines, all beneath clusters of waterweeds and scattered floating blossoms, the plain short neck rising from a collar of brightly enameled bold petal lappets, the base encircled by an underglaze-blue border of overlapping leaf tips, six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle


There are four cracks emanating from a central firing crack on the base, two of which extend up the sides into the body, one approximately 10 in, (25.5 cm) and the other approximately 2 inches, (5.2 cm) on the exterior and 5 inches (12.8 cm) on the interior. There is a glaze crack approximately 6 3/4 in. (17 cm) long below the rim on the exterior, and there is some touch up to the green enamels overall. The exterior with expected wear including some flaking and scratching of the glaze and scattered burst glaze bubbles consistent with its age.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Fish, emblematic of 'freedom from restraint' played an important part in Daoist thought from early on. It is certainly no coincidence that one of the earliest and most important artists working in this genre, Liu Cai, was active during the reign of Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125), who was not only one of China’s greatest connoisseurs and patrons of the arts, but also one it is most fervent Daoist rulers. That the Daoist message was intentional already with these paintings is documented by a colophon on a handscroll dated in accordance with 1291 by Zhou Dongqing, entitled The Pleasures of Fish, which reads,

Not being fish, how do we know their happiness?

We can only take an ideal and make it into a painting.

To probe the subtleties of the ordinary,

We must describe the indescribable.

These sentiments were heartily endorsed by the Jiajing emperor (r. 1522-1566) who did not go down in history as a major statesman, nor a particular art lover, but is renowned as a fervent patron of Daoist causes. The aesthetic of the period is replete with Daoist iconography, cranes, sages and fish; as amply and powerfully represented by the present lot.

Similar Jiajing fish jars are preserved, for example, in the Shanghai Museum (two jars, see Lu Minghua, Shanghai Bowuguan zangpin yanjiu daxi/Studies of the Shanghai Museum Collections : A Series of Monographs. Mingdai guanyao ciqi [Ming imperial porcelain], Shanghai, 2007, pls. 3-88 and 3-89) and in a large number of Japanese museum collections, e.g. the Hakutsuru Art Museum, Kobe (a pair); the Hakone Museum of Art; the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo; the Umezawa Kinenkan, Tokyo; the Fukuoka Art Museum; the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art; the Matsunaga Kinenkan, Odawara; the Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum; and one from the Toguri Museum of Art, Tokyo, was sold in our London rooms 9th June 2004, lot 30. Others are illustrated in R. L. Hobson, The Wares of the Ming Dynasty, London, 1923, pl. 26, fig. 1, from the collection of the Comtesse de Beauchamp; one with a 20th century replacement cover made by a renowned Japanese potter was included in the exhibition Two Rare Chinese Porcelain Fish Jars of the 14th and 16th Centuries, Eskenazi, London, 2002, no. 2; two, formerly in the collection of Henry James and later the Harvard Art Museum were sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2009, lots 719 and 721; and one was sold in our London rooms 13th June 1989, lot 238 and again 7th December 1993, lot 235. Most recently an example formerly in the Collection of the Idemtisu Museum in Tokyo and sold in our New York rooms 20th March 1976, lot 130 was sold again in our Hong Kong rooms 8th April 2013, lot 3007.

Jiajing wucai fish jars retaining their covers are preserved, for example, in the Palace Museum, Beijing (The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 15); the National Museum of China, Beijing (a piece excavated in Chaoyang district, Beijing, see Zhongguo Guojia Bowuguan guancang wenwu yanjiu congshu/Studies on the Collections of the National Museum of China. Ciqi juan [Porcelain section]: Mingdai [Ming dynasty], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 84); the Tianjin Municipal Art Museum (Tianjin Shi Yishu Bowuguan cang ci/Porcelains from the Tianjin Municipal Museum, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 116); and an example formerly in the collection of Henry Walters and later the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, was recently sold in these rooms, 12th September 2012, lot 262.