Representations of Shoulao are not uncommon but it is extremely rare to find jade figures of this quality and impressive size and no closely comparable example appears to have been sold at auction. A related celadon jade figure of Shoulao, dated to the Kangxi period, was sold in our New York rooms, 19th March 2007, lot 22, from the Concordia House collection and a similarly tall celadon and russet jade boulder from the Qianlong period, decorated with the figure of Shoulao, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 31st March 2010, lot 1900.
See also a similar but slightly smaller (17.1 cm) ‘Shoulao, boy and deer’ group from the Avery Brundage collection in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, included in the exhibitions Magic, Art, and Order: Jade in Chinese Culture, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1990 and Chinese Jade: Stone of Immortality, Cernuschi Museum, Paris, 1997-1998; and a much smaller Qianlong period figure of Shoulao (7.3 cm) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, donated by Heber R. Bishop in 1902, accession no. 02.18.486.
Despite the similarities in material and subject matter, the current group, meticulously worked from a substantial and even white boulder, demonstrates an arguably unparalleled level of execution. The craftsman was able to depict superbly the figures in the round and complement the composition with details in openwork, as evidenced in the small tuft of grass beneath the rock on which the boy stands.
There are also known examples of jade figures of luohan in the Palace Museum, Beijing, including a smaller celadon jade figure (18 cm) dated to the mid Qing dynasty, illustrated in Zhongguo yuqi quanji [Complete collection of Chinese jades], Hebei, 2005, no. 335, p. 630 and a larger celadon jade figure (23.7 cm) illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, no. 108.
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