Lot 529
  • 529


200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • porcelain
  • Height 16 in., 40.5 cm
each well potted with the slightly tapered cylindrical body rising from a recessed base to an angular shoulder, sweeping up to a waisted neck and mouth collared with a raised band, the exterior finely painted with a crane standing on top of rockwork below a flowering peony tree, accompanied by three seals Taochengtang, Wu Yue, and dianheng, one inscribed in cursive script with the Qingyan tie by Wang Xizhi, followed by an inscription reading Yue lin Youjun shufa yiduan Maoyuan Wu Yue (Yue copying a section of Wang Xizhi's calligraphy, Wu Yue of Maoyuan), the other inscribed with the Danxi tie (2) 


European Private Collection.


One with two polished chips to the rim, the larger measuring approx. 2 cm wide, and a chip to the foot, measuring approx. 1.5 cm wide. The other with some fritting to the rim, and an approx. 1.6 cm long kiln adhesion to the base. Both vases with some light surface wear and minor firing imperfections.
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

This elegant pair of vases belongs to an exclusive group of vessels bearing the Taocheng Tang (Hall of Accomplished Learning) seal, which is widely considered to be a seal of Tang Ying (1682-1756), China’s most famous Superintendent of the imperial kilns. Under Tang Ying’s supervision, the late Yongzheng (r. 1723-35) and early Qianlong (r. 1736-95) periods boasted the finest of porcelain production, when the expectations of a piece of porcelain were set to the highest level. Credited with some of the greatest porcelain technical developments and innovative designs in China’s history, Tang Ying’s genius was usually reserved for the imperial courts and pieces marked with his seal are relatively rare. Porcelains bearing this seal are characterized by a fineness of potting and painting, similar to that made for the imperial court, but lacking reign marks. These vessels may have been produced for the personal enjoyment of Tang Ying himself, or as a gift to friends. Unrestrained by the requirements of the emperor and his court, Tang Ying unleashed his personal aesthetic on such wares, which reveal the literati sensibility of a deep reverence for famous paintings and calligraphy of China’s celebrated history.

Perhaps most striking about these vases is the craftsman’s treatment of the surface as a scroll. Vases of this select group are characterised by their simple shouldered form and design of a pictorial scene on one side and inscription on the other.  The form provides an understated elegant surface for the charming scene of a crane under a blossoming peony tree. This auspicious motif is rendered in a naturalistic manner similar to that found in court paintings, with varying shades of cobalt blue capturing the various different textures of the rocks, plants and feathers. Furthermore, the notoriously temperamental copper red has been brought under the masterful control of Tang Ying, which has been expertly applied and fired to retain the depth and brilliance of color.

The masterfully executed excerpts are lifted from Wang Xizhi’s (303-361 AD) Shiqi tie, a collection of letters written to his friend, Zhou Fu, who served as a Prefect in Yizhou, yearning for a glimpse of the breath-taking sceneries of the Shu state. The Shiqi tie is named after its first two characters, which denotes the date, and each letter is named after its first few characters. Its high esteem saw the entire text reproduced into stone steles and the ink rubbings were widely distributed. Wang’s calligraphy throughout the letters has been acclaimed as the supreme model of cursive script. The end note and two seals that follow the inscription on these vases indicate that an official, Wu Yue, was responsible for the calligraphy on these vases.

The Danshi tie inscribed on one vase can be translated as follows: Recently, the capital (Nanjing) has been fairly calm and peaceful, this time when you return from your duty, you should have the qualities to be promoted to the military general of the state. Heng Gong (the military official who spent nearly three decades defending the Shu State) was delighted to hear about you after reading my letter and wish to see you successfully complete further duties. Xie Wu Yi and I have been communicating through letters and he is doing fine. After his brother (Xie Ren Zu) passed away, I recently visited his home and it is difficult to express my sadness from my heart.  

The Qingyan tie on the second vase can be translated as follows:

Knowing that the Shu State is a rather peaceful region, and have great harvests for many years in succession producing crops that no other places can grow, along with its name well-known since the ancient times and its magnificent landscape, how can I not pay a visit?

Two vases also belonging to this group, both decorated with a deer under a large pine tree, the reverse of one similarly inscribed with an extract from the Shiqi tie and other from Sun Guoting’s Shupu, both with the same seals as the present vases, were sold at Christie’s new York, 19th/20th September 2013, lot 1313; and another depicting two magpies perched on a blossoming plum tree, the reverse inscribed in cursive script with a poem, together with the Taocheng Tang seal and a seal reading Wu Pei zhi (made by Wu Pei), was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 8th October 2013, lot 3186. See also a smaller vase of similar form, decorated in underglaze blue and red with five deer standing under a tall pine tree, but lacking an inscription and seals, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 23th May 1971, lot 1261.

Further vessels bearing the Taocheng Tang seal include a vase of related form but with rounded shoulder, decorated with a peony branch and inscription in clerical script on the reverse, as well as a seal reading Wu Fu (Hall of Wu), in the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III) Shanghai, 2000, pl. 196 (fig. 1); and a brushpot inscribed with Sun Guoting’s Shupu as well as a seal reading Dianhu dugong, with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, in the National Museum of China, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo Guojia Bowuguan Guancang Wenwu Yanjiu Congshu [Studies on the collections of the National Museum of China], Ciqi juan [Porcelain section]: Qingdai [Qing dynasty], Shanghai, 2007, pl. 86 (fig. 2). A celadon-glazed garlic-mouth vase with a two-character Taocheng mark to the base was sold at Christie’s London, 12th November 2002, lot 64.