Lot 684
  • 684


50,000 - 70,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Diameter 22 1/2  in., 57.2 cm
stoutly potted, the steep sides rising to a lipped rim, finely painted on the exterior in vibrant tones of rich underglaze cobalt-blue with four lively fan-tailed fish including a carp, mandarin fish, and two types of bream, depicted in varying attitudes, swimming among flowering lotus, ferns and gently undulating aquatic plants, a band of stylized rolling and cresting waves encircling the base, all between line borders, the rim inscribed with a six-character mark in a horizontal line 


Collection of Bertram Stanley Boggis (1887-1958), and thence by descent.


Restoration to four large body cracks or breaks extending down from the rim, previously riveted, with several shorter connecting breaks. Associated areas of infill and repainting. Images of the basin prior to restoration available on request.
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

The felicitous subject matter on the present fishbowl delightfully references the function of the vessel, in effect doubling the multi-layered auspicious meanings traditionally associated with depiction of swimming fish. Synonymous with the character for 'excess', fish (yu) are an emblem of wealth and abundance. In addition, the representation of fish has also long been imbued with Daoist connotations derived from their freedom of movement as related in the ‘Debate on the Joy of Fishes’ in the Zhuangzi.  A depiction of the subject forms the rebus for Yushui hexie 'May you be as harmonious as fish and water'. The four different types of fish on the current jar conveys a more complex rebus, cleverly combining to suggest either, Qingbai liangui, 'Of good descent, modest and honorable' or Qingbai lianjie, 'Of honorable descent and incorruptible'. As a porcelain motif, the four carp swimming amid a lotus pond was taken up by Jingdezhen’s porcelain painters already in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and some of the finest Yuan blue and white jars are painted with this subject, such as the ‘fish’ jar in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, from the Ataka Collection illustrated in Tōyō tōji no tenkai/Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, cat. no. 33. The scene on the present bowl appears to have been directly inspired by such Yuan porcelain prototypes.

The motif retained its popularity throughout the Ming dynasty, appearing on various imperial porcelain wares. The Jiajing Emperor (r. 1521-1567), particularly favored the design and in the 21st year of his reign, it is recorded that he commissioned two hundred blue and white guan jars decorated with qing, bai, li, and gui carp. While such an order was in keeping with the Jiajing Emperor's deep commitment to Daoism, it also reflects awareness of the subject matter that could only be known from earlier Yuan and Ming dynasty examples. The impressive size of the present form provided the imperial artisans at Jingdezhen an expansive surface to bring their subject matter to life. The painters managed to exploit the cobalt pigment to maximum effect and to create an amazingly rich tonal variation, The fishes are drawn with dark violet-blue outlines and details over paler blue washes; on the leaves the veins are delicately delineated in darker tones, and the crisply rendered gentle bends and curves of the plant life complement the cylindrical form and add dimension and movement to the peaceful scene.

The present fishbowl is exceptionally rare as very few other examples are known. A very similar fishbowl, gifted by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. (1909-1988), is in the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, acc. no. 1971.2585. See also a closely related fishbowl sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st June 2011, lot 3590, along with another of this type from the collection of Jerry Gottlieb offered at Christie’s New York. 19th-20th September 2013, lot 1291. A slightly smaller version of a carp-decorated fishbowl is in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai and illustrated in Lu Minghua, Underglaze Blue and Red: Elegant Decoration on Porcelain of Yuan, Ming and Qing,Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 1-72.

One other Wanli imperial four-carp fishbowl similar to the present example is of significant interest. The likely mate to the present fishbowl, also owned by Bertram S. Boggis (1887-1958), was sold by the executors of his estate in a single-owner sale representing the better part of his large and impressive collection at Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 16th-17th October 1958, lot 401. The present example, which was not included in the sale, has remained with the family until now. Bertram S. Boggis, known as a collector of Chinese porcelains, was a protégé and chief assistant to the famous art dealer Joseph Duveen (1869-1939). Following Duveen’s death, Boggis became a co-owner of the New York gallery, established in 1877, along with Edward Fowles (a long serving employee) and Armand Lowengard (Duveen’s nephew). The London and Paris branches of the Duveen gallery had both closed shortly after the end of World War II.