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.
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