Lot 3131
  • 3131


1,200,000 - 1,800,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • 12.8 cm, 5 in.
each finely potted, with deep rounded sides rising from a short foot to an everted rim, delicately reverse-decorated in a rich iron-red enamel with a row of peony heads alternating with smaller lotus above a row of lotus blossoms, all borne on interlocked foliate scrolls reserved in white against the opaque coral ground, the interior left undecorated, the white base inscribed in underglaze blue with a six-character seal mark


The Chang Collection, Chicago.
Collection of Beatrice and Henry Goldschmidt.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 13th November 1990, lot 28.
Collection of Rolf Heiniger.
Collection of Harriet Szechenyi, Switzerland.
Bonhams London, 10th November 2011, lot 139.


Qing Mark and Period Monochrome and Two-Coloured Wares, S. Marchant & Son, London, 1992, cat. no. 48.
The Rolf Heiniger Collection of Qing Imperial Wares, S. Marchant & Son, London, 2000, cat. no. 11.

Catalogue Note

This exquisite pair of bowls is notable for the meticulously executed floral scroll, which creates a sharp and pleasing contrast against the iron-red ground. While iron red was already used to decorate Cizhou wares in the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), and was adopted at Jingdezhen during the Yuan dynasty, it was only in the 18th century, when all enamels were scrutinised as to their unique properties, that its decorative potential was fully realised. Iron red, which adheres in a thin, opaque layer, allows for razor-sharp lines, which could not be achieved with other enamels that are thicker and glassier. This property makes ‘negative’ reverse designs most successful, giving it a delicacy rarely seen with ‘positive’ painting on a white ground. Porcelain wares decorated with ‘negative’ reverse designs on an iron-red ground are the product of the creative genius of Tang Ying (1682-1756), Superintendent of the Imperial kilns during the Yongzheng and early Qianlong periods. A bondservant of the Plain White Banner, who had served at the court from the age of 16, Tang is credited with the introduction of novel techniques and designs. Luxuriant floral scrolls against an iron-red ground first appeared on Yongzheng mark and period boxes, but with additional butterflies, such as one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, pl. 70; one from the Sir Percival David collection and now in the British Museum, London, published in Margaret Medley, Illustrated Catalogue of Ming Polychrome Wares, London, 1978, pl. 163; and another from the collection of H.R.N. Norton, sold in our London rooms, 5th November 1963, lot 202, and again in these rooms, 8th April 2009, lot 1606.

During the Qianlong period, this reverse-decorated floral design was modified to be used on the outside of bowls, yet without butterflies. A closely related bowl, from the Sir Percival David collection and now in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Stacey Pierson, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art: A Guide to the Collection, London, 2002, p. 96, no. 109; and another is published in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jianding [Appraisal of Ming and Qing porcelain], Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 483. See also three bowls from the Ohlmer collection in the Roemer Museum, Hildesheim, illustrated in Ulrich Wiesner, Chinesisches Porzellan, Cologne, 1981, pls 130-32; a pair sold at Christie’s London, 18th June 2002, lot 245; and two bowls sold in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2693, and 8th October 2013, lot 3004.

Bowls enamelled with this design continued to be popular in the succeeding reigns; compare a Daoguang example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Suzanne Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1989, pl. 282; and a pair from the T.Y. Chao collection, sold in these rooms in 1980, at Christie’s London in 1983, and most recently again in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 528.

This exquisite pair of bowls was formerly in the celebrated collection of Beatrice and Henry Goldschmidt (d. 2001). The New York-based couple began their collection of Chinese porcelains during the 1970s and assembled an outstanding group of imperial wares from the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns. The tightly curated sale of the collection at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1990 was a testimony to their highly refined taste (See Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek, Provenance. Collectors, Dealers and Scholars: Chinese Ceramics in Britain and America, Great Haseley, 2011, pp. 198-199).