There is, however, a Yongzheng reign-marked glass overlay example (fig. 1) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acc. no. 1986.643, donated by Paul and Helen Bernat, carved through ruby-red overlays with an auspicious design of bats and fruiting peach branches set against a background of rockwork and raging waves. The style and quality of the carving is so closely related that it is likely that the current brushpot dates from shortly after, early in the Qianlong period. The current brushpot is a more ambitious endeavour, the design reserved against a turquoise-blue ground, and with the added feature of an excerpt from a Tang poem inscribed in the skilfully conceived space in the design. The overall effect, for an admirer handling the brushpot while slowly rotating it, is to achieve the effect of viewing a treasured scroll painting.
The same Qianlong nianzhi four-character mark, so intricately wheel-cut within a double square, can be found on a select group of falangcai enamelled glass brushpots, including a smaller circular example with a design of scholars from the collection of Alfred E. Hippisley and J. Insley Blair, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th November 2012, lot 2124, a rectangular ‘European subject’ example originally in the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2007, lot 1665, and another formerly in the Victor Ezekiel collection, included in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, London, Royal Academy of Art, London, 1935-1936, cat. no. 2210.
The vivid and highly striking colour combination of ruby-red against a turquoise-blue ground appears to be unique on a Qianlong-reign marked glass vessel. There is, however, a famous vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, described as ‘a masterpiece of the Qianlong period’, illustrated in Zhang Rong, Lustre of Autumn Water. Glass of the Qing Imperial Workshop, Beijing, 2005, pl. 81. Decorated with opaque turquoise-blue overlays carved through to a ruby-red ground, the colour ground is in effect the reverse of the current brushpot. The intricate carved design of flowering plants interspersed with butterflies is reminiscent of the current example, but less complex.
For a Qianlong glass snuff bottle with similarly striking colour combination as the current brushpot, see the turquoise-ground pink overlay glass snuff bottle from the Mary and George Bloch collection, sold in these rooms, 24th November 2014, lot 160, where the four-character mark is incised in a much more sketchy manner compared to the precision and formality of the mark on the current brushpot.
The inscription is an excerpt from Gui (Osmanthus), a poem by the Tang dynasty poet Li Qiao:
Zhi sheng wuxian yue. Hua man ziran qiu.
'The branches are growing for months without end.
Once they are laden with blossoms, autumn has surely arrived.'
The same poem is inscribed on Kangxi porcelain month cups representing the eighth month, which similarly depict autumn, painted with a small hare seated in the grass beneath a yellow flowering cassia tree, and the same poem. See Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994, vol. 2, no. 777. Osmanthus is closely associated with the Chinese mid-autumn festival and also became associated with the imperial examinations, as they were held in the eighth lunar month.
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