Exceptional Chinese Scholar’s Objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 SEPTEMBER 2019 | 10:00 AM EDT | NEW YORK
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M ore than 120 exquisite Imperial Qianlong period jades, brushpots, paintings and objects for the scholar’s studio will be featured in the dedicated single-owner sale this September Asia Week, in Chinese Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Florence and Herbert Irving Gift.

Florence and Herbert Irving were scholarly collectors of Asian art who developed a deep relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where they held an important and seminal exhibition of their East Asian lacquer collection. The Met became in the end the home for many of their masterpieces, and in 2015 the Irvings donated some 1,275 works of art from their collection to the museum– some of which were duplicates of the museum’s holdings. The full proceeds of Sotheby’s sales will go into an Irving acquisition fund, to be used by the Met’s Department of Asian Art to continue the Irving legacy. Preview the exceptional highlights here.

Exceptional Chinese Scholar’s Objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • A Rare Celadon and Russet Jade 'Quail and Millet' Boulder, Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng / Qianlong Period
    Estimate $150,000–250,000

    Jade mountain carvings were kept in scholars’ studios where they provided a means of inspiration and escape from the regulated life of the court through their sense of ethereality and their subject matter. Expertly fashioned in multiple layers of relief that suggest receding space, this piece is a remarkable example of a jade mountain carving (yushan). Every detail of the design is carefully executed, and the craftsman has successfully captured the different textures of the design elements: from birds and sprays of millet which give the impression of being modeled entirely in the round, to flowing water in the foreground and overhanging rocks.
  • A Yellowish Beige Jade 'Landscape' Boulder, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
    Estimate $20,000–30,000

    Exquisitely carved, the present boulder would have inspired its viewers to contemplate nature from within the scholar's studio. The design is deftly executed in multiple layers of relief; the slim stone is modeled as a serene mountainous landscape, with a scholar and his attendant crossing a bridge over a stream amidst wutong, pine and a walled compound in the distance, as the reverse features a scene with two deer in a similar landscape.
  • A Green Jade 'Landscape' Boulder, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
    Estimate $15,000–25,000

    Worked in varying depths of relief, the artisan has skillfully incorporated the natural fissures and characteristics of the stone to enhance the jagged, craggy appearance of the mountains. The present boulder is also an excellent example of vibrant green jade, with its bright apple-green and rich emerald tones.
  • A ‘Chicken Bone' and Black Jade 'Laozi' Inscribed Boulder, Qing Dynasty
    Estimate $60,000–80,000

    The present image of Laozi riding a buffalo is depicted on a hanging scroll by the Song dynasty master Zhao Buzhi (1053-1110) Laozi Riding an Ox, which was in the Qing Court Collection and was inscribed with a poem by the Qianlong Emperor in 1751. The very same imperial poem appears on the present boulder, incised on the cliff above the traveling sage.
  • A Large Celadon and Russet Jade 'Dragon' Washer, Early Qing Dynasty
    Estimate $40,000–60,000

    With a flat base rising to wide shoulders and an incurved rim, boldly carved in high relief with five writhing dragons pursuing a 'flaming pearl', the present washer derives its form and decoration from earlier Ming dynasty examples.
  • A Massive Inscribed Spinach-Green Jade 'Dragon' Washer, Qing Dynasty
    Estimate $100,000–150,000

    The present washer, hewn from a massive jade boulder and carved to the exterior with powerful dragons writhing through swirling clouds and turbulent seas, can trace its form to an immense jade basin made 1265 and given to Khubilai Khan, presently in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing. This washer bears a poetic inscription with a date corresponding to the 34th year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1769).
  • A Finely Carved Large Spinach-Green Jade 'Immortals' Brushpot, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
    Estimate $500,000–700,000

    This magnificent vessel belongs to a highly refined group of ‘figure-in-landscape’ brushpots, created at the height of the jade production in the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Portraying mythological and historical events, these brushpots are exquisitely carved in green or white jade. The green jade models, particularly the striking spinach-toned examples, appear to have been especially favored by the Qing court. To create such an extravagant work of art, a high-quality boulder of substantial proportions would be essential.
  • A Carved and Pierced Bamboo 'Meiren' Brushpot, Late Ming Dynasty
    Estimate $20,000–30,000

    In addition to contributing to the trompe l'oeil effect, the openwork 'moon window' in this brushpot may have been a clever solution to remove a natural flaw. It also invites the viewer to look beyond the scene depicted and even towards the brushpot's contents.
  • A 'Zitan' Burlwood Brushpot, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period
    Estimate $30,000–50,000

    The brushpot’s cylindrical body features thick straight sides alongside a base with a central plug. The wood displays a lively surface of rich amber hues and darker brown tones within and around the burled knots, as the grain is tight and flecked with characteristic short golden streaks.
  • A Fine Peachbloom-Glazed Seal Paste Box and Cover, Kangxi Mark and Period
    Estimate $40,000–60,000

    Peachbloom-glazed wares rank amongst the most admired of Kangxi porcelains. The present seal paste box, also known as yinse he or 'vermilion box', belongs to one of eight peachbloom-glazed wares made for the scholar's table. The glaze, also known in Chinese as 'apple red,' 'bean red', or 'drunken beauty,' required the utmost technical precision.
  • An Exceptionally Rare Apple-Green Jadeite ‘Landscape’ Table Screen, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
    Estimate $80,000–120,000

    This table screen is remarkable on its account of its detailed depiction of West Lake in Hanghzhou, Zhejiang Province, the capital city of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Its pair is presently in the collection of Sir John Woolf. The natural striations and subtle variations in the stone's color, cleverly incorporated into the design of both screens to depict rippling water, appear to match. Furthermore, the two screens read like extracts from sections of a longer handscroll.
  • An Inscribed White Jade Hinged Plaything, Qing Dynasty / Republic Period
    Estimate $50,000–70,000

    Alluding to Han dynasty metal prototypes, this piece was perhaps conceived as a measuring instrument that could also provide moral guidance to a benevolent ruler by virtue of its material and association to China’s past. The inscribed poem, composed by the Qianlong Emperor, laments the misdemeanors of previous rulers, including Yang Huo, a rebellious nobleman of the State of Lu in the late 6th century BC, who was notorious for murder, manipulation and thievery.
  • A Rare Pair of Celadon and Russet Jade Interlocking Rings, Ming Dynasty
    Estimate $30,000–50,000

    Jade 'handling pieces' in the form of interlocking rings are extremely rare, and the present set represents an early example of the type. It appeals to lofty antiquarian sensibilities by incorporating Han dynasty-style chilong in high relief crawling across the surface. The interlocking rings would have thus conveyed the extreme wealth and refinement of its owner.
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