The simplicity of this vase, from the minimalist form and subtle translucent glaze, conceals the mastery involved in creating such a piece. The proficiency required in understanding the chemical compositions and the firing of such monochrome vessels is reflected in the saying, ‘Nine failures for ten charged kilns’. The delicate, almost watery, tone of celadon is a Kangxi innovation which was produced by lessening the amount of iron typically found in Song dynasty Longquan celadons. This glaze was further modified during the Yongzheng period to the finely textured bluish tone as seen on the present vase.
A closely related example, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s exhibition, Empty Vessels, Replenished Minds: The Culture, Practice and Art of Tea, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. 122, where it is catalogued as a tea caddy; and another from the Nanjing Museum, Nanjing, is published in The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p. 192. Vases of this type but with cylindrical covers, include a pair sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 29th November 1976, lot 524, and again in our London rooms, 16th May 1989, lot 60; another pair, from the J.M. Hu collection, sold in these rooms, 4th June 1985, lot 34; and a third pair, from the collections of Y. Laurell and Doris Duke, sold at Christie’s New York, 21st September 2004, lot 310. Compare also vases of related form, but with short straight necks and lacking a cover, such as one, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in Gugong bowuyuan cang gu taoci ciliao xuanci [Selection of ancient ceramic material from the Palace Museum], vol. 2, Beijing, 2005, pl. 166; and another, from the estate of Angela Ciccio Schirone, sold in these rooms, 18th/19th March 2014, lot 451.
Celadon-glazed ceramics were appreciated by the court and connoisseurs from as early as the Tang dynasty, when the writer Lu Yu (733-804) noted in his Cha jing (Tea Classic) that Yue ware celadon bowls were the best from which to drink fine tea. The great development of Longquan celadon in the Song dynasty continued into the early Ming dynasty, where celadon glaze was applied to a small group of porcelain vessels produced in Jingdezhen. However, it was during the early Qing dynasty under the Kangxi Emperor that the glaze was refined and the Yongzheng reign that celadon glazes were made in many variations. Several different celadon types are recorded in the list of porcelains produced by the imperial kilns, which was composed in 1735 by the brilliant, innovative supervisor of the imperial factory, Tang Ying (1682-1756). He studied in detail the finest antique ceramics of the Song (960-1279) and Ming dynasties to understand the workmanship and physical qualities, and then applied this knowledge to better redesign and produce modern versions inspired by the antiques.