Paintings of fish swimming in ponds became a popular and recognised painting genre in the Song dynasty (960-1279). This theme is inextricably associated with one of the most famous passages of the book Zhuangzi by Zhuang Zhou (c. 369-c. 286 BC), Daoism’s foremost thinker, where he comments on the pleasures of fishes darting around where they please. Depictions of fish thus became representative of freedom from restraints, a concept that was borrowed by China’s literati.
While no other closely related bowl appears to be known, a fragment of a bowl of this type painted with a fish was recovered from the Tughlaq palace in Delhi, and illustrated in Ellen S. Smart, ‘Fourteenth Century Chinese Porcelain from a Tughlaq Palace in Delhi', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1975-1977, vol. 41, pl. 90c.
Compare also bowls of this form but painted with other lotus pond motifs, such as a bowl with ducks in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, included in the Museum’s Exhibition of Blue and White Wares in Yüan Dynasty; 14th Century Ching-tê Chên Wares, Osaka, 1985, cat. no. 37; two published in Ye Peilan, Yuandai ciqi [Yuan dynasty porcelain], Beijing, 1998, pls 135 and 136, the latter from the tomb of Madame Ye, wife of Song Shen (d. 1418) and now in the Nanjing Museum; a third sold in our London rooms, 9th June 1987, lot 211; and a further bowl, from the Falk collection, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, included in the Museum’s exhibition Unearthing China’s Past, Boston, 1973, cat. no. 110.
The motif of fish in water is more commonly found on large dishes, such as one painted with a mandarin fish from the Meiyintang collection, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 2, London, 2006, no. 635, and sold in these rooms, 4th April 2012, lot 17; another in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, ed. John Ayers, London, 1986, vol. II, pl. 568; and a third in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, published in Nakazawa Fujio and Hasegawa Shoko, Chūgoku no tōji. Gen Min no seika [Chinese Ceramics. Blue and White in Yuan and Ming Dynasties], Tokyo, 1995, pl. 14. Compare also a very large dish similarly painted with a fish at the centre, and moulded with a floral scroll on the well, from the Jingguantang collection, sold in our New York rooms, 9th December 1987, lot 256, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th April 2002, lot 608.
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