MARK AND PERIOD OF CHENGHUA
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delicately potted, the deep U-shaped cup raised on a tall, plain stem foot splaying towards the base with an underglaze-blue ring just above the footrim and a plain fillet towards the top, the thin and slightly translucent sides of the body decorated with underglaze blue and red, yellow, and green enamels, the green now discoloured to an aubergine tone, the exterior painted with four evenly spaced lotus flowers, two of the blooms painted in overglaze red and the other two painted in underglaze blue, all between an underglaze-blue line above half florets at the rim and a formal scroll supporting ruyi-heads below, the interior left plain but for a matching underglaze-blue line at the rim, the underside of the stem inscribed with a six-character underglaze-blue reign mark in a horizontal line
Collection of Wu Lai Hsi, Beijing (until 1937).
Sotheby's London, 26th May 1937, lot 77.
Bluett & Sons, London.
Collection of Dr. Carl Kempe (1884-1967) (no. 832).
Eskenazi Ltd., London, 1993.
Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, The British Museum, London, 1994.
Evolution to Perfection. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection/Evolution vers la perfection. Céramiques de Chine de la Collection Meiyintang, Sporting d'Hiver, Monte Carlo, 1996, cat. no. 116.
Memories of a Palace Incident
This stem cup belongs to a small group of imperial Chinese porcelain vessels affected by a notorious fire that broke out in the Jianfugong Huayuan, the Gardens of the Palace of Establishing Prosperity, in the Forbidden City in the night of 26th June 1923 and is said to have lasted for three days and to have burnt down 120 rooms.
The Jianfugong complex, situated at the northwestern tip of the Forbidden City, was built by the Qianlong Emperor in 1742. It is known to have become one of his favorite retreats and, given the Emperor's infatuation with art and antiques, housed a large quantity of works of art. After the end of the Qing dynasty, the abdicated Emperor of China, Puyi, continued to reside in the erstwhile Imperial Palace until 1924. Having been alerted by his English teacher, Reginald Johnston, that palace eunuchs were selling imperial artefacts, Puyi reputedly planned a review of the palace holdings. Before this could be undertaken, however, this part of the palace burnt to the ground, the fire suspected to have been set by palace staffin order to disguise the fact that artefacts were missing. The clearance of the ruins was entrusted to an outside company. Since the site had contained gold statues, the task was put out to tender, with the highest bid going to a gold shop. Soon after this incident Puyi was evicted from the Forbidden City in 1924, and the Palace Museum founded in 1925 (see http://firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chenghua doucai vessels appear to be the only porcelains that left the palace collection because of this incident. Some fifteen Chenghua doucai vessels affected by fire are recorded outside China, mostly listed by Julian Thompson in The Emperor's broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain, Sotheby's, London, 1995, pp. 117f., all stem cups except for one dish. At least five such fire-damaged Chenghua pieces are remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, pls 169-72; and one is in the National Museum of China, Beijing.
Only four other complete stemcups of this design appear to be recorded, two of them, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, retaining their original coloration, see Chenghua ciqi tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465-1487, Taipei, 2003, cat. nos 175 and 176 (fig. 0). Of the other two, one is in the Hong Kong Museum of Art from the collections of Mrs. B.Z. Seligman, Mrs. Walter Sedgwick and John D. Rockefeller 3rd, published in Soame Jenyns, Ming Pottery and Porcelain, London, 1953, pl. 70 A and B, and sold four times in our rooms, in London, 11th May 1954, lot 59; 2nd July 1968, lot 134; and 27th November 1973, lot 309; and in Hong Kong, 24th November 1981, lot 121. The other, which retains only its yellow enamel intact, but no red or green, illustrated in Nuno de Castro, A cerâmica e a porcelana Chinesas [Chinese pottery and porcelain], Porto, 1992, vol. 2, p. 40, pl. 27, was sold in these rooms, 15th May 1990, lot 43, and at Christie's Hong Kong 1st June 2011, lot 3582.
A fully coloured, but deliberately broken example from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns site at Jingdezhen, was included in Sotheby's exhibition The Emperor's broken china, op.cit., cat. no. 38, illustrated in the catalogue, p. 42 (fig. 1).
The doucai [interlocking, or contrasting colours] style was developed in the early Ming dynasty, but systematically employed for imperial porcelain only in the late Chenghua period. Examples have been discovered in the latest of three depositions of sherds at the Ming imperial workshops at Jingdezhen, which have been attributed to the last years of the reign, from 1482 to 1487. Doucai wares were closely copied in the Wanli period (1573-1620), since the Wanli Emperor was reputedly particularly fond of them, and a stem cup of the same shape and design as the present piece, also bearing a Chenghua reign mark but made in the Wanli period, was sold in these rooms 29th October 1991, lot 53. The colour scheme experienced a revival in the Yongzheng reign, when a completely new range of patterns was developed (see lot 40), and remained very popular with the Qianlong Emperor.
Another slightly fire-affected stem cup, very similar to the present piece, with lotus medallions between somewhat simpler formal motifs, but the foot lacking the raised rib, was brought back by R.L. Hobson from a trip to Beijing in 1930, where he was able to compare it to a very similar piece from the Qing court collection; see R.L. Hobson, 'Peking Notes', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1928-30, pl. 11 and p. 37. The stem cup is now in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no. 6:11; for the companion piece in the Palace Museum see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, op.cit., pl. 172, illustrated together with a cup of the present form and a similar design with medallions of roses, but with oxidized enamels (fig. 2).
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