QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
of cylindrical form rising from a slightly concave base, deftly carved in deep and undercut relief with four figures holding various objects such as coral and a ruyi sceptre standing around an elephant bearing a howdah carrying the 'Three Fruits' and gold ingots, two further figures one holding a bird and the other with plumes of feather, and two equestrian figures looking down onto a child holding a beribboned brocade ball with a Buddhist lion beside an old man pushing a cart, all set in a landscape with gnarled pine, wutong, paulownia, willow, jagged rocks and misty cloud scrolls, inscribed with four characters reading tian \fang lu gong ('bringing tribute from Central Asia') on one of overhanging rocks, the surface of the rim with an indistinct inscription, the stone of a mottled deep green with black and russet-tinged inclusions
Sotheby's London, 3rd April 1951, lot 189.
Sotheby's London, 5th May 1959, lot 164.
This brushpot is impressive for its fine and intricately carved scene of various figures in a dramatic setting. The extent of undercutting in depicting the range of figural poses, the inclusion of an elephant and the combination of trees and overhanging cliffs reveals the dexterity of the carver in both the medium and subject. Such naturalistically captured scenes represented a retreat from the sophisticated order of the Imperial court and exemplified the ideal of the scholar who has withdrawn from the mundane. Thus, like many literati objects this utilitarian brushpot becomes a vehicle for contemplation and a touchstone for the scholar's imagination by virtue of its craftsmanship and decoration together with the use of a precious material.
A related brushpot in the Sir Joseph Hotung collection, on loan in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pl. 29:18, where Rawson notes that the artisan of the British Museum piece used carving techniques to produce the effects of painting rather than making decorative use of the peculiarities of the stone. Further similarly impressive jade brushpots are known from important museums and private collections; see a spinach-green jade brushpot carved with sages in caverns in a mountainous landscape, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in Geoffery Wills, Jade of the East, New York, 1972, pls. 120-121, together with another decorated with sages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, pl. 126; one illustrated in Pierre-F. Schneeberger, The Baur Collection. Geneva, Geneva, 1976, pl. B98; and another depicting children in a landscape, from the Duca da Padoua, Piedmonte, and the T.B. Kitson collections, sold twice in our London rooms, 10th October 190, lot 154, and 8th June 1982, lot 310.
Compare also similarly carved dark-green brushpots of slightly larger size, such as two sold in our New York rooms, 19th March 2008, lot 16; and the other from the William Clayton collection, 19th March 2007, lot 50; one sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1336; and another sold in our Paris rooms, 9th June 2011, lot 159.
The inscription tianfang lu gong can be translated as 'bringing tribute from Central Asia', as Tianfang was a name for the area used during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
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