Mots-clefs

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A rare wucai sleeve vase, Shunzhi period, circa 1645-1655. Estimate $30,000 – $40,000. Price Realized $233,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015

The vase is of elongated, high-shouldered, tapering cylindrical form with a waisted neck and is finely decorated with a large Lake Tai garden rock amidst flowering branches of chrysanthemums, tree peonies, bamboo shoots, narcissi and millet stalks. The scene is set beneath sprays of lotus, peonies and camelia on the neck and an incised band on the shoulder. The base is unglazed. 18 5/8 in. (47.2 cm.) high – Lot 3547

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Provenance: Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 1983.
Collection of Julia and John Curtis.

Literature: Michael Butler, Julia B. Curtis and Stephen Little, Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, Alexandria, VA, 2002, pp. 126-129, no. 22.1.

Exhibited: Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii, Shunzhi Porcelain: , Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, 2 May – 8 September 2002.
The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, Texas, Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, 13 October 2002 – 5 January 2003.
University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, Virginia, Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, 25 January – 23 March 2003.

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Notes: Sleeve vases of this large size decorated in the wucai palette are exceedingly rare. Only a handful of examples similarly decorated with flowering branches and birds have been published. These include one from a private collection, illustrated by Michael Butler, Julia B. Curtis and Stephen Little in Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, Alexandria, 2002, pp. 126-129, no. 22.2; one in the collection of Sir Michael Butler, illustrated by Michael Butler, Margaret Medley, Stephen Little in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Porcelain from the Butler Family Collection, Alexandria, 1990, p. 154, no. 101, as well as by Michael Butler and Wang Qingzheng in Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collection: Beautys Enchantment, London, 2006,p. 179, no. 155; and one from the Fayerman Collection, illustrated in S. Marchant & Son, Exhibition of Chongzhen-Shunzhi Transitional Porcelain From A Private American Collection, London, 2007, p. 26, no. 14.

In her note to the present example in Shunzhi Porcelain: Treasures from an Unknown Reign, 1644-1661, Dr. Curtis explains “The iconography of the decoration is complex… The lotus is a symbol of purity and integrity; it flowers through “the mud but remains unstained.” The peony is known as the “flower of wealth and rank,” and is associated with a wish for rank in office in the emperor’s civil service and a salary an perquisites to ensure wealth. The camellia, identified by its prominent stamen, is called “mountain tea” (shancha), but appears to have no particular symbolic import. The chrysanthemum is a symbol of autumn and of fortitude; it blossoms in the fall with “the onslaught of frost and icy winds.” Known as the hermit of flowers, it is also associated with the fourth-century poet-recluse Tao Qian (Tao Yuanming), who resigned his official post and retired to his small farm to write poetry; some of his poems are about the chrysanthemum. The tree peony is the most frequently used floral motif in Chinese art from the Ming dynasty on and is referred to as “the king of flowers.” Bamboo is a symbol of constancy; it remains green in all seasons and bends in a storm but does not break. » And finally, she notes, that the combination of the rock, shi, the narcissus, xian, and bamboo, zhu, can be intrepreted as ‘the Immortals wish you long life’.

CHRISTIE’S. AN ERA OF INSPIRATION: 17TH-CENTURY CHINESE PORCELAINS FROM THE COLLECTION OF JULIA AND JOHN CURTIS, 16 March 2015,New York, Rockefeller Plaza

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