A Magnificent and Extremely Rare Copper-Red and Underglaze-Blue ‘Dragon’ Vase, Tianqiuping, Qianlong Period, 1736-1795
HKD 20,000,000 - 30,000,000
USD 2,564,103 - 3,846,154
PROVENANCE 1. Jingguantang Collection, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong 2. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29 October 1991, lot. 192 3. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 29 October 2000, lot. 6 4. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27 April 2003, "The World of Qianlong", lot. 48 5. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 31 October 2004, "Dragon Emperor", lot. 22 6. The Ten-views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection, no. EK253
EXHIBITED The Tsui Museum of Art
LITERATURE 1. The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, pl. 96 2. The Tsui Museum of Art. Chinese Ceramics IV: Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, cat. no. 83 3. Sotheby's Hong Kong Twenty Years:"1973-1993", Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 198 4. Sotheby's Thirty Years in Hong Kong:"1973-2003", Hong Kong, 2003, pl. 282
The magnificent vase is superbly potted with a globular body surmounted by a columnar neck. The exterior of the body is finely painted with fine ruby-coloured copper-red to depict an extraordinary three-clawed dragon in aggressive forward motion amidst clouds above crashing waves in underglaze-blue. The maned head of dragon is applied with fierce gaze and a long snout over the powerful jaws, the undulating body with detailed scaly hide and saw-like spine accented with flowing tufts of hair at the joints, brandishing one foot with three razor-like claws to capture a hidden 'flaming pearl'. The clouds are rendered in a much more stylized manner than those on the usual Qianlong porcelain. All above a turbulent sea with projecting crests rising from the base, a wave band below the rim between line borders. Written on the underside base is an underglaze blue six-character reign mark in archaistic script.
The vase is extremely important and rare for its rendering of the theme inspired by the celebrated Southern Song ink handscroll painting Nine Dragons by the prominent poet, calligrapher and artist, Chen Rong (active 1235-58) (fig.9). Furthermore, the shape and design of this dragon tianqiuping are ultimately based on the large blue-and-white bottles of similar form made in the Yongle, Xuande period of Ming Dynasty, decorated either with a blue dragon among cloud scrolls, or with a white dragon reserved on a sea of blue waves. Bottles of both these designs are illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (I), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 87 & 88 (fig. 10, 11).
There is also an example with the same form and design but made later in Yongzheng period available in John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, Washington, 1956, pl.53, today preserved in the Archaeological Museum, Teheran. Further Yongzheng examples in the same form but in blue-and-white decoration could be seen in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 81 & 102 (fig. 14, 15).
For a related Yongzheng underglaze-blue and copper-red tianqiuping, see one example just sold in our Beijing room on 5 June 2019 as lot 5552 (fig.13), which also belonged to The Ten-views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection.
Compare three examples of same form, Qianlong mark and decoration, from the Chang Foundation, Taiwan, illustrated in James Spencer, Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1990, pl.150 (fig.17); another from a Hong Kong collector, exhibited and illustrated in Treasures of Hong Kong, The 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong's Handover, The Capital Museum, Beijing, 2017, p.96 (fig.18); the last one from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 210. (fig.19)
To conclude, the current vase combines the Qianlong emperor's fascination with the past as well, with the direct continuity of style from Imperial porcelain produced during the reign of his father, the Yongzheng emperor, and the exacting standards and masterful achievements of the master potters in the Imperial kiln in Jingdezhen. Successful firing of copper-red, particularly for larger pieces, most likely required numerous attempts before achieving a single successful example, let alone one such superbly-controlled brilliant underglaze-blue and strong underglaze-red as the present example. The direct continuity in style from the Yongzheng period combined with the highest standards set and accomplished in this vase, strongly suggest that it was produced during the residency of the most famed supervisor of the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, Tang Ying (1682-1756).