PROVENANCE 1. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27 April 2003, lot 187 2. Eskenazi Ltd, London 3. The Meiyintang Collection LITERATURE Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 4(2), London, 1994-2010, p.294, no.1758, 1759
Each of wide conical form, the almost straight sides rising from a low tapered foot and recessed base, finely painted on the exterior with different scenes of chickens and chicks, and an insect hovering on the back, one cup depicting the cock crowing, with a crouching hen turning her head towards him, while one chick perches on her back and two others stand by her side fighting over a worm, the cock depicted with a pink wattle and comb, a golden neck with delicately detailed plumage, the body with feathers shaded from yellow to pink, the belly dark brown with details incised through the enamel, the back golden, wing feathers outlined in brown, and impressive tail feathers in black and white, the hen also detailed with a pink wattle and comb with brown plumage overall, the feathers finely indicated in a darker brown tone, the chicks coloured yellow, brown and white, the other cup with a similarly coloured cock bending down to eat an insect, while a white hen with feathers finely indicated in brown stands beside him, surrounded by three chicks, one brown with details picked out in gold, one white, and one yellow, the ground indicated on both cups by turquoise dots, the insect enamelled in yellow and brown with details in gold, the bases inscribed with a six-character reign mark in three vertical lines within a double ring in underglaze blue.
This exquisitely painted piece is an extremely rare version of chicken cups produced during the Yongzheng reign that were directly inspired by the treasured Chenghua originals. It closely follows the Chenghua prototype in form and composition, but with the slightest variation on the design, such as the more elaborate tails of the cocks instead of three long feathers. The design of a cock and a hen with chicks in a garden setting was a design innovation of the Chenghua reign, although the subject was a well-known topic of Song dynasty painting. By the Yongzheng period, developments in enamel technology saw the invention of glossy black enamel that was added to the tails of the cocks to capture the richness of the birds. For examples of the Chenghua original, see eight in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, of which six were included in Chenghua ciqi tezhan/Special EXHIBITION of Ch’eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465-1487, National Palace Museum, Taipei, cat. nos 132-7; one from the Sir Percival David Collection, and now in the British Museum, London, included in the EXHIBITION Flawless Porcelains. Imperial Ceramics from the Reign of the Chenghua Emperor, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1995, cat. no. 22.