CATALOGUE NUMBER 0203
FAMILLE VERTE PEAR-SHAPED VASE
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Height: 15 ¼ inches
Christie’s London, 10th November 1983, lot 770
D & M Freedman, London, 2000
The vase, finely painted in a clean, predominantly iron-red palette and crisply molded in relief, presents two views of the immortal Liu Hai and the Hehe Erxian. The twin immortals are loosely based on two Tang dynasty monks Han Shan and Shi De. The twins representing harmony and mirth are frequently depicted in the company of the immortal Liu Hai who is primarily associated with the acquisition of wealth. It is recounted that Liu Hai was a tenth century civil servant who was initiated into the alchemical world of Daoism by a famous adept, who impressed Liu by balancing ten eggs atop a coin. This was meant to represent both the precarious nature of life and the mysterious realm of Daoist practice. Tales of how and when the toad entered into the iconography of the immortal vary. The three-legged toad, a very ancient figure, is originally associated with Chang’e, the moon goddess who was transformed into a toad as punishment for stealing the elixir of immortality from her husband, the Archer Yi, who had been given it by the Queen of the West, Xiwangmu. The toad has long been associated with wealth but there is a duality in its accompanying the immortal Liu Hai. Popularly, the toad, who is controlled by the deity, has the ability to spit out coins but it also can emit toxic vapors.
A famille verte vase of different form painted with the Hehe Erxian and Liu Hai was sold at Sotheby’s London, 14th May 2008, lot 614 and a pair of cylindrical vases similarly decorated also sold at Sotheby’s London, 6th November 2013, lot 415. An earlier example, a rolwagen, painted with the subject matter from the Butler Collection, dated to circa 1645-1660 is illustrated in Michael Butler, Julia B. Curtis and Stephen Little, Shunzhi Porcelain, Virginia, 2002, no. 78.
The use of relief work on the present vase is quite unusual and of exceptional quality. There are examples of both square section and cylindrical vases with rather thickly applied decoration such as a Qing Court collection example illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, no. 143. A cachepot with delicately applied deer and blossoms, from the collection of Augustus the Strong in Dresden, is discussed and illustrated in Eva Strober, "La maladie de porcelaine...", Berlin, 2001, no. 39, where the author speculates that the technique may have derived from Japan, citing similar Imari style pieces and the generous use of undecorated space.
Text and images on this page appear courtesy of
Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:
Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. March 14, 2014, p. 46. [exhibition catalog].