CATALOGUE NUMBER 0242
FAMILLE VERTE ROULEAU VASE
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Height: 18 inches
Qing Court Collection (pledged as collateral and forfeited to the Salt Industry Bank, Peking, in the early 1900s)
Tongying and Company, New York
Collection of Allen J Mercher (Chairman of the Board, Yamanaka & Co. 1943)
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 1st-2nd November 1956, lot 332 (illustrated)
Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 2001
The subject matter of the present vase is formally referred to as 'Eigtheen scholars advance to Yingzhou' and conveys a wish for successful promotion. The gathering of the eighteen scholars pertains to the inspirational tale of Li Shimin, the prince of Qin who went on to become the Taizong emperor of the Tang dynasty. The emperor summoned the scholars as a display of power affirming his right to rule, and commissioned them to form the Hanlin Academy, an elite institution for the most accomplished scholars. Such was the fame of these scholars that admission to the Academy became synonymous with a voyage to Yingzhou, a mythical island in the Eastern Sea inhabited by the Immortals. In 1658 the Shunzhi emperor revived the acacemy with co-Manchu / Han leadership but once the Kangxi emperor came into power, he was careful to exercise control over this influential group.
The theme of the 'Eighteen Scholars' is often in tandem with a depiction of the ‘Four Accomplishments' qin, qi, shu and hua or music, chess, calligraphy and painting. Mastery of all four was considered essential to the scholarly elite. Additionally represented is the most famous scene from the Langting xu or ‘Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion” by Wang Xizhi and composed in 353 AD. It describes a gathering of forty-two literati who engage in a drinking contest with scholars partaking of cups of wine which float down a winding stream. After several rounds of imbibing, twenty-six scholars composed thirty-seven poems.
The lengthy provenance of the present vase is quite remarkable. It is well known that in the waning days of the Qing dynasty, the imperial family was in need of funds. Even though the long cherished art collection, a source of dynastic legitimacy and cultural pride, had been carefully protected for generations, members of the imperial family, including the young emperor, offered a considerable number of imperial objects as collateral for bank loans. In the present case, the money came from the Yien Yieh Commercial Bank, known in English as the Salt Industrial Bank. It was established in Beijing in 1915 by Zhang Zhenfang who was a cousin of Yuan Shikai. As the name implies, it originally served the huge Tientsin sea salt industry. By the 1920s as troubles increased, it was clear the imperial family's debt would not be paid and the bank reached out through its agents to offer the collateral. Tonying & Co, acquired numerous piece for its Paris and New York galleries. For more on the Tonying provenance see no. 2 in this catalogue.
A similarly formed and decorated vase in the Qing Court Collection is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, no. 68.
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].