Dazzling Chinese porcelain

On 10 October 2019, by Caroline Legrand

This vase decorated with robin’s egg enamel will enchant collectors of Chinese porcelain. It is all the more irresistible in that its two ruyi handles guarantee happiness.

China, Yongzheng period (1723-1735), vase in the shape of a "ruyi er ping" in "robin’s egg" enamelled porcelain. On the reverse, Yongzheng’s mark in six zhuanshu characters incised under the glaze. Old inscription in Latin letters in partially erased ink, "Qianlong 1736-1795", h. 27.5 cm.
Estimate: €200,000/300,000

The vase’s owner acquired it around 20 years ago after leafing through the pages of the Gazette Drouot. He realised its potential worth, which, like everything else on the Chinese art market, has soared in recent years. Indeed, a slightly different porcelain vase—long-necked and somewhat smaller (20.4 cm high) but from the same period and with the same "robin’s egg" enamel—fetched €570,400 in Boulogne-Billancourt on 13 December 2018 (Jonquet auction house). That augurs well for this piece, which features a hypnotising colour with light-red streaks on a blue-green ground. This appearance gives the décor its name, in reference to robin’s eggs, which have the same red marks on a blue ground. Its invention is attributed to Tang Ying, head of the Jingdezheng manufactory from 1729 to 1756. He was the protégé of the emperor Yongzheng, who reigned from 1723 to 1735.


Imperial production
Like his alter egos Kangxi and Qianlong, Yongzheng was a patron of the arts, especially ceramics. Wanting to breathe new life into porcelain, he took an active part in imperial production, even personally giving instructions. Preferring Song period monochromes, he encouraged craftsmen to work on green, blue, white, turquoise, yellow, light pink, deep blue and oxblood celadon. Several technical breakthroughs at the time led to the creation of unprecedented glazes like tea powders with bronze green nuances and deep blue lazurite and robin’s egg glaze. Resulting from many experiments, this technique consists in firing the piece and its glaze a first time at 1,300-1,350°. Then a lead glaze containing potassium and copper oxide made opaque with arsenic is applied and fired at 800° C. Lastly, iron oxide is blown onto the surface and fired a second time at low temperature. This step results in the effect of red streaks on a blue background. This finely mastered contrast perfectly enhances this softly shaped, streamlined vase. In addition to the neck in the shape of a hemmed garlic clove, the two handles stand out for their ends in the shape of ruyi, which means “may your wishes come true”. At first, ruyi denoted a long rod in the form of a flat S whose ends are shaped like clouds, points or mushrooms (lingzhi). A multipurpose, commonly used item, it gradually became an object of value. Starting in the Qing dynasty, it was offered, like a sceptre, as a symbol of power, a reward or a good-wishes present. A ruyi ensures happiness.

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