A Qianlong Emperor Treasure: Yangcai Vase with Beautiful Landscape Painting and Imperial Poem

As an avid art collector, Qianlong Emperor had numerous treasures in his collection. To mark his own distinctive characteristics on some of his treasures, he even put poems that he composed on Yangcai porcelain. Here is a Yangcai example from the Qianlong period that combines floral pattern with imperial poem, Chinese paintings and seal. We have invited Liang-Lin Chen, Specialist, Christie's Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, to tell us this Qianlong treasure. 

A Rare Qianlong Yangcai ‘Landscape’ Vase
Qianlong Six-Character Seal Mark in Underglaze Blue and Of the Period (1736-1795)

Height: 19.1cm
Provenance: Hong Kong Private Collection
Estimate: HK$80m-120m

Q: Under what background was this vase made?

Chen: This is a yangcai vase from the Qianlong period. There are yangcai, famille rose and falangcai in Chinese ceramics. Yangcai refers to those produced in Jingdezhen during the early Qianlong period, supervised by Tang Ying, especially made for the Qianlong emperor. Most yangcai porcelains are now kept in National Palace Museum in Taipei. Museum researchers found that the Qianlong emperor liked these works so much that he even made pedestals and wood boxes to match them and placed them in his cloakroom and bedroom. It shows how the Qianlong emperor really treasured them.

Q: What are the Yangcai elements that we can see on the vase?

Chen: Yangcai, also known as foreign colours, refers to porcelain of Western style. On this vase, we can see Western flowers and the technique used was commonly seen in Western paintings. Most yangcai porcelain depict flowers. But this one is very special as it combines flowers with a poem, Chinese paintings and seals.

Chen: It depicts the landscape of The Jade Spring Mountain (Yuquan Shan), part of the Imperial garden complex in Beijing. At the back is an Imperial poem by the Qianlong emperor, composed before Qianlong ascended the throne. There are two Qianlong seals next to it. We can find emperors’ poems on some falangcai works. But they are mostly poems from Tang or Song dynasties. Only on yangcai can we find poems composed by the Qianlong emperor himself.

Liang-Lin Chen, Specialist, Christie's Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

Q: Why did Qianlong put his poems only on Yangcai porcelain?

Chen: That’s very interesting. What could be the reason behind? The production of falangcai started in Kangxi period. Then continued in the following reigns of Yongzheng and Qianlong. The Qianlong emperor respected the tradition passed down from his ancestors. Maybe that’s why he chose to put his poems on yangcai instead.

Q: What’s so special about its craftsmanship?

Chen: The technique used in this vase is very special. It was painted in ruby-red ground around the neck. And the floral motifs were made using a technique called sgraffito. And the green foliage motifs were painted on it. So it shows two different techniques here. Another point to be noted is that you can see the raised moulded petal band on the body. We haven’t seen such unique technique on other examples. So it is extremely special and exquisitely made, definitely a top Yangcai example.

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor

Hong Kong collector Mr. Alan Chuang

Q: What’s its provenance?

Chen: It first appeared in a London auction in 1976 and it was sold for nearly £4,000, quite a significant sum back then. Then it was resold at auctions for three times. It now belongs to Hong Kong collector Mr. Alan Chuang.

Q: What’s the estimate?

Chen: It’s estimated between HK$80m-120m. It’s in perfect condition.

Christie's Hong Kong Autumn Sales 2018

 Location: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Date: 23 - 28 November 2018