Four Yuan-Ming Jun Wares Offered at Christie's Hong Kong Spring Sale

Over the last six months, Jun wares were sold in Asia and New York for very expensive prices, exemplifying their increasing popularity amongst collectors. Christie’s Hong Kong is going to present four pieces of Jun ware from the Yuan-Ming dynasty this sale season. The estimated price that the Jun wares would fetch is HK$47m - 58m (US$6m - 7.4m). What are the stories behind these Jun wares? How did they become such popular collectibles? Maybe we are able to get a glimpse from a myth about the Emperor Huizong of Song.

Christie’s Hong Kong is offering four pieces of Jun ware this sale season

Yuan-Ming dynasty “Numbered One” Jun Tripod bulb bowl|HK$15m - 18m (US$1.92m - 2.3m)

The glaze in the interior is of pale blue and lavender tones

The exterior is glazed mottled purple

The base a thin brownish-olive glaze and a ring of spur marks

The base is incised with the character yi (one)

Emperor Huizong of Song (1082-1135) was the eighth emperor of the Song dynasty in China. He was not particularly talented in ruling but his artistic style was admired by many. He was an accomplished painter, poet and calligrapher. Yet, he was never satisfied with his calligraphy. In one of the royal banquets, Emperor Huizong, intoxicated with alcohol and sounds of drums, dreamt of himself in an interesting scenario.

In the dream, he saw himself doing calligraphy on a drum with three legs. The next morning, he summoned his ministers to read his dream. His ministers advised him to “absorb the essence of drum playing” by washing his writing brush in a tripod bowl to produce extraordinary calligraphy. Emperor Huizong was delighted and immediately ordered his craftsmen to produce tripod bowls with nails around it like how drums are decorated. This is how he invented the famous “Slender Gold” style of calligraphy.

The “Slender Gold” style of calligraphy by Emperor Huizong|Taipei National Palace Museum

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbered Three” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl|HK$8m - 10m (US$ 1.02m - 1.28m)

The base is is incised with the character san (three)

Although the story is only a myth, it tells us two things: first, these Jun wares were first produced in the Northern Song Dynasty and was loved by royals; second, some people think these tripod bowls are for brush-washing.

Let’s investigate into the time that these Jun wares were made. In contrast to the everyday wares, this group, to which the current bulb bowls belong, relate to plant cultivation. The dating of this group has been controversial since some scholars in China have been inclined to date them to the Song dynasty while others have suggested a later period of production, probably Ming dynasty. The former group has suggested that jun wares were used by the Emperor Huizong of Song when he was enjoying the scenery of his imperial garden.

“Numbered” Jun wares, such as those in the current sale could have been made for the court in the late Yuan-early Ming dynasties - late 14th- early 15th century, and this would account for the relatively high proportion of the extant examples being preserved in the imperial collections.

Left: Emperor Huizong; Right: An exquisite Jade Rock at Yu Garden in Shanghai that he collected

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbered Four” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl|HK$12m - 15m (USD 1.54m - 1.92m)

The based is incised with the character si (four)

This particular form of Jun ware has been described by various authors as a narcissus bowl, a bulb bowl, a flowerpot stand or a brush washer. It is possible that such vessels fulfilled any, or all, of these functions during their period of use. The numbers on this type of Jun ware vessel relate to their size, with ‘one’ being the largest and ‘ten’ being the smallest. Judging from this, this Jun ware group’s original function should be related to plants.

Ming Dynasty Jun flower pot and stand|Harvard Art Museums

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbred Five” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl|HK$12m - 15m (USD 1.54m - 1.92m)

The based is incised with the character 'wu' (five)

It seems quite possible that the bulb bowls in the current sale belong to a group of Jun wares made for the early Ming court. They were certainly greatly admired by the 18th century emperors of the Qing dynasty, who displayed them in palace buildings and gardens, and included them in court paintings.

There are slight differences between the pale blue interiors

All the vessels in the current sale have a rich mottled purplish glaze on the exterior with an opalescent bluish glaze on the interior, and the relevant numeral is impressed into the base, which has an uneven khaki-coloured glaze. It is hard to determine which one is “better” as it all depends on your personal taste.

Yuan-Ming dynasty “Numbered One” Jun Tripod bulb bowl

Lot no.: 2751
Diameter: 25.1cm

  • Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1 May 1995, lot 637
  • Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7 May 2002, lot 521

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 - 18,000,000 (US$1,920,778 - 2,304,934)

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbered Three” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl

Lot no.: 2752
Diameter: 22.8cm

  • Matsushige Hiroda (1897-1973)
  • Manno Art Museum
  • An important private collection, acquired circa 2000

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 10,000,000 (US$1,024,415 - 1,280,519)

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbered Four” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl

Lot no.: 2753
Diameter: 19.8cm

  • Property from an Asian family collection
  • Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 24-25 October 1993, lot 704
  • Sold at Sotheby’s New York, 18 March 2008, lot 97 (US$869,800)

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 15,000,000 (US$1,536,623 - 1,920,778)

Yuan-Ming Dynasty “Numbred Five” Jun Tripod Bulb Bowl

Lot no.: 2754
Diameter: 21cm

  • A North-American Chinese family collection formed during the late Qing dynasty
  • Sold at Christie’s New York, 15 September 2009, lot 341 (US$1,258,500)

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 15,000,000 (US$1,536,623 - 1,920,778)

Auction details

Auction house: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: Four Masterpieces of Jun Ware
Location: Convention Hall, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
24 May 2019|10am - 8pm
25 - 28 May 2019|10am - 6:30pm
Sale: 29 May 2019|10:30am