The Review with William Chak|‘Doucai’ ‘Bats” Bottle Vase and ‘Gongyu’ ‘Silver Fur’ Tea Bowl

Rongbaozhai is a well-known antiques shop in Beijing with a long history of over three centuries. Its subsidiary, Rongbaozhai Beijing auction, is going to hold its fall sales on 2nd December at Renaissance by Marriott Beijing Capital Hotel. A distinguished ceramics specialist William Chak reviews two highlights from the sale, a ‘Doucai’ ‘Bats” Bottle Vase from the Qianlong period and ‘Gongyu’ ‘Silver Fur’ Tea Bowl from  Yuan dynasty.

‘Doucai’ ‘Bats” Bottle Vase
Qianlong period, Qing Dynasty

Lot no.: 3582
Height: 20.5cm
Estimate: RMB 8,000,000 - 10,000,000

W: ‘Doucai’ means “contrasting colours”. ‘Docai’ is a technique used in painted Chinese porcelain. The outlines are first painted in underglaze blue and fired at a high temperature. Then, the piece is added in overglaze enamels of different colours and fired again at a lower temperature. There are many types of ‘doucai’. Chenghua pieces from Ming dynasty, and Qianlong pieces from Qing dynasty are the most representative examples.

Q: What makes this vase so unique?

W: This is a unique piece of ‘docai’ ‘bats’ bottle vase from the Qianlong period. ‘Doucai’ ‘bats” bottle vase from the Qianlong period, Qing Dynasty. The shape looks like a water chestnut. I like its appropriate size. It would be kitsch if the size was so big. This perfect size is popular among collectors because it is neither too big nor too small. When I was an apprentice, many experienced collectors take the size of Qianlong Yuhuchun vase as the standard size. It can be fitted inside a cabinet and looks good from a close or far distance.

Q: What’s the provenance of this vase?

W: The current owner acquired this vase from Christie’s London six or seven years ago. The seller was an old collector in her eighties, who was bequeathed the vase from her family. So the provenance was good.

W (continue): I was once told by my friend that there is a similar vase like this in France. Therefore,  I flew to France to take a look and I was disappointed when I saw the other piece.

Mr. Chak takes out another vase that looks almost the same as the present lot, except the other one is bigger. It is the vase that he saw in France.

W: It (the bigger one) looked pretty good judging from the photo but let us compared it with this one (the present lot) here. They are at two completely different levels. Look at the seal mark. Though it looks like the seal mark from the Qianlong period, the underglaze, paste and the painting of the vase are not consistent.

Q: What’s the difference between these two pieces?

W: One is an imitation from the late Guangxu period while this one is an authentic piece from Qianlong period made in the imperial kilns. Though the other one was an imitation, it is also a rare piece. There are not many imitated pieces with motifs and colours like this despite there were many imitated pieces in the late Qing period.

W (continue): The ‘bats’ motif here symbolizes ‘blessing”. Its rarity can be defined by three qualities: ‘authenticity’, ‘exquisiteness’ and ‘newness’. It is a rare one.

‘Gongyu’ ‘Silver Fur’ Tea Bowl
Yuan Dynasty

Lot no.: 3541
Diameter: 12.3cm
Estimate: RMB 1,300,000 − 1,800,000

Q: What’s so special about this tea bowl?

W: This is an important tea bowl from kilns in Fujian during the Song dynasty. First of all, it is made of “silver fur”, instead of a more common “hare’s fur”. When you take a closer look at the bowl, you can see the details. The interior and exterior of the bowl are applied with glaze of a pattern that looks like silver fur.

W (continue): And this shape is not commonly seen in Jian wares. Most Jian wares rising from foot to the indented rim but the rim of this bowl is slightly everted. This tea bowl is very exquisite. Its exquisiteness can be compared to bowls from Yongzheng period. Look at the beautiful shape of the bowl. You can tell it is no ordinary tea bowl.

Q: What makes this tea bowl so extraordinary?

W: First of all, it is evenly applied with glaze of dark black. Its unique glaze pattern of ‘silver fur’ is also rare in Jian wares. It is extraordinary. Thirdly, it is made of so-called “iron clay”. The wares were made using local iron-rich clays.

Q: What does the inscription “Gongyu” at the bottom of the bowl mean?

W: It can be interpreted as 'imperial tribute'. Wares with this mark are made exclusively for the emperor. It was not made for any common people. It was neither made for any nobles nor riches. No other people could use it except the emperor himself.  Look at the craftsmanship, shape, paste, seal mark and foot of the bowl. This tea bowl epitomizes the rarity of a “gongyu” jian ware from the Song.

W (continue): In my 40 years of career, I have seen so many jian wares. Ever since I started working as an apprentice, I have also handled many jian wares throughout my career. But this particular tea bowl really strikes me the most. It is my favourite. When it comes to collecting, always remember ‘authenticity’, ‘exquisiteness’ and ‘newness’. This bowl has these three qualities.

Auction house: Rongbaozhai Beijing
Viewing: 2017/11/30 - 12/1
Auction: 2017/12/2
Venue: 3/F Renaissance by Marriott Beijing Capital Hotel
Address: 61 East 3rd Ring Road Middle, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China