Coming to the peak season of autumn auctions in the Mainland China, auction houses are now getting ready for the tough battle. Blanc Xiamen unveils the leading lot of the sale, a pair of Yangcai Coral-ground ‘Floral’ Bowls with seal mark from Yongzheng period, Qing dynasty.
William Chak, the master of Chak’s and distinguished art dealer, gives an in-depth review of this pair of bowls. “When it comes to collecting, always remember ‘authenticity’, ‘exquisiteness’ and ‘newness’. This pair of bowls has these three qualities,” said Chak.
Yangcai Coral-ground ‘Floral’ Bowl
Yongzheng period, Qing Dynasty
Auction house: Blanc Xiamen
Sale: Fu Rui - Important Chinese Ceramics
Auction date: 2017/10/29
Lot no.: 234
Provenance: Hongxi Art Museum
Estimate: RMB 7,000,000 - 8,500,000
Q: Why is this bowl classified as “yangcai” instead of “wucai”?
W: In the past, it was called “Yongzheng Yuzhi Wucai Bowl” or “Yongzheng Yuzhi Red-ground Wucai Bowl”. Since 2008, Liao Baoxiu, an expert from National Palace Museum in Taipei, consolidated the files for the museum, also known as the Qing archives. It was documented in the files that this bowl is called “A pair of Yongzheng ‘Yuzhi’ Yangcai Bowls”.
W (continue): It changed the traditional concept which we had been believing in over the past decades.
Q: Why does it belong to the “yangcai” category?
W: Yangcai means “foreign colours”. We can see from the design and the colours painted on the bowl. The imperial court commissioned missionaries, in which the most famous one was Giuseppe Castiglione. He introduced the technique of Western oil paintings to the imperial court.
Q: Where is the element of oil paintings on this bowl?
W: This is a yellow peony with a white gradient effect. There is a light yellow gradient effect on the edges of green leaves as well.
Q: How does it differ from traditional Chinese paintings?
W: Traditional foliage or floral patterns that we see are relatively simple. We see the gradient effect of green on leaves but not rendered with other colours. For this reason, we can tell this bowl is synthesized the technique of oil paintings in Western art. It’s beautiful.
Q: What is the production process of this bowl?
W: As stated in the files, the whole production process of this bowl took place in Jingdezhen. It was fired, glazed and painted in Jingdezhen. It was glazed in “coral red” by sufflation. (It is called “coral red” in Hong Kong and “iron red” in the northern China.)
W (continue): The whole bowl was under glazed in “iron red”. After the glaze was dry, the floral or foliage pattern was drawn by needles to pick out the red colour, and then paint the pattern with other colours. The craftsmanship is very sophisticated.
Q: What’s that white rim? Is it a white glaze?
W: The white rim is not white glaze. It was added with a colour called “glass white”. According to the traditional belief from experts, Yangcai or Falangcai are all added “glass white” underneath.
Q: What’s the origin of this “glass white”?
W: “Glass white” was invented after the 6th year in Yongzheng period (1728). Before that, all Falangcai used imported materials. However, they were very precious and it took 2-3 years to get them imported from Europe. So after the 6th year in Yongzheng period, the Emperor made an order to invent Falangcai domestically and “glass white” was invented at that time.
Portrait of Emperor Yongzheng
What was the purpose of making such an exquisite imperial bowl? It would be too extravagant to use it for dining. Mr. Chak says this bowl has the three important qualities “authenticity”, “exquisiteness” and “newness”. How can we understand these concepts?
Q: What was the purpose of this bowl during the Yongzheng period?
W: The shape of this bowl could be for the purpose of Tibetan Buddhism or for the Yongzheng Emperor own use. The shape comes from a vessel called “bo” (bowl) in Tibet.
“Bo” (Bowl) in Tibet
Q: What’s “bo”?
W: “Bo” (bowl) is commonly seen in Tibet. Tibetan people use bowls to eat tsampa with their hands. It is also used as a vessel to contain holy water or offerings to put in front of the Buddha.
Q: You mentioned “authenticity”, “exquisiteness” and “newness”. How does this bowl show these three important qualities?
W: We can tell its authenticity from the history that I just mentioned. On top of that, this bowl once belonged to Hongxi Art Museum in Taiwan as a very important piece of the collection. It has great provenance. And the sophisticated craftsmanship being shown in this bowl also embodies its “exquisiteness”.
Q: What about “newness”?
W: “Newness” refers to its condition. It is not easy to preserve this bowl in such a great condition as it has survived for several hundred years. No scratches on this bowl. This pair of bowls is perfect, not a single scratch on it. It is rare to keep this exquisite piece so intact and well-preserved, almost like brand new.
W (continue): It is not something that you can buy with money. I am lucky enough to take a close look at this precious piece. To collectors or art dealers, it is fortunate that Blanc auction house has solicited such an exquisite pair of bowls from Yongzheng period.
Blanc Xiamen Autumn Auction 2017
Previewing period: 2017/10/26 – 28
Previewing hours: 10am - 8pm
Venue: Kempinski Hotel Xiamen