Opinion: This pair of jardinières, made in imitation of Huanghuali wood, was purchased by the current owner at Sotheby’s New York in March 2015 for a final price of USD 181,250 against a pre-sale estimate of USD 25,000-35,000. One reason for the intensive competition at this auction may have been that while Sotheby’s dated the jardinières to the 19th century, bidders seem to have had a slightly divergent perception of the actual age of this lot. And indeed, there are two very recent scientific findings that speak clearly for a time of origin in the Qianlong period instead of the 19th century:
Firstly, Trompe l’Oeil porcelains were primarily produced in the Qianlong reign period, and not in the 19th century. For a detailed scientific consideration of this fact, including respective data analysis, see the webinar by Chih-En Chen, Lecturer of Chinese and East Asian art history at the University of Toronto, held in December 2021 for members of the Oriental Ceramic Society, titled “Feminine Space and Playthings: Recontextualization of Trompe l’Oeil Porcelain in High Qing China”. The corresponding section of the video starts at minute 16:00.
Secondly, the strictly realistic and nature-oriented manner of imitating the Huanghuali wood with enamels on porcelain, particularly visible in the characteristic ‘ghost eyes’ found on the present jardinières, is untypical of the 19th century. As Chih-En Chen explains in detail, starting in minute 19:00 of the video, ‘realistic’ imitations of wood in Faux Bois porcelains were predominantly made during the 18th century, while ‘unrealistic’ or abstracted designs of wood emerged only in the 19th century. As we know, during the 18th century artists often imitated one material using another, but were always looking for rather subtle and inconspicuous ways to do so. Likewise, the ostentatious creations from the 19th century constitute a stark contrast to the humble, nature-oriented mindset of the 18th century.
These aforementioned two facts lead this author to the conclusion that the present jardinières are in fact older than previously stated by Sotheby’s, and without much - if any - doubt were made during the 18th century.
Link for the video:
https://www.orientalceramicsociety.org.uk/feminine-space-and-playthings-recontextualization-of-trompe-loeil-porcelain-in-high-qing-china-ca-1683-1839-ce (available to OCS members only)
Finally, please note that Mr. Chih-En Chen has invested a sheer unfathomable amount of time into the research of Trompe l’Oeil décor in High Qing China - and especially Faux Bois - an effort for which we do not only have the deepest respect but also will remain eternally grateful to Mr. Chih-En Chen. For this reason, we highly recommend watching the video of Chih-En Chen’s seminar, it is worth the while. At the time of the Sotheby’s sale in 2015, however, none of the substantial scientific findings shown in the video by Mr. Chih-En Chen were available to the public, a fact that explains why Sotheby’s experts had to be more cautious in dating the present jardinières.
Superbly potted, the tapering sides of each of the two jardinières are finely and boldly enameled to resemble wooden planks, including many details and aspects of the grain such as the characteristic knotholes, with the two raised bands encircling the body neatly painted to mimic the look of rope.
The recessed circle in the center of the base is set between two drainage holes and glazed white, each with a very large underglaze-blue six-character seal mark da Qing Qianlong nianzhi and of the period. Also note the finely modeled and ruyi-shaped feet of each jardinière.
The neatly executed painting of the wood imitation, including distinct peaks and ghost eyes, is inspired by the pronounced grain of huanghuali wood, which was highly prized as a material for furniture in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, including brush pots or tubs similar to the present jardinières.
Provenance: Sotheby’s New York, 21 March 2015, lot 684, sold for USD 181,250 or approx. EUR 221,500 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing. A copy of the invoice from Sotheby’s New York, dated 21 March 2015, accompanies this lot. A notable private collector in Kensington, London, United Kingdom, acquired from the above.
Condition: Very good condition, especially when considering the size and age of these jardinières, with minor old wear and some firing irregularities, shallow surface scratches, the feet with small chips and minor losses to enamels, one jardinière with small chips to one section of the base.
Dimensions: Diameter 45.7 cm
Compare a closely related unmarked faux-bois jardinière dated to the Yongzheng or Qianlong periods, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, accession number Gu154796, and published in Evelyn S. Rawski and Jessica Rawson, China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, 2006, no. 235. Two similar Yongzheng faux-bois tubs, raised on four feet, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, are illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong - Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, page 317, pl. 146, and Gugong Qing ci tulu - Kangxi yao, Yongzheng yao - Illustrated Catalogue of Ch'ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, Republic of China: K'ang-hsi Ware and Yung-cheng Ware, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 97, respectively.
Auction result comparison:
Auction: Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 4 October 2011, lot 17
Price: HKD 8,000,000 or approx. EUR 1,365,000 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing
Description: A rare faux-bois jardiniere, seal mark and period of Yongzheng
Expert remark: Compare the closely related form and decoration, though the wood is treated more naturalistically than on the present lot and the interior shows yellow enamel in imitation of an oilcloth lining. Note the Yongzheng mark found on this lot instead of the Qianlong mark on the present jardinières.
首先，以瓷仿製各式材質器物，盛行於乾隆一朝，而不是十九世紀。相關科學論據請參閱多倫多大學中國和東亞藝術史講師陳之恩於 2021年 12 月為東方陶瓷學會成員舉辦的網絡研討會，題為 “Feminine Space and Playthings: Recontextualization of Trompe l’Oeil Porcelain in High Qing China”。視頻的相關部分從16:00分鐘開始。
最後，陳之恩先生投入了大量的時間來研究中國清代盛世時期的錯視紋飾，尤其是仿木紋，我們對此深表敬意 ，也非常感謝陳之恩先生。為此，我們強烈推薦觀看陳之恩先生講座的視頻。在 2015年 年蘇富比拍賣時，陳之恩先生還沒有在相關領域展示科學發現，所以蘇富比專家的斷代還需斟酌。
專家注釋：這對花盆由其藏家與2015年3月在紐約蘇富比以 USD 181,250 （估價 USD 25,000-35,000）購得。此次拍賣中競爭激烈的一個原因可能是，儘管蘇富比將花盆斷代為十九世紀，但參拍者見解不同。事實上，根據近幾年的研究，這對花盆應爲乾隆時期而不是十九世紀。
來源：2015年3月21日紐約蘇富比，lot 684，售價 USD 181,250 相當於現在的 EUR 221,500。 隨附拍賣當日出具的發票複印件；英國倫敦肯辛頓知名私人收藏購於上述拍賣。
尺寸：直徑 45.7 厘米
比較一件非常相近雍正或乾隆時期仿木紋釉花盆，沒有款識，收藏於北京故宮博物院，編號Gu154796，見Evelyn S. Rawski，Jessica Rawson，《China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795》，2006年，編號235。兩件相近的雍正時期四腳盆，收藏於北京故宮博物院和台北故宮博物館，見《故宮珍藏康雍乾瓷器圖錄》，香港，1989年，頁317，圖146；《清康雍乾名瓷》，東京，1980年，圖97。
估價：HKD 8,000,000（相當於今日EUR 1,365,000 ）
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