Sotheby’s in London has sold a rare pair of exquisite famille-rose decorated cups from the Yongzheng period for £1.9 million, the top lot in a sale of Important Chinese Art featuring a stunning selection of works of art spanning China’s rich 4000-year history of remarkable craftsmanship.
This unique pair of cups are masterpieces of the fencai (‘famille-rose’) colour scheme. With the introduction of white enamel from Europe in the early 18th century, craftsmen working at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen developed a new palette and realised its full potential in the early years of the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735). These cups, painted with sophisticated shades of pastel tones to capture a sense of three-dimensionality, embody to perfection the refined aesthetic of the Yongzheng Emperor.
The design, with sprays of fruiting pomegranate, peach and loquat, represents a variation of the auspicious ‘sanduo’ (‘three abundances’) motif – long life, an abundance of offspring and plentiful blessings. The porcelain painters aspired to new goals in representation and a degree of naturalism that had not been possible to achieve before. The burst-open fruits revealing a dense array of juice seeds and the thin enveloping skins separating them into pockets are masterfully rendered. Three iron-red cherries scattered on the inside of each cup are reminiscent of the loose arrangement of fruits on the inside of cups that are covered on the outside with ruby-red enamel, which are among the earliest pieces produced at Jingdezhen in the fencai colour scheme.
This pair of cups originally belonged to one of the most renowned collectors and dealers of Chinese art in the 20th century, Edward T. Chow, whose name remains one of the most coveted provenances for a piece of Chinese art.
The sale of Important Chinese Art brought a total of £6.4 million. Sotheby’s Chinese art sales series continues on Friday with the inaugural St George Street Sale of Chinese Art, with estimates ranging from £300 to £20,000.