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photographer New Owner.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1825 

based on the archaic bronze hu vessel, the translucent white stone vase of compressed pear shape carved in low-relief with a taotie animal mask around the belly on each side, set between addorsed archaic kui dragons around the shoulder and the foot, the registers separated by raised rope bands, the neck collared by a band of upright cicada lappets and flanked by a pair of kui dragon loop handles securing loose rings, fitted with domed cover carved with pendant cicada lappets below a large double chrysanthemum bud knop, the base inscribed with Qianlong fanggu in clerical script (fitted box)
20.5 CM.

Christie's New York, 28th March, 1996, lot 33.

This hu form vase belongs to a small group of Imperial vessels made during the Qianlong emperor's reign which bear either a six or a four character mark designating them as having been inspired by ancient vessels. Vessels with the Qianlong fanggu ('Exemplifying Antiquity during the Qianlong Reign') or Da Qing Qianlong fanggu ('Exemplifying Antiquity during the Qianlong Reign of the Great Qing Dynasty') marks are exceptional for their high level of craftsmanship and the quality of the material. The contours of this vase were undoubtedly inspired by the classical shape of bronze hu, while the carved decoration is also anachronistic with the motif on the main body traceable to that found on archaic bronzes. Jade carvers working in the Palace Workshops were skilled adaptors and the present vase is a fine example of their interpretation of an ancient form to suit contemporary taste.

The pure and translucent white colouration of this vessel is noteworthy. Court artists made a number of pieces out of pure white stone, considering it as one of the most desirable colours for its rarity. The whiteness of the stone used for this vase is exceptional, even by Qianlong Imperial standards.

Although Imperial jade vases are rarely made in identical forms or in pairs, a closely related yellow jade vessel but lacking its cover, can be found in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Chinese Jades Throughout the Ages – Connoisseurship of Chinese Jades, vol. 12, Hong Kong, 1997, p. 86, pl. 43 (fig. 1), where Palace Museum experts, Yang Boda and Li Jiu-fang, note that the workmanship of the vase is exquisitely refined and the piece truly reflects the inspiration drawn from antiquity in Qianlong period archaistic jades. The shape and distinctive design pattern are identical on the two vessels, although the Palace Museum vase has additional engraving of a leiwen pattern and does not appear to bear the incised mark.

Another related yellow jade vase and cover, also from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum.  Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 148, decorated with taotie heads and crisply carved cicada lappets around the base and neck. The vase is inscribed in seal script with the four-character Qianlong nian zhi (Made in the Qianlong period) reign mark.

Compare another hu form vase with elephant-head ring handles, made of spinach-green jade, included in Rene-Yvon Lefebvre d'Argence, Chinese Jades in the Avery and Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1977, p. 118, pl. LII, where the author notes that Qianlong’s own taste and interest were largely responsible for the third and main wave of archaism, which influenced jade carvers as well as other artists during most of the 18th and 19th centuries and that ancient bronze vessels served as favourite models either for imitations or more frequently for adaptations that could be highly imaginative. For further examples of hu-shaped vessels see a vase with two beast-form handles, bearing the Da Qing Qianlong fanggu mark on the base, in the Palace Museum, illustrated op.cit., pl. 147; a spinach-green jade vase with animal mask design, ibid., pl. 149; a green jade hu, similarly inscribed with the Da Qing Qianlong fanggu mark, sold at Christie's New York, 20th September 2002, lot 211; and a fourth vessel, with the same mark as the present lot, formerly in the collection of Prince Gong, sixth son of the Daoguang Emperor, illustrated in Robert Kleiner, Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 137.

Fig. 1 A carved jade hu vase, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period
Courtesy of the palace museum, Beijing



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