Kangxi dragon vases continue to challenge the collector

lot lot34 dragon vase cu

Lot 34 in Auctionata sale of December 18 Meiping dragon vase detail

Just over a year ago, on December 3 2014 auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull at Crosshall Manor, Cambridgeshire, sold a Kangxi meiping vase 23cm. in height and with dragon decoration for £240,000 hammer. It was something of a surprise because it was estimated at £2,000-3,000, which was probably just about right as a selling price for a pretty but modest vase which had, historically, suffered damage. However, it came with a missive which revealed that it was a gift to its erstwhile owner, the late Lady Stewart, from her respected Hong Kong dealer (who sold her much of her very fine snuff box collection), Hugh Moss. This excellent provenance duly propelled the price into the stratosphere. There was much merriment in the room as it was knocked down to telephone bidder . . .

In case you were outbid on that vase, there is what might be good news. A very, very similar one comes up for sale on Friday on Auctionata (Berlin), lot no. 34. It is estimated at around euros 10,000. It is of the same form (meiping), same height (23cm.) and is also decorated with a very similar dragon design, but which is not exactly the same. To the base, however, there is a very different mark: a horizontal in-line mark as opposed to the two column vertical mark on Lady Stewart’s vase.

lot 162 L&T dragon vase

The Lyon & Turnbull vase

lot 34 dragon vase

 Auctionata vase

During the Kangxi period vases were made in this style in blue and white, as well as in copper-red. They are not that common, however, these days. Auctionata, in their catalogue notes aver, ‘Meiping Vases with such [a] brilliant painting and bearing the mark of the Kangxi Emperor are very rare. A very similar vase is illustrated in: Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013, p. 345, fig. 423. Another closely related example is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and was exhibited in the exhibition Sovereign Splendor in 2011. Cf. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Furthermore, other related versions can be found in some of the best collections of Chinese porcelain worldwide. Cf. a vase from the Palace Museum in Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Hong Kong 1989, p. 23, pl. 6 and one from the Wang Xing Lou Collection, illustrated in Imperial Perfection, The Palace Porcelain of Three Chinese Emperors, Hong Kong 2004, no. 1.

‘The five-clawed dragon continued to be an Imperial symbol throughout the Qing Dynasty. The depiction of the dragon as on the present vase is characteristic for the Kangxi period, which is exemplified by a fierce and dominant demeanour adding a stronger impression of authority and majesty. This representation is shown by the detailed painting of the head and the scales, which demonstrates a development of the later Ming Dynasty versions. The full-faced view of the dragon already existed in Ming times but was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty, distinguished by a greater feeling of vitality and a warlike spirit. ‘

We have compared both vases from photographs (we have only handled one and that was the Lady Stewart version). They are both equally well painted using the skills developed over the centuries by Chinese craftsmen. Such skills are, of course, extant to this day, particularly around Jingdezhen where exquisite work is achieved. Of the two marks, however, we much prefer the mark on the one sold by L&T last year. In our view, there is considerably less assurance in the creation of the in-line mark. As one expert put it, “The writing of the mark suggests someone trying to write in somebody else’s style, whereas the Stewart mark looks like someone just writing who has done it a thousand times.”

Marks, of course, are a tricky area and experts will often disagree on the very same mark. It is only our opinion and is not to demean what looks like a very pretty vase! As ever, it is a matter of caveat emptor . . .

lot162 mark cu   lot 34 draogn vase base

The marks to base: above, top The late Lady Stewart’s vase  Above Auctionata vase

Literature: Vgl. Eliëns (ed.), Keizerlijk porselein uit het Shanghai Museum, Zwolle/The Hague 2011. Vgl. Elias, A Dealer’s Hand: The Chinese Art World through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, New York 2013

Condition: The vase to be sold this week is in good condition with a minimal chip on the underside of ring stand, barely visible to the naked eye. The height measures 23 cm.

 

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