• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2623

    Dowager Empress Cixi: Elegance of the Late Qing

    3 December 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 2245


    Price Realised  


    YONGLE PERIOD (1403-1435)

    Sturdily potted with shallow, gently rounded sides rising to an angled everted rim, painted in vivid graduated tones of underglaze-blue with three clusters of grapes suspended from slender branches bearing coiling tendrils and broad leaves, all enclosed within a double-circle, the cavetto encircled by a continuous composite floral scroll, repeated with slight variations to the exterior, with twelve blooms including lotus, camellia, lily, aster, chrysanthemum, gardenia, morning glory and lingzhi on an undulating leafy stem, the flattened rim with a border of crested waves, the smooth unglazed base burnt slightly orange, the purplish blue cobalt with characteristic 'heaping and piling' effect and the glaze with an even soft blue tinge
    14 7/8 in. (37.7 cm.) diam., box

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Compare with similar examples in well-known collections including one from the Robert Chang collection sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28 November 2006, lot 1313; an example illustrated in Exhibition of Blue and White Wares, Shanghai Museum, Catalogue, no. 24; a dish formerly in the Gustav VI Adolf Collection, and now in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, Kodansha series, vol. 9, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 216; an example in the Percival David Foundation, London, illustrated in op. cit., Kodansha series, vol. 6, Tokyo, 1982, pl. 74; one from the T. Y. Chao and R. E. R. Luff collections exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Ming and Ching Porcelain in the Collection of the T. Y. Chao Family Foundation, illustrated in the Catalogue, 1978, no. 3; another illustrated in Selected Masterpieces from the Manno Collection, Japan, 1988, pl. 109; and several examples in Middle Eastern collections including one illustrated by T. Misugi, Chinese Porcelain Collections in the Near East, Topkapi and Ardebil, vol. 3, Hong Kong, 1981, pl. A.41; another from the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, vol. 2, London, 1986, no. 606; and five examples in the Ardebil Shrine collection, one of which is illustrated by John Alexander Pope, Chinese Ceramics from the Ardebil Shrine, Washington, 1956, pl. 38 29.52.

    The present dish was given to Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911) by the Empress Dowager Cixi on the occasion of his retirement in 1908. Sir Robert first entered British consular service in China in 1854 and worked in Hong Kong, Ningpo and Canton. Upon graduating from Queen's University, Belfast in 1853, Hart received from his college a nomination as student interpreter in Hong Kong. After a short time at the Ningpo vice-consulate, he was appointed as customs inspector at Canton in 1859. He became fluent in Mandarin and a member of the elite social circles of Manchu princes and prominent government ministers.

    In 1863, the Dowager Empress Cixi appointed Sir Robert as the Inspector General of the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs at the Chinese Treaty Ports, the main source of Chinese government revenue. Sir Robert served with great accomplishment and dedication in this position for forty-five years until his retirement in 1907. Hart was important in ensuring the interests of European investors in Chinese securities, and helped to place Chinese finance on a solid footing. Many port and navigational facilities improved under his advice. By 1896 Hart's department was managing the first modernized national postal service in China. On March 4, 1889, the Dowager Empress elevated Sir Robert to "The Ancestral Rank of the First Class of the First order for Three Generations". He became the only foreigner in history to receive this honour.

    Other honorific titles bestowed upon Hart by the Chinese government included the Red Button, or button of the highest rank, a Peacock's Feather, the order of the Double Dragon, and the title of Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent. Sir Robert also received a baronetcy from Britain in 1893 and his name is remembered in Beijing through a street name in the Legation quarter.


    Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908)
    Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911), Inspector General of the Imperial Maritime Customs at the Chinese Treaty Ports, by presentation from the Dowager Empress on his retirement in 1908
    Sotheby's London, 13 December 1966, lot 79, Messrs. Bluett & Sons as agent
    The F. Gordon Morrill Collection, sold at Doyle New York, 16 September 2003, lot 83