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    Sale 2633

    A Magnificent Imperial Famille Rose "Butterfly" Vase: Property of the Ping Y Tai Foundation

    3 December 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 2388


    Price Realised  

    Estimate On Request


    Exquisitely enamelled around the sides with a multitude of brightly-hued butterflies and moths of differing sizes and species in various attitudes of flight, playfully ascending, descending and frolicking amongst sprigs of morning glory, daisies, hibiscus, carnations, dianthus, gardenia, poppy, lily, peony, chrysanthemum and prunus, all scattered over an opaque pale pink ground delicately incised with feathery graviata scrolls, divided at the shoulder by a band of iron-red ruyi below fine floral scrolls picked out in blue enamel, the narrow foot encircled by a band of suspended bejewelled tassels on a yellow ground enclosed within upright petal-form panels outlined in blue, decorated with a further band of lappets on a yellow ground at the mouth, the swelling sides rising from the foot in an S-form curve to the broad angular shoulder, the tapers sharply before flaring out at the mouth and forming another sharp junction as the mouth rim inverts, the foot, shoulder, neck and mouth encircled with rich gold bands, the base covered in turquoise enamel continuing to the interior
    18 in. (45.7 cm.) high, box

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    A Magnificent and Extremely Rare Famille Rose Vase
    with Graviata Pink Ground

    Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director

    This magnificent vase was formerly in the Fonthill Collection of Alfred Morrison, which is one of the most famous 19th century English collections of Chinese art. Alfred Morrison (1821-97) was the second son of the textile merchant James Morrison, who was believed to be the wealthiest commoner in 19th century England. On his father's death in 1857, Alfred Morrison inherited considerable wealth and the Fonthill estate in Wiltshire. The latter had previously belonged to another famous collector William Beckford (1759-1844) and indeed Morrison's house on the estate was the surviving wing of Beckford's Fonthill Splendens. Alfred Morrison devoted his time and his wealth to filling his homes in London and Wiltshire with rare works of art. In the early years much of his Chinese art was acquired from Henry Durlacher, the founder of the famous London dealers Durlacher Brothers. However a large proportion of his Chinese porcelains and enamels on metal were purchased in 1861 from Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900), who brought them to Britain following the storming of the Yuanming Yuan in Beijing in 1860. Morrison then commissioned the famous architect Owen Jones to design a room at Fonthill House 'in the Cinque-centro style' especially for the Chinese objects. The current vase was published by the British scholar Soame Jenyns in 1951.1 By that time the collection had passed to John Morrison, and, in discussing the porcelains with graviata enamelled grounds, Soame Jenyns notes: 'A superb range of these pieces is in the collection of Mr. John Morrison.'

    Interestingly, the butterfly and flower design and the form of the vase must have particularly appealed to the Qianlong Emperor. In addition to the current vase, a further pair of Qianlong vases from the Alfred Morrison collection, very similar in design to the 'Ping Tai' vase but with slight variations in the ruyi band around the shoulder, a slightly more crowded design around the body and apparently lacking the graviata-ground found on the present piece, was sold in the first sale of Fonthill Heirlooms held at Christie's London, 31 May 1965, lot 107 (fig. 1). The 1965 catalogue entry erroneously states that one of the pair was illustrated by S. Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain as it is now apparent that the vase illustrated by Jenyns is in fact the current vase being offered in this sale.

    It is highly likely that all three vases would have originally been kept in one location in the Yuanmingyuan and removed by Lord Loch on the same occasion. This would explain why all three of pieces of this extremely rare design found their way into the collection of Alfred Morrison. The pair of vases sold at Christie's in 1965 remains the only closely related example of this size and design to have been published. It is extremely rare to find a Qianlong vase of this large size decorated with such delicacy on a graviata ground (fig. 2). Most vases completely covered with graviata ground are smaller, while the larger vases usually employ graviata only in limited areas. The technique would have been very time-consuming as well as requiring a particularly skilled craftsman if it was to be executed to the extremely high standard seen on the current vase. These scrolls have been incised with a very fine point and are small in scale, delicate, and feather-like. It is also notable that the graviata scrolls incised into the pale pink enamel ground of this vase are especially dense and would have required the greatest care to ensure that they formed a coherent pattern and were evenly distributed.

    The technique of cutting through slips, glazes and enamels, before they were fired, in order to produce decoration has a long history in China. The origins of the Qing technique probably lie in the Northern Song period (960-1127), when a related technique was used on stonewares belonging to the Cizhou group. On these Cizhou vessels a relatively fine point, or comb-like row of points, were used in one of two ways. The fine points either incised though an upper black slip layer to reveal decorative details in the contrasting white slip layer below, as seen on pieces such as the ruyi-shaped pillow with floral scrolls and wave border in the Palace Museum, Beijing, (fig. 3)2 or designs were incised through a white slip to reveal a darker body material beneath, as in the case of the bean-shaped pillow decorated with fish in water, also from the Palace Museum collection.3 Such stonewares were then covered with a thin, transparent glaze.

    Another related decorative technique is that known as 'cut-glaze'. As with the enamel in the Qing graviata technique, the 'cut-glaze' method relied on the glaze staying in place, rather than flowing, when it was fired. 'Cut-glaze' was employed at northern Chinese kilns in the Jin (AD 1115-1234) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties on stonewares which bore thick, viscous, black or dark brown glazes. On these vessels areas of glaze were cut away before firing, leaving the background of the design in unglazed buff-coloured body material, while details were also cut through to the body using a fine point. Such vessels tend to be large vases or jars of globular form. A Jin dynasty jar is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig. 4)4 while a Yuan dynasty jar is in the British Museum, London.5 The same 'cut-glaze' technique was used to decorate stonewares made in the Xi Xia dynasty (1038-1227) kilns of north-western China on a much wider range of forms, including not only vases and jars but also shapes such as flasks and bowls.6

    Several versions of this 'cut-glaze' technique were used on other ceramics, but it was rarely applied to early porcelain, except for a small number of Yuan dynasty white-glazed wares from the Jizhou kilns, most of which have simple prunus and moon decoration, where most of the glaze was removed using a stencil rather than a knife.7 This latter technique is, of course, related to the Ming dynasty use of wax-resist to produce areas of decoration which were free of glaze, such as those of the 'green dragon' group which appear at the imperial kilns as early as the Chenghua reign (1465-87).8 On these porcelains wax prevented the normal porcelain glaze from adhering to the body material in the areas reserved for dragon decoration, in order that green enamel could be applied to these biscuit fired areas in a second, lower temperature, firing.

    None of these early techniques achieved anything like the delicacy possible when cutting a design through enamels applied over a fired porcelain glaze. Indeed the incising of decoration through overglaze enamels on porcelain was only possible on any scale once the more stable enamels of the famille rose palette were perfected in the Yongzheng reign (1723-35). The application of the graviata technique creating scrolling, leiwen and lattice patterns on enamels covering the background of porcelain vessels reached its peak of refinement on imperial porcelains of the Qianlong reign, when the current vase was made.

    The colours of these graviata background enamels varied, but deep pink, mid-blue and yellow are among the most frequently seen. The pale pink of the current vase is very rare. An example of deep pink enamel with lattice graviata designs can be seen on a Qianlong vase in the Victoria and Albert Museum.9 Like the current vase, the Victoria and Albert Museum is decorated with flowers and butterflies against the pink ground, although the flowers on the latter vessel grow from the lower part of the band, rather than appearing as small sprays as on the current vase. Three very similar vases, one in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig. 5) and a pair in the Baur Collection are decorated with butterflies and floral sprays on a deep pink ground with graviata scrolls similar to those on the current vase.10 Another vase in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing has a blue enamel ground with graviata lattice design, which forms the background for a design of butterflies, floral sprays and flower heads (fig. 6).11

    Although the pale opaque pink enamel ground with graviata scrolls seen on the current vase is quite rare, it is interesting to note that the style obviously appealed to Alfred Morrison, since a small Qianlong moon flask, with the same graviata pale pink enamel - in this case acting as a ground for formal polychrome floral scrolls - was among the porcelains from his collection sold in our London rooms on 9 November 2004 in the sale Chinese Porcelains and Enamels from The Alfred Morrison Collection, Fonthill House, Lot 47 (fig. 7). The same opaque pale pink enamel with a graviata design, in this case of leiwen, also appears on a Qianlong bowl in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig. 8).12 On the Taipei bowl the pink graviata provides the ground against which formal floral scrolls appear.

    The shape of the current vase is also rare, and belongs to a group of vase shapes with especially sharp junctions at the shoulder, which appeared in the Yongzheng reign (1723-35) and gained popularity under the Qianlong emperor. It is probable that all the vase forms with this feature owe their original inspiration to metalwork. A similar sharp shoulder junction and the same unusual flared mouth with inverted rim can be seen on a Yongzheng white 'soft-paste' porcelain vase in the Baur Collection.13 Similar sharp shoulder junctions can also be seen on a Yongzheng flambé vase and a Qianlong pale celadon vase in the same collection.14

    The combination of flowers and butterflies to decorate porcelain can be seen as early as the Yongle reign (1403-24) on blue and white vessels such as the pear-shaped vase in the Percival David Foundation,15 and the Chenghua reign (1465-87) on doucai wares, such as the globular jar also in the Percival David Foundation.16 However, the combination of butterflies and flower sprays painted in overglaze enamels on porcelain became particularly popular at the imperial court in the Yongzheng reign. A variant of this design can be seen in the famous 'butterfly bowls' of the Yongzheng reign on which the butterflies and flowers form roundels. An example of this type from the Yuen Family Collection was sold in our Hong Kong rooms on 30 April 2000, lot 588. In the same sale (lot 589) was a Qianlong vase which has even closer links with the current vase. Although the Yuen vase had no coloured background enamel, the butterflies and flower sprays which decorated it display many similarities with those on the current vase. Indeed a number of the same flowers and types of butterfly appear on both vases.

    Butterflies are often included in Qing dynasty decoration in order to suggest a duplication of an auspicious wish, since the word for butterfly in Chinese die is homophonous with a word meaning to repeat. It also sounds like a word meaning eighty years of age, and thus expresses a wish for longevity. When combined with prunus the butterfly provides a rebus for beauty and longevity. Butterflies are also seen as symbols of happiness in marriage as well as everlasting romantic love. The latter interpretation is due to a number of traditional Chinese stories in which butterflies play a part. The most famous is the one by Feng Menglong (1574-1646) in which the star-crossed lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai are transformed after death into butterflies. In Daoism butterflies are associated with dreamlike reflection and the freedom of the soul.

    Not surprisingly, the combination of butterflies and flowers to provide decoration was not confined to porcelain, and examples can be found in a number of other materials. A comparable roundel to those seen on the Yuen Yongzheng bowl can be seen embroidered on a Qing dynasty silk robe.17 A Beijing enamel on metal vase decorated with butterflies and floral sprays is in the Palace Museum, Beijing,18 while a Yongzheng/Qianlong painted lacquer tray decorated with these motifs, also from the Palace Museum, is illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, Gongyi Meishu bian 8 qiqi, Wang Shixiang (ed.), Beijing, 1989, p. 161, no. 161.

    However, the soft pink ground on this vase from the Ping Y. Tai Foundation particularly enhances the butterfly and flower motifs, and rarely has the design been more effectively employed than on this spectacular porcelain vessel.

    1 Soame Jenyns , Later Chinese Porcelain - The Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912), Faber and Faber, London, 1951, plate CVI, fig. 2.
    2 The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 32 Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 182-3, no. 165.
    3 ibid., p. 186, no. 168.
    4 Illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu qinghua daquan- Taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 324, no. 524.
    5 Illustrated by Tsugio Mikami in Sekai Toji Zenshu - 13- Liao, Jin, Yuan, Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1981, p. 244, no. 282.
    6 Illustrated in the excavation report Ningxia Lingwu yao fajue baozao, Beijing, 1995, pls. XXX and LX, respectively.
    7 Examples from the Bristol City Art Gallery and the Bernat collection are illustrated by Margaret Medley in Yuan Porcelain and Stoneware, Faber and Faber, London, 1974, pls. 111A and 111B and C, respectively.
    8 Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2003, pp. 124-5, nos. 110-111.
    9 Illustrated by Rose Kerr in Chinese Ceramics - Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1986, p. 116, pl. 99.
    10 Illustrated in Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, p. 197, no. V-34; and by John Ayers in Chinese Ceramics in The Baur Collection, volume 2, Collections Baur, Genève, 1999, pp. 128-9, no. 236 and 237, respectively.
    11 Illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 39 Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 37, no. 30.
    12 Illustrated in Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, p. 194, no. V-30
    13 Illustrated by John Ayers in Chinese Ceramics in The Baur Collection, volume 2, Collections Baur, Genève, 1999, pp. 206-7, no. 307.
    14 Illustrated ibid. p. 152, no. 259, and pp. 188-9, no. 290, respectively.
    15 Illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration - Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, Percival David Foundation, London, 1992, p. 38, no. 25.
    16 Illustrated ibid. p. 64, no. 61.
    17 Illustrated by Rosemary Scott in 'Decorative Links between Porcelain and Silk in the Qing Period', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 58, 1994, p. 71, fig. 6.
    18 Illustrated in Splendors of a Flourishing Age, Macau, 2000, no. 73.


    Yuanmingyuan, removed in 1860, by repute
    Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900), by repute
    Alfred Morrison (1821-1897) and thence by descent to Lord Margadale of Islay, at Fonthill House, Tilsbury, Wiltshire (Fonthill Heirlooms)
    The Morrison Collection of Chinese Porcelains, Christie's London, 18th October 1971, lot 65
    Messrs. S. Marchant & Son

    Pre-Lot Text

    The Ping Y. Tai Foundation Collection of Important Chinese Art

    Ping Y. Tai (1915 - 1998) was the wife of the legendary connoisseur, collector and dealer, Jun Tsei Tai (1911-1992), fondly known in international Chinese art circles as J.T. Tai. The collection of the Ping Y. Tai Foundation comprises a hitherto little-known group of important classical paintings, ceramics and archaic bronzes given to Ping Y. Tai by her husband. The Chinese paintings were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Tai without commercial intent and indeed were kept at home for their personal enjoyment. The superb early Ming white porcelain meiping and the unique Qianlong imperial famille-rose 'butterfly' vase also were treasured at home by Mr. and Mrs. Tai. Christie's is therefore especially privileged to present the collection in three sales in New York and Hong Kong in the autumn of 2008.

    Mrs. Tai was born Chang Ping Ying in Suzhou in 1915. In 1932 in Shanghai, she married Jun Tsei Tai, who was already a highly respected connoisseur and dealer of Chinese ceramics, ancient bronze vessels and carved jades. Like many of their compatriots, Mr. and Mrs. Tai moved to Hong Kong in 1949, a year of great political and social upheaval in China. In 1950 Mr. Tai settled in New York and was joined by Mrs. Tai in 1953. Working first with the leading Paris-based dealer C.T. Loo, Mr. Tai soon established his own gallery, J.T. Tai and Co., on Madison Avenue in New York City's elite district of museums and galleries. Many masterpieces in major American museums and collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Avery Brundage collection and the Arthur M. Sackler collections were acquired from Mr. Tai. In this way, he was a primary force that profoundly influenced the appreciation of Chinese art in America and Europe.

    Ping Y. and J.T. Tai were a central part of the cultural elite in New York's Chinese community, which included such renowned artistic and literary figures as the artist and collector C.C. Wang, the author and scholar Lin Yutang, the scholar and collector Wan-go Weng as well as the calligrapher and collector Wang Fang-yu. It was to this small group of friends and intellectual equals that Mr. and Mrs. Tai showed their private collection of art treasures. In the time-honored tradition of Chinese collectors, they would study and enjoy each painting or object during private moments together or at gatherings with their connoisseur friends. These meetings were relaxed and informal occasions. In addition to good food and art, there were also frequent mah-jong games and Mrs. Tai was an especially enthusiastic participant.

    It is not difficult to imagine Mr. and Mrs. Tai at home - studying and appreciating together the technique and beauty of Qiu Ying's (1495 - 1552) magnificent 'Lotus Picking' (offered in Hong Kong in December). They might have recalled their hometown origins as they gazed at the depiction of a scholar seated at leisure surrounded by his finest treasures on the banks of one of Suzhou's rivers. Perhaps they were reminded of the warm summer days of their youth in that picturesque city. Qiu Ying, one of Suzhou's great masters, produced many of the most elegant and technically skillful paintings in the history of Chinese art.

    Two porcelain masterpieces which were displayed in the New York home of Mr. and Mrs. Tai reflect contrasting aspects of their taste in ceramics. On the one hand, the exceptionally rare early 15th century meiping (offered in New York in September) with its incised peony scroll under an unmistakable milky white glaze is an important example of the famed tianbai or "sweet white" ware of the Yongle period (1403-1425). Elegant, technically perfect and in pristine condition, the vase is surely one of the greatest early Ming monochromes to become available in decades. Its restrained decoration, subtle glaze and perfect form is best appreciated by the cognoscenti.

    Equally important is the magnificent 18th century Imperial famille rose 'butterfly' vase (offered in Hong Kong in December) formerly in the Fonthill Heirlooms collection. Exquisitely and elaborately decorated in brilliant colors with a multitude of butterflies reserved on a brilliant pink ground meticulously incised with a delicate floral scroll, the vase is a tour-de-force of Qing enamelling technique. It is also a supreme testament to the luxurious taste of the Qianlong Emperor, whose seal mark graces its base. In contrast to the meiping the "butterfly" vase emphasizes surface decoration, a rich palette and virtuoso technique.

    All three of these treasures reflect the couple's appreciation of the highest levels of artistic and technical achievement and this is repeated throughout the Ping Y. Tai Foundation Collection.

    Ping Y. Tai established the Ping Y. Tai Foundation in New York in order to continue her charitable work. This organization, which primarily supports institutions that provide vital aid in the areas of health and humanitarian services, regularly benefits such groups as the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, UNICEF, City Meals on Wheels, Lighthouse International and Memorial Sloane-Kettering Hospital. The proceeds from the sales of this collection will help the Foundation to continue its important philanthropic endeavors.

    Christie's sales of this exceptional collection in New York and Hong Kong provide collectors all over the world with a rare opportunity to participate in a tradition characterized by the most refined approach to art appreciation and collecting. Having benefited from the connoisseurship and discerning eye of Ping Y. and J. T Tai, these treasures, unavailable for many years, can now be handed over to another generation of discerning collectors.


    Alfred Morrison (1821-1897) was the second son of the millionaire textile merchant James Morrison, probably the richest commoner in the 19th century. As a young man, James (born 1789) had left his small Hampshire village where his father had been innkeeper, to seek his fortune in London. Alfred, however, grew up in considerable luxury, enjoying the comforts of a town house in Harley Street and country estates at Fonthill in Wiltshire and Basildon in Berkshire. He attended Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, travelled regularly on the continent and spent over three years criss-crossing North America on behalf of his father's merchant bank. While travelling with him in 1842, his elder brother Charles wrote home: 'I have been observing Alfred - & do not think he will become a working man of business... I think that nothing but necessity will induce him to become the inmate of a countinghouse... [he] does not value money & does like his ease' (private collection).

    Fortunately for Alfred he would never be forced to become the 'inmate of a countinghouse'. When his father died in 1857, Alfred inherited the Fonthill estate and £750,000 in stocks and shares. His country home was called the Pavillion (fig. 1); it was the surviving wing of William Beckford's Fonthill Splendens (the ruins of the famous Abbey were close by). And like Beckford, Alfred would use his inheritance to amass an extraordinary collection of art treasures. He began by collecting engravings and Chinese art, the latter often acquired from Henry Durlacher. However, a significant proportion of the Chinese ceramics and enamel on metal were purchased in 1861 from Lord Loch of Drylaw (1827-1900). The latter had brought them to Britain from China following the sack of the Imperial Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness) in Beijing in 1860.* Alfred commissioned the internationally famous architect Owen Jones to design a room at Fonthill especially for the Chinese objects 'in the Cinque-cento style....The chimney-piece and fittings [made by Jackson and Graham] are entirely of ebony, inlaid with ivory, and the ceiling is of wood panelled and inlaid, the mouldings being black and gold' (The Builder, 9 May 1874, p.385).

    While work was proceeding in Wiltshire, Alfred acquired the lease, in 1865, to 16 Carlton House Terrace; Jones, Jackson and Graham proceeded to create for him a palace of art behind the dull stucco exterior. 'Pass through this heavy doorway, and in an instant every fair clime surrounds you, every region lavishes its sentiment; you are the heir of all the ages... There is no sham in this house - no wood pretending to be metal, and no iron affecting to be marble... We may ascend the magnificent stairway, past the globes of light upheld by bronze candelabra rising seven feet from the floor, and as we go from story to story find good, painstaking work meeting us everywhere.' The house was a riot of colour, pattern and texture; inlaid woodwork; coffered geometrical ceilings; walls hung with rich Lyons silks. 'It makes the chief palaces of Northern Europe vulgar' (Moncure Conway, Travels in South Kensington, London, 1882, pp.154-159). Alfred filled his homes with paintings and sculpture, Persian carpets, tapestries, lace and embroidery, coins and medals, Greek antiquities, autographs and letters, as well as Chinese porcelain, adding three top-lit galleries to Fonthill in the 1880s (fig. 2). He bought work by contemporary artists including Frederic Leighton and John Brett, but he also 'loved to be the Maecenas' of contemporary craftsmen, commissioning exquisite and priceless pieces from the Spanish metalworker Placido Zuloaga, the French enamellists Charles Lepec and Fernand Thesmar, and the goldsmith Lucien Falize.

    Perhaps Alfred was inspired by William Beckford. A description of Fonthill Splendens written early in the century could as easily have been applied to his own achievements in his London and Wiltshire homes: 'an astonishing splendour is shown here, combined with the finest taste, and one can say without exaggerating that those who are in the business of decorating for the great and rich, to perfect their art would find in Fonthill the most excellent examples' (C.A.G.Goede, England, Wales and Ireland, Dresden, 1805, vol.5, p.116).

    *Three important sales of important Chinese art from Morrison's Fonthill Heirlooms Collection have taken place at Christie's King Street. The first was on 31 May 1965, when the famous Xuande cloisonné enamel jar and cover now in the Uldry Collection was among the pieces sold. The second sale of fine Qing cloisonné and porcelains was on 18 October 1971, which included and the current 'butterfly' vase. The third sale of enamels and porcelains took place on 9 November 2004.

    Caroline Dakers is the author of a study of the Morrison family, Making Money in 19th Century Britain: The Morrisons of Fore Street, Yale University Press due to be published in 2010.



    Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain, London, 1971, pl. CVI, fig. 2