Previously sold at Sotheby's London, 18 November 1998, lot 824.
The present cup is one of the finest examples by the well-known carver You Kan, a native of Wuxi in Jiangsu province who excelled in rhinoceros horns, ivory, jade and bamboo carvings. His designation or hao is Zhi Sheng. Many of his works bear two seals of the artist carved in relief; a circular one with his adopted name, Zhisheng, and a square one with his given name. You Kan is believed to be the rhinoceros horn carver by the name of You Xibei, who was believed to have worked as a rhinoceros carver in the imperial workshop during the Kangxi reign, cf. Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian, Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, p. 29.
The carving on the cup is exceptional in its superb quality, naturalistic detail and subject-matter. A related rhinoceros horn waterdropper with a very similar composition of lotus leaves and insects in the Shanghai Museum collection, bearing a 'You Kan' sealmark within a square, is illustrated by T. Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 151, no.101. A similar example without a mark from the Ruth Dreyfus and Arthur M. Sackler Collections was sold at Christie's New York, 1 December 1994, lot 38.
A rhinoceros horn waterdropper with a similar round 'Zhi Sheng' sealmark is the Chester Beatty Library collection, Dublin, and the mark is illustrated by J. Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p. 139, pl. 154. In her discussion of this rare form, the author notes that the present example is one of only ten known examples and "is certainly high enough quality to merit the description of 'palace piece'."
As well as the four signed pieces by You Kan from the Dr Ip Yee Collection, now in the Palace Museum, Beijing, five other rhinoceros horn carvings signed by You Kan have been sold at auction including, most recently, a log raft from the collection of Kenyon V. Painter sold at Sotheby's New York, 21 September 2006, lot 8.
For an explanation on how the carver worked the rhinoceros horn in order to bend the spout, refer to T. Fok, op. cit., Hong Kong, 1999, p. 29.