The carp has long been a symbol of strength and long-life in China, and one often used in the decorative arts. Vessels made in the form of fish, especially two confronted fish, were popular as early as the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907); by the 18th century they were a familiar model to the Chinese potter. Much of the popularity of fish as a decorative theme, especially in later dynasties, hinges on the fact that the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for the word for abundance, and the word for carp (li) a homophone for the word for profit. Chinese porcelain fish where highly desirable in Europe, where factories such as Chelsea were advertising naturalistically modeled fish tureens by the mid-18th century. See W.R. Sargent, The Copeland Collection: Chinese and Japanese Ceramic Figures, Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts 1991, pp.212-15, for a discussion of these influences and a very similar tureen, though without color, from the Copeland collection.
Carp tureens of this impressive size, possibly from the same molds, have been sold in our New York Rooms, from the collection of J. Richardson Dilworth, 26 January 2006, lots 38 and 39 and Sotheby's Monaco, 29 February 1992, lot 536. A pair with this coloring and also with Spanish arms was sold in our London Rooms, 7 November 2006, lot 277. Another, in Famille rose colors and with large Spanish coat-of-arms, was sold in these Rooms, 13 June 2007, lot 279.
For other examples of such 'carp tureens' see the footnote of lot 153 of the present sale.