When the Kangxi Emperor came to the throne he immediately began to show an interest in the production of imperial porcelain. Even before he dispatched a commission to report on the state of the imperial kilns and subsequently to rebuild them, the kilns working for the court were encouraged to experiment, improve and to rediscovered, even as early as the 1670s, was painting on porcelain in underglaze copper-red.
Not content with rediscovering the technique of painting and firing underglaze-red, potters during the kangxi reign experimenting with new styles. One of the most successful of these new styles was that of painting formal designs using the very fine outlines. A superb example of this can be seen on a current apple-shaped waterpot. Firing underglaze copper-red is very difficult, requiring the precise control of heat, kiln atmosphere and air circulation in the kiln, as well as the careful preparation of the copper pigment itself. This waterpot has an ideal colour and underglaze-red has spread just enough to give the decorative elements richness, but not so much as to detract from the formality of the design.
The most notable qualities of the present vessel can be seen in the well-executed pencilled design of the floral blooms, and the bright raspberry tone of the copper-red which is closely related to that of the peachbloom glaze. Compare with a similarly shaped peachbloom-glazed waterpot with an additional small cylindrical neck from the Jingguantang Collection, sold in these Rooms, 3 November 1996, lot 557.
Items for the scholar's table were greatly valued in the kangxi reign, and it is no coincidence that several of kangxi's portraits show him in his study. A waterpot of this pleasing shape, also known as pingguo zun (apple-shaped vessel) and with such a perfect firing of this difficult decoration would undoubtedly have met with imperial favour.
Other waterpots of this exact shape and painting style from important collections are published: one from the C. P. Lin included in the exhibition, Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration, Percival David Foundation, London 1992, illustrated by R. Scott, Catalogue, no. 113; another is illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. II, no. 733; one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, p. 39, pl. 22; and one in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Underglaze Blue and Red, pl. 118. Compare also the waterpot from the Edward T. Chow Collection, sold in Hong Kong 19 May 1981, lot 540.
The technique in the use of freestyle pencille design also appear on a large guan of the Kangxi period, painted with fish on the exterior, illustrated The Tsui Museum of Art, Ceramics IV - Qing Dynasty, no. 54.