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The flattened pear-shaped vase is encircled by a three-clawed dragon pursuing a flaming pearl above a chilong on one narrow side and clouds on the other. The front is inscribed with a four-line inscription and a Qianlong yuti four-character mark, and the cover is surmounted by a coiled dragon. The greenish-white stone has some natural pale inclusions incorporated into the carved design.
11 ½ in. (29.2 cm.) high, hongmu stand
The Prince Kung (1880-1936) Collection.
The American Art Galleries, The Remarkable Collection of the Imperial Prince Kung of China, New York, 27-28 March 1913, lot 165.
Kathe H. Sklarz Collection; Parke-Bernet Galleries, 13-14 April 1955, lot 222.
Rathburn Willard Collection; Parke-Bernet Galleries, 5 November 1964, lot 97.
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Lot Essay

The present vase is a fine representation of the art of the Imperial Qing dynasty: the large size and fine quality of the stone reflect the taste in jade carving of the time, and the motif of the smaller dragon climbing towards the larger symbolizes canglong jiaozi or the wise older dragon teaching his son, which was a favorite theme of the Qianlong Emperor. This idea is echoed in the accompanying inscription, which based on a Qianlong imperial poem on the subject of education.

Pu Wei (1880-1936) was the grandson of the first Prince Kung, Yixin (1833-1898), who was the sixth son of the Daoguang Emperor, as well as one of the most influential figures in China during the second half of the 19th century, playing an important role in China's domestic and international affairs. He was frequently invited by his brother, Emperor Xianfeng, to visit the Palace so that they could view art and antiques together, and Prince Kung became known as one of the most informed antique experts among the imperial princes. It was generally agreed that his collection was typical of those found in Qing palaces in terms of quality and variety.

In 1851, Yixin was given an extensive mansion by the Xianfeng Emperor. This 18th century mansion, which is now a museum, became known as the most sumptuous in Beijing and was luxuriously furnished in the Qing style, with jades and bronzes primarily housed in the great library.

Upon Yixin's death in 1898, Pu Wei inherited the Imperial title of Prince Kung, as well as his grandfather's sumptuous mansion in Beijing, which contained his immense art collection. A year after the Qing Empire was overthrown in 1911, Pu Wei made the painful decision to sell the family treasures in this mansion in order to raise funds for a military reinstatement of the Qing dynasty, and entrusted them to the Japanese antique dealer Yamanaka Sadajiro. He wrote in his diary on 17th January 1912: 'There will be severe regrets for this decision. A sacrifice of the family has to be made in order to extricate a troubled country. In this view, a dealer must be found for the antiques to be turned into funds'. The 1913 sale of the collection in New York featured 536 lots, and on 5-6 March in the same year a further 211 lots from Prince Kung's collection were offered in London.

The treasures from the Prince Kung collection stand as a testament to his own and his grandfather’s efforts to reverse the tide of history and preserve the last Chinese imperial dynasty. They also evoke the lost splendors of the Qing period: the preface to the 1913 sale catalogue speaks eloquently of their home in the Prince Kung mansion: 'In a place like this one might spend weeks in perfect contentment, enjoying nature and the great art collection’.

Pieces from the Prince Kung collection have always exuded prestige, from the first 1913 sale when the top buyers of the day thronged the sale room. For more recent sales, compare a jadeite ‘dragon’ vase sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November 2014, lot 3357; a jade mountain sold at Bonhams London, 17 May 2012, lot 54; and a pair of jade ‘bird’ boxes and covers sold at Bonhams New York, 12 September 2016, lot 8039.

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