Audio (English): An Important and Very Fine Inscribed Falangcai Enamelled 'Lofty Mountain' Mallet-Shaped Vase
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Clouds Amidst Yonder Hills- The J. Insley Blair Vases Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director Asian Art These two beautiful vases enjoy exceptional provenance. Not only do they come from the highly regarded J. Insley Blair Collection, they were also formerly in the famous collection of Alfred E. Hippisley (1848-1939), and are published in his A Catalogue of The Hippisley Collection of Chinese Porcelains: With a Sketch of the History of Ceramic Art in China, published in Washington, DC, in 1890, where they appear as numbers 129 and 130. The current vases do not appear in the J. Insley Blair catalogue of 1925, but taking into account the time required for a publication of this quality, it is nevertheless possible that the vases were purchased by Insley Blair in the Anderson Galleries' 1925 New York sale of pieces from the Hippisley Collection. Bell-shaped or mallet-shape vases have a long history in China. The Kangxi version of the shape, with slightly waisted neck and body, is often called yaoling zun or 'hand bell vase' in Chinese. This is a reference to bronze bells, which formed part of the repertoire of Chinese instruments used in formal secular and religious music. Ceramics in the form of bronze hand bells were made as early as the Neolithic period, and a considerable number were made in the Warring States period in Zhejiang province. While the bell form may have provided the inspiration for the shape of the current vases, it seems more likely that this inspiration came from paper-beaters or mallets. Such inspiration would have come to porcelain vessels via the fine ceramics of the Song dynasty. A small number of Ding wares were made in mallet form, and a Northern Song example, with a reduced mouth, in the collection of Sir Percival David is illustrated by S. Pierson in Song Ceramics - Objects of Admiration, London, 2003, pp. 20-1, no. I. Vases of this form have also been found amongst the imperial Ru wares made in the early 12th century, and such a vessel was excavated in 1987 at the kiln site of Qingliangsi, Baofengxian, Henan province, while the National Palace Museum, Taipei has two similar Ru vases in its collection (see Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, Taipei, 2006, pp. 114-119, nos. 23, 24 and 25, respectively). However, all the Song dynasty examples have flattened mouth rims, which suggests that another possible source of inspiration for this form is Islamic glass. In any case such prestigious origins as Song imperial ceramics would certainly have recommended the form to connoisseurs of the 18th century. It is interesting to note that while they do not have flattened mouths, the majority of the Yongzheng and Qianlong mallet-form vases do have a vestigial lip. In the mid-18th century the form has a much smoother outline, it does not narrow at the foot, and an elegant balance is struck between the height of the body and that of the neck, which tends to be almost columnar. The porcelain form seems to have reached its peak of popularity during the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns when it appears in a range of proportions and decorated in a range of styles. A Yongzheng version of approximately the same height as the current vases, but wider, with more sloping shoulders and a slightly shorter neck in proportion to the height of the body, can be seen in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing decorated in underglaze blue with an archaistic motif (illustrated in Gugong bowuyuan cang - Qingdai yuyao ciqi, vol. 1:2, Beijing, 2005, pp. 102-3, no. 40). In contrast, another Yongzheng mallet vase in the Beijing Palace Museum is slightly taller than the current vases and slightly narrower, and does not have an everted mouth rim. This vase, which is illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonne enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 39, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 89, no 78, is covered with a pale celadon glaze anddecorated with flowers and butterflies in overglaze enamels. The form of the J. Insley Blair vases offer both a good opportunity for the decorator - in that the body of the vessel is almost cylindrical with smoothly rounded shoulders - providing a good 'canvas' for the depiction of landscapes or figures in landscapes formatted like handscrolls; while also offering a potential challenge - to incorporate the neck area into the overall design. In the case of the two Insley Blair vases the porcelain decorator has done this with consummate skill. Indeed both these vases are painted with extraordinary artistry in their composition, the choice and use of colours, and the delicacy of their painting style. The first depicts an elderly but distinguished-looking scholar gazing out across the void, while his attendant stands head-bowed in a respectful gesture holding a case of books. The poem on this first vase refers to Yaoshan, which is the highest hill in Guilin, to the east of the city. The hill is called after a temple to the Emperor Yao, which was built on the summit in the Tang dynasty. This peak was noted for providing a spectacular view over the surrounding landscape and was celebrated for the fact that in each of the four seasons it offers wonderfully colourful vistas. In spring the azaleas provide brilliant pinks; in summer the lush greens of the bamboo extend into the distance; in autumn the red of the maple leaves make the hills appear aflame; while in winter the snow is as pure and transparent as crystal. It is probably for this reason that the scholar shown on the vase standing on the rocky promontory seems to gaze into the distance, while the shape of the peaks rising through the clouds provide a reference to the Guilin region's distinctive karst hills. Some of the famous bamboo is discreetly indicated as part of the design, while the majestic pine, which extends onto the neck of the vase, is visually softened by trailing vines bearing tiny colourful flowers. It is tempting to see the hand of the great Superintendent of the Imperial Kilns, Tang Ying 1682-1756), in the design of this vase, which displays all the inspired attention to detail for which he is renowned. It is also tempting to compare the style of calligraphy used for the poem to that of Tang Ying on a painting of autumn landscape in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated and discussed by Peter Lam in 'Tang Ying (1682-1756) - the Imperial Factory Superintendent at Jingdezhen', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1998-1999, vol. 63, pp. 65-82). Professor Lam has compared the calligraphy on a lantern vase by Tang Ying to the calligraphy on this painting, noting that allowances must be made for the different media in which the calligrapher was working. The current vase does not bear Tang Ying's name or seal, but could, nevertheless, represent one of his designs. The painting on the second of the Insley Blair vases is equally exquisite, and depicts an elderly scholar leaning on a staff and apparently asking a question of a young attendant, who points into the distance. This reflects the content of the inscription which comes from a poem entitled Looking for a Hermit Without Finding Him by the Tang dynasty poet Jia Dao (AD 779-843), which may be translated as reading: 'Beneath the pine tree I asked the attendant. 'My master has gone for herbs', was his reply. 'Amidst yonder hills covered with clouds, So I know not where.' The swirling clouds on this vase, and also the other vessel, are particularly atmospheric - painted in opaque white enamel, incised and highlighted they bring to mind the clouds on the lantern vase by Tang Ying mentioned above, which was formerly in the Paul and Helen Bernat Collection, and is now in the collection of Alan Chuang. Once again the composition of the scene on this second Insley Blair vase is exceptionally good. The figures have a convincing relationship, and the towering pine tree perfectly balances the massive rock forms behind it. Four other vases of this form, decorated in the famille rose palette appear to have been published. A vase of similar size and shape, dating to the Qianlong reign, painted with a delicate river landscape and bearing a poetic inscription is in the collection of Alan Chuang (illustrated in The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong 2009, no. 102. Another vase of similar size and shape from the Grandidier Collection, now in the Musee Guimet, Paris, is decorated with a deeply coloured scene of mountains and rivers (illustrated in Oriental Ceramics - the World's Great Collections, vol. 7, Musee Guimet, Paris , Tokyo, 1981, no. 192). This vase also bears a poetic inscription. A slightly taller vase, dating to the Yongzheng reign, decorated with a scene of scholars in boats and pavilions along the shore amongst trees and mountains is in the collection of the Capital Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Treasures from Ancient Beijing, New York, 2000, no. 27). A further slightly taller vase, dated to the Yongzheng reign, also decorated with scholars standing on a promontory looking out over a river landscape, is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Sun Yingzhou de Ciqi Shijie, Beijing, 2003, pp. 222-3). PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MR. J. INSLEY BLAIR PROCEEDS IN PART TO BENEFIT THE MOUNT DESERT ISLAND BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY, SALISBURY COVE, MAINE


The rounded body of the vase is finely potted with a broad base and a rounded shoulder under a high cylindrical neck. The exterior is superbly enamelled with a continuous landscape scene that is finely detailed to depict a scholar standing beneath a tall gnarled pine tree and holding a bound book in offering to an elderly scholar holding a long staff in one hand. The figures are standing on a promontary with distant craggy mountains partially shrouded with misty clouds in the far distance. The reverse side with a poem in xiaozhuan, small seal script, followed by an iron-red seal mark, Yunxiu, 'Cloudy mountain peaks'
7 1/8 in. (18 cm.) high, wood stand
Alfred E. Hippisley Collection (1848-1939)
J. Insley Blair (1870-1939) and thence by descent to the present owners
A. E. Hippisley, A Catalogue of The Hippisley Collection of Chinese Porcelains: With A Sketch of the History of Ceramic Art in China, Washington, 1890, no. 129
A. E. Hippisley, A Sketch of the History of Ceramic Art in China, with a Catalogue of the Hippisley Collection of Chinese Porcelains, Washington, 1902, pl. 129
R. L. Hobson, Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, vol. II, New York and London, 1915, pl. 125, fig. 2

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Lot Essay

The short poem may be translated as:

Lofty mountains assembled like screens,
conjuring a vision of the Five Elders.
Through shaggy eyebrows,
they study repeatedly their numerous books.

The poem is in reference to the scholar-official's idylic existence of living as a hermit and away from the burdens of a bureaucratic life.

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