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 imperial potters were encouraged to experiment, improve and rediscover, even as early as the 1670s, painting on porcelain in underglaze copper-red.
Not content with rediscovering the technique of painting and firing with underglaze red, potters during the Kangxi reign also experimented with new styles. One of the most successful endeavours of these new styles is that of painting formal designs using very fine outlines, as seen on the current water pot. 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. The most notable qualities of the present vessel are seen in the well-executed pencilled floral designs, and the bright raspberry tone of the copper-red which is closely related to that of the peachbloom glaze. Compare to a similarly shaped peachbloom-glazed water pot but with a cylindrical neck from the Jingguantang Collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 3 November 1996, lot 557.
Apple-shaped water pots belong to a group of vessels for the scholar's table known as Badama, 'Eight Great Numbers' manufactured during the Kangxi reign. This group was previously thought to comprise a total of eight differing shapes. John Ayers identified a possible ninth form of the Badama by pointing out the existence of two slightly different globular water pots. The first is pingguo zun, 'apple jar' such as the current example; and the other with a raised, low, neck (similar to a stalk) that maybe referred to as a shiliu zun, or 'pomegranate jar'. See, J. Ayers, 'The 'Peachbloom Wares of the Kangxi Period (1662-1722), Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 64, 1999-2000, p. 49.
Other water pots of similar shape and painting style from important collections include one from the C.P. Lin Collection 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, London, 1994, no. 733; one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 39, pl. 22; and one in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Underglaze Blue and Red, Hong Kong, 1987, pl. 118. Compare also the water pot from the E.T. Chow Collection, sold at Christie's New York, 19 March 2008, lot 644; another one also from E.T. Chow Collection, sold at Christie's New York, 19 September 2007, lot 391; and one sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 December 2009, lot 1885.