Previously sold in Hong Kong, 22 May 1979, lot 260.
Yongzheng butterfly bowls are not only rare, but are particularly noted for the fineness of their fineness of their bodies and the delicacy of their enamel decoration. This bowl is one of the finest of the genre. Butterflies were a favoured choice in the Chinese decorative arts, since they provide a rebus which doubles any good wish and also suggest an eightieth birthday. The use of butterfly roundels was one that was both popular and effective in a number of media during the high Qing, but was perhaps seen at its best on porcelain and silk, and while the silk version of the design was at its most beautiful embroidered on satin court robes, the porcelain version is at its most striking on these Yongzheng bowls.
A comparison of the closeness in decoration between a 'butterfly' bowl in the Palace Museum and an example of the same pattern embroidered on silk satin, is illustrated by R. Scott, TOCS, Reprinted from Volume 58, The Oriental Ceramic Society, 1993-1994, fig. 5, p. 71. The motif of confronted butterflies is also found as the main decorative element on lacquer, cf. a polychrome lacquer circular box, also in the palace Museum, designed with a large double-butterfly roundel on the upper surface and repeated with smaller medallions on the sloping sides, illustrated in Zhongguo Qiqi Quanji, vol. 6, Qing dynasty, no. 51.
It is notable that as the artists of the palace ateliers rarely duplicate designs exactly, the present bowl has all the subtle differences in palette, definition of details and orientation of the butterflies when compared with other similarly decorated bowls. The painting demonstrates the versatility and virtuosity of the artists in exploiting the full range of the famille rose palette. Each pair of butterflies is different, and each is complemented by a different combination of flowers. The painter has shown himself equally skilled in capturing the vibrancy of the asters and marigolds, as in depicting the faint blush on the tips of the white prunus blossoms. The painting of the butterflies themselves is even more remarkable, for in order to render the delicacy of their wings, the artist has used the most minute of stippling brushes. The result is that the wings appear both slightly translucent and also appear to have the soft texture of real butterflies' wings. The potential for producing layers of colours and the gradation of tones to create the effects of chiaroscuro is fully exploited by the enamellers in this series of bowls, as well as the series of bird and flower design in the falangcai palette. They were not only able to "paint" in a naturalistic painterly style, but were also able to produce contrasting vignettes within a series, employing identical designs to surprise the connoisseur, the exacting Yongzehgn emperor. This would account for the variety and variation in colour of the butterflies portrayed in the present bowl.
In addition to the effective use of the full famille rose palette, including the opaque white and yellow, the clear pink, purple and blue and the ink-like brown-black, every technique of enamel painting has been used on the bowl - 'boneless' style, fine outline, shading, stippling, and many more. This must have been the work of one of the great porcelain painters of the imperial ateliers, and the result is a vessel to delight even the most demanding emperor.
A bowl (one of a pair) with a comparable design from the T. Y. Chao Collection, is illustrated by Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command, 1976, pl. 62, where the author ascribes the bowl to the Beijing Palace Workshops. Cf. also a pair in mirror-image sold in these Rooms, 1 May 1995, lot 670; another pair formerly in the Barbara Hutton Collection, sold Hong Kong, 24 May 1978, lot 255; a single example from the Baur Collection, illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol. 15, no. 206; and another in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Chinese Art: The Complete Record, vol. 3, fig. 203. Of the above examples, the Hutton bowl is the closest in design and detail to the present lot.