The form of this elegant water pot as two peaches attached to a branch with a peach stone inside the open fruit was carefully chosen both for its symbolic meaning and as a demonstration of technical ingenuity. Peach trees have a sacred connotation in China and in ancient times the wood of the peach tree was used as a charm against evil. Thus, the branch of this water pot serves both as a representation of the tree, and as a naturalistic feature joining the two peaches. The peaches themselves are symbols of longevity, and the fact of there being two of these fruit doubles the wish. The association of peaches with longevity arises from the fact of their being symbols of the Star God of Longevity Shou Lao, and linked with the legend of the peaches which grew in the orchard of Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West. These latter peaches took three thousand years to ripen, but conveyed immortality on anyone who ate them. Items decorated with or in the form of peaches were a popular birthday gift in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Small items for the scholar's table in the form of a single peach or two peaches, or indeed two lichees - another auspicious fruit - were especially popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. A number of examples of water pots in the form of two peaches are known in jade and in Jingdezhen porcelain, while a small Wanli porcelain perfume holder made in the form of a whole and a half lichee joined by a leafy stem is in the collection of the Percival David Foundation illustrated by R. Scott and R. Kerr in Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming Period, London, 1994, p. 36, no. 75.
This water pot bears the seals of Chen Mingyuan, who was active during the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns (mid-17th to early 18th century). Chen Mingyuan was an extremely highly regarded ceramic artist, and indeed is generally regarded as one of the finest of all the Yixing potters, and viewed by many as second only to Shi Dabin. He was also noted for his talents as a calligrapher in a style derived from the calligraphy of the masters of the Sui and Tang dynasties. Chen was a native of Yixing, his father Chen Ziqi had been a distinguished potter and Chen Yuan grew up with the traditions of the so-called 'purple sand'. (Although within his family he was Chen Yuan, he usually signed himself Chen Mingyuan, or used one of several hao, sobriquets). It is widely held that Chen Mingyuan is one of the most accomplished Yixing potters. Not only is his technical skill admired, he also possessed a wonderful creativity and artistry. Chen Mingyuan is particularly known for his ingenious use of natural forms, from teapots to models of fruits and nuts.
Chen Mingyuan's skill in carving nuts from Yixing clay is well attested by the group of nuts in the K.S. Lo collection illustrated in Yixing Purple Clay Wares, Hong Kong, 1994, pp. 71-73, nos. 21-24. The peach stone in the current water pot displays equal artistic skill, while serving both to add to the naturalistic appearance of the vessel as a whole, and as an ingenious device to provide a conduit through which small amounts of water could be transferred from the reservoir in the closed peach to the well of the open peach.
Yixing double water pots of this type inspired by organic forms and bearing the seal or seals of Chen Mingyuan appear to be relatively rare. An Yixing water pot of similar color and of double pomegranate form was sold at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 11 October 2011, lot 2019. A double peach water pot similar to the present example, but lacking the small peach-form support, impressed with a zhuanshu seal, reading 'Shouwen' (an apparently unrecorded seal), from the Mr. and Mrs. Gerard Hawthorn Collection, was sold at Bonhams, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011, lot 270.