The present brushpot bears an inscription incised on a rockwork and which gives the title of the scene depicted: Xi Yuan Ya Ji ('The Gathering of Scholars in the Western Garden').
The top of the mouth rim is inscribed with a 39-character imperial poem, dated to the first 10 days of the first month of Autumn of the wuchen year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1748), and with his seal Huixin Buyuan ('The communion of Noble Spirits never disapears').
The inscription can be translated as follow:
'The Noble character of all these wisemen may be contemplated from afar. Upon reflexion, one discovers the remarkable talent of the two Li. In this serene garden, the host and his guests become one. Their clear voices echo eternally'
Xi Yuan (The Western Garden) was the residence of Wang Gao, a high- ranking official and son-in-law of the Emperor during the Northern Song dynasty. One day, at the beginning of the Yuanfeng era, under Shenzong reign (Song dynasty), Wang Gao gathered together the most brilliant minds of the time: Su Shi, Su Zhe, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fu, Cai Zhao, Li Zhiyi, Li Gonglin, Chao Buzhi, Zhang Lai, Qin Guan, Liu Jing, Chen Jingyuan, Wang Qinchen, Zheng Jiahui and the monk, Master Yuantong. These renowned painters, calligraphers and scholars came to his garden to exchange opinions and demonstrate their talents.
This event was considered the ultimate expression of the 'art de vivre' which perfectly assimilated intellectual excellence and aesthetic beauty.
The two Li mentioned by the Emperor Qianlong in his poem refer to the poet Li Zhiyi and the painter Li Gonglin from the Song dynasty.
This poem originates from the colophon of the painting entitled Xi Yuan Ya Li by Ding Guanpeng. It is also listed in the 'Anthology of Imperial Qing Gaozong (Emperor Qianlong) poems', Volume II, Part 5. See Qinggaozong yuzhishiji erji juanwu, in the collection of Wenyuange Sikuquanshu, ed., Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan, Taipei, 1986.
Brushpots of this large size would undoubtedly have been used to keep varied scholars objects including brushes, ruyi and scrolls.
The present lot refers to a group of spinach jade brushpots carved with scenes of scholars and immortals in landscapes, and with the title of the scene incised on rockwork and an imperial poem around the top of the mouth rim. Two examples were sold at Sotheby's New York, 19 March 2007, lot 50 and at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 25 April 2004, lot 12. A spinach jade brushpot from this group, entitled Zhu Xi liu yi and with a poem written in the Spring of the yimao year of Qianlong's reign, is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Jadeware (III) - The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 169. Two other spinach jade brushpots from this group are in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, included in the exhibition The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, Taiwan, 1997, illustrated in the Catalogue, nos. 55 and 56; and another is included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Government Exhibits for the International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London, Vol. IV, Miscellaneous, 1936, no. 43.
Cf. other similar brushpots without inscriptions, such as the one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated op. cit., 1995, pl. 170; and a spinach jade chrysanthemum-shaped dish inscribed with the poem, Fan tong xian lu, from the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji, vol. 6, no. 74.