It is a rare occurrence these days to come across a fine, single owner collection of Chinese ceramics in the Melbourne art market. This particular collection was formed over two decades and covers the Neolithic Period and Bronze Age through to the Qing Dynasty, with many pieces having excellent provenance.
Personally, I am particularly taken with the earthy simplicity of a two-handled amphora from the Qijia Culture (2200-1600BC). This piece, although simple and unglazed, is historically interesting as it marks a transition point between earlier coil-building and usage of the potter’s wheel, which became the dominant building technique for these vessels in China’s subsequent history.
Moving into the Song Dynasty, the collection contains a rare Qingbai double gourd-form ewer dating to the Northern Song. This ewer is of fine, even coloured bluish-white, and exhibits all of the grace and elegance of the period, with sinuous lines to the spout and handle. This piece was purchased in 2007 from Roger Keverne Ltd of London, one of the great dealers of Chinese art in the world, although now retired as of last year.
A pale bluish-green celadon ribbed jar and cover dates to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and marks the end of the glory days of the Longquan kilns. The striking vertical ribs along with the gently undulating rim of the lid alludes to a lotus leaf, and gives the jar a restful quality. These pieces were made in numbers both for the domestic market and also for trade to Southeast Asia, but examples of fine colour and condition are rare to find. This jar was sold as part of the Brake-Lau Ackerman Collection by Christies in Melbourne in 1990, and was thence in the collection of the late Julian Sterling until 2007 when it was acquired by the vendor.
The ivory-hued porcelain censer was made in the Dehua kilns around 1640, in the Transitional Period. It has charming rope-twist handles on either side and is in the form of an archaic ding (ritual cauldron), reminding us of the eternal Chinese fascination with archaic culture and bronzes. This censer was purchased from S. Marchant & Son, from their ‘Exhibition of Blanc de Chine’ in 1985.
The last piece hails from the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and is a study of Kangxi Period ingenuity and technical advancement. It is a rouleau vase, featuring three carp in iron-red enamel, playing in a stream abstractly depicted by the ‘powder-blue’ ground, and further
embellished with gilding. The powder-blue enamelled glaze was developed in the Kangxi Period, through attempts to replicate a long-lost glaze of the Xuande Period of the early Ming called ‘snowflake-blue’. The motif of the carp in a stream alludes to the mythical journey of the yellow river carp up rapids and over the dragon gate, where they would transform into dragons. This story and its symbolism refer to the undertaking and passing of Imperial exams, and thus pieces with this symbolism were given to successful Imperial exam students.
We very much look forward to presenting this important private collection for auction on 12 September 2021, of which these pieces are just a small yet delightful selection.
CARL WANTRUP / Asian Art Specialist
Banner Image: A Dehua tripod censer Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) or Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), circa 1640 | $2,000-3,000