A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan Jiajing six-character mark and of the period
Lot 54
A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan
Jiajing six-character mark and of the period
Sold for £ 1,117,600 (US$ 1,487,710) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

14 May 2009, 10:30 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Property from the estate of Richard J. Palmer MBE, JP, DL

Sold by order of the Executors
A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan Jiajing six-character mark and of the period A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan Jiajing six-character mark and of the period A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan Jiajing six-character mark and of the period A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan Jiajing six-character mark and of the period
A rare enamelled and blue and white 'fish' jar, guan
Jiajing six-character mark and of the period
The robust stout body with gently rounded shoulders rising to a short straight neck, decorated around the exterior in bold tones of cobalt blue with a border of stylised lotus panels around the foot and a band of plantain leaves beneath a classic scroll at the neck, the central register with eight fish in yellow enamel with details picked out in iron-red amidst clusters of various aquatic weeds and lotus sprays.
30.2cm (11¾in) high.


  • Provenance: Charles Russell, sold at Sotheby's London, 6 June 1935, lot 96.
    Bluett and Sons
    R.H.R Palmer, R.H.R.P. collection label no.356.
    Palmer Inventory no.356, where it is stated that the jar was purchased in June 1935 for £55. However, this was the price paid at auction above and R.H.R.Palmer paid to Bluett and Sons £70.
    By descent to the present owner

    Jiajing 'fish' jars are among the most ambitious and remarkable porcelain wares of the later Ming Dynasty with their popularity and prominence deeply rooted within Chinese iconography and philosophical and aesthetic history.

    From as early as the Neolithic Period, fish have been a standard and repeated motif in the canon of Chinese art and design. They first appeared on earthenware vessels produced by the Yangshao culture at Banpo, Shanxi Province, which was heavily reliant on freshwater fish as part of their diet, and made prominent reappearances through the Song, Yuan and early Ming Dynasties and later, particularly, during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor.

    Fish have always held an important role in Daoist imagery, where they are emblematic of the free-thinking spirit of the philosophy, as described in the Zhuanzhi by Zhang Zhou (circa 370-300BC). The Jiajing Emperor was a devout and fervent Daoist and during his reign Daoism became the key form of ritual activity at court. Furthermore, as Rosemary Scott argues, two of the three main centres of Daoism, the monasteries at Longhushan and Linchuan, were located a short distance from Jingdezhen, where the current example would have undoubtedly been produced; see the Exhibition Catalogue Two rare Chinese porcelain fish jars of the 14th and 16th centuries, Eskenazi, London, 2002, p.8. The production of such jars during the Jiajing Period for the Imperial court, therefore, has particular resonance.

    The particular combination of golden fish and lotus is also highly auspicious; 'goldfish with lotus' (jinyuhehe) is a homonym for 'surplus (yu), harmony (he) and wealth (jin)', see P.B.Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Vermont and Singapore, 2008, p.98. Furthermore, several gold fish swimming in a pond (tang) provides a rebus for the phase jinyu mantang, meaning a household filled with jade and gold.

    The present jar differs from the well-known wucai fish jars from the same period, in having underglaze cobalt blue as the predominant colour; with the golden scales and details of the carp picked out in yellow and red enamels. This technique enabled the ceramic decorators to render the lotus and aquatic plants with more texture and movement, and the fish with more realism and movement than possible with the wucai palette.

    Several related examples of this rarer type of fish jar are known in the collections of prominent international museums. A very similar jar in the Palace Museum, Beijing, with a later Yongzheng period replacement cover, is illustrated in Gugong Bowuyuan Cang Wenwu Zhenpin Quanji 35: Qinghua Youlihong 2, Hong Kong, 2000, p.251, fig.227. An example complete with its original cover was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1936 and is illustrated by R. Kerr (ed.), Chinese Art and Design: The T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, London, 1991, p.164, pl.72. Another example, again without its cover, in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is illustrated by He Li, Chinese Ceramics: The New Standard Guide, San Francisco, 1996, p.231, fig.453. For another example, without a cover, see Mayuyama, Seventy Years Vol.1, Tokyo, 1976, p.281, fig.843.

    Besides the present example, it appears that only one other Jiajing 'fish' jar of this rare palette has been sold at auction. A similar enamelled blue and white example, complete with its original cover, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 September 1992, lot 484, and again at Christie's London, 12 November 2002, lot 79. A rare unfinished jar, painted in underglaze blue with water weeds and aquatic plants but without the enamelled fish, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 16-17 January 1989, lot 599.
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