A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu
Lot 61*
A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping
Sold for £ 102,000 (US$ 136,034) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

14 May 2009, 10:30 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Various owners
A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping Hongwu
A rare underglaze copper-red vase, yuhuchunping
The elegantly potted pear-shaped body rising from a short foot ring to a generously rounded body and an elegant waisted neck, painted in rich red tones with an undulating peony meander growing four blooms, alternatively depicted in profile and full-faced, the flowers crowned by large arched stems bearing pointed foliage, all above a border of lotus petal lappets containing ruyi-head pendants, and a classic scroll band at the foot, the waisted neck with a border of pendent trefoils beneath classic scroll and key fret bands and painted to the rim with overlapping plantain leaves.
32.3cm (12½in) high.


  • Provenance: Frank Crane, Hundred Antiques, Toronto, 1960s, purchased from a Canadian private collection
    J. Goldstein Collection, Toronto, circa 1967-1978
    Ho Family Collection, Hong Kong
    J. Abraham Cohen collection, New York

    The present vase is exceptional for its rich deep red colour, unlike many underglaze copper-red pieces of this period, which tend to be misfired to a pale grey or blackish red. Copper is known to be particularly unstable during the firing process and its use presented many challenges to the Chinese potter, with the final tone of the red depending on exact atmospheric conditions during various stages of firing. See a large Hongwu bowl in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, where the copper-red has been fired a dull dark red, illustrated by W.Fong and J.Watt, Possessing the Past, New York, 1996, p.433, pl.222, and a large Hongwu jar in the Baur Collection, Geneva, where the copper-red has fired as a soft grey, illustrated by J.Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Vol.I, Geneva 1999, p.108, fig.59.

    The present vase illustrates the transition from the unique decorative styles of the Yuan Dynasty, to those of the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty. Whilst exhibiting certain characteristics of Yuan blue and white porcelain, as demonstrated by a Yuan blue and white meiping painted with a peony scroll comparable to the present example, as illustrated in Jingdezhen Wares: The Yuan Evolution, Hong Kong, 1984, catalogue 133, with the division of the ornamentation into distinct horizontal bands, by the Hongwu Period the principal bands had increased in size and the minor bands reduced in size. Another stylistic transition between the Yuan and early Ming Dynasties can be seen in the lappet bands on the neck. On Yuan porcelain, these lappets are thickly outlined with a scalloped edge and a darkly painted central vein. On Hongwu porcelain, as can be seen on the present example, the lappets have narrower outlines and the central vein is not filled in.

    The Hongwu Emperor's appreciation of ceramics decorated in copper-red has been well documented with some suggesting that his interest stemmed from the fact that his family name Zhu means red, or vermillion, in Chinese, or because the first part of his reign name Hong, is homophonous with the word for red. The popularity of the use of underglaze copper-red during the Hongwu reign has also been ascribed to the military conflict at the time which interrupted supplies of imported cobalt ores, meaning that the Jingdezhen potters had to make do with copper oxide as a painting material.

    One of the main characteristics of Hongwu vases of this type is their widely flaring mouth rim, which unfortunately makes it vulnerable to damage. The vast majority of pieces preserved in international museums and important collections have been broken around the rim. See, for example a comparable type from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red, Hong Kong, 2000, p.212, fig.217 and another in the Meiyintang Collection, illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, Vol.2, London, 1994, p.31, fig.646, where the author notes that the neck has been partly replaced.

    Comparable vases painted with meandering lotus scroll are also known. See an example formerly in the Tsui Museum of Art, illustrated in The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, fig.59. Another in the Toguri Museum of Art in Tokyo is painted with chrysanthemum flower, exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum, Chinese Ceramics: Special Exhibition, Tokyo, 1994, Catalogue no.236. A slightly smaller related example is illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Vol.1, Tokyo, 1976, p.241, fig.723.

    Related copper-red vases similarly painted with peony blooms have been sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 5 November 1997, lot 901, and Sotheby's New York, 31 March 2005, lot 102. Another example painted with lotus scrolls from the du Boulay Collection was sold at Bonhams New Bond Street, 10 November 2003, lot 99.
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