A fine and large blue and white brush pot, bitong Circa 1640
Lot 353
A fine and large blue and white brush pot, bitong
Circa 1640
Sold for £ 36,000 (US$ 50,270) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

11 Nov 2010, 10:30 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
The Stenbeck Collection of Transitional Porcelain (lots 353-380)
The Stenbeck Collection of Transitional Porcelain (lots 353-380)

During the early/mid seventeenth century in China, for some fifty years the absence of Imperial patronage meant non-Imperial kilns played a leading role in ceramic production. This resulted in one of the most dynamic and fascinating periods in China's porcelain history. The withdrawal from Jingdezhen's potters of Court patronage led to a dramatic diversity of production, as the kilns turned their attention to selling both into the non-Imperial domestic market, and into newly-emerging export markets, notably the Dutch and Japanese markets. Much evidence suggests that the Jingdezhen potters and painters specifically designed porcelains to appeal to certain new markets, and developed decorative strategies to meet the demands of customers from varying sociological backgrounds. For example, porcelains for use in the 'tea ceremony' were produced for the Japanese market, and wares decorated with 'tulip' motifs were produced for the Dutch market. In order to meet the commercial demands of the domestic market, potters for the first time regularly and systematically began incorporating woodblock prints illustrating domestic literature and artistic fashions into porcelain design.

The Stenbeck collection is unusual in comprising a wide range of Chinese porcelains produced primarily between 1620 and 1683, for the domestic, Japanese and Dutch markets. I first met Ove Stenbeck in the late 1970s, when I was working at the Östasiatiska Museet (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) in Stockholm, Sweden. His collection, whilst concentrating on porcelain produced during these Interregnum years, became increasingly focused on the interesting and often amusing and quixotic developments of the free methods of expression, both in decoration and shapes, which began to appear during this era. By the year 2000 he had amassed over 160 porcelains illustrating a ceramic industry in transition, which were exhibited in the Heinola Museum in Finland that year. The exhibition was entitled 'The Liberated Brush', alluding to the withdrawal of Court patronage and the greater artistic freedom enjoyed by artisans as they responded to changing commercial pressures at a time of economic and political uncertainty in China.

Having collected, studied and exhibited these splendid 'Transitional' Wares for almost thirty years, Ove Stenbeck now feels that it is time to offer part of his collection at auction, and to concentrate his current scholarship on studying late Ming 'kraak' wares.

Professor Jan Wirgin
Former Director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm
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A fine and large blue and white brush pot, bitong Circa 1640
A fine and large blue and white brush pot, bitong
Circa 1640
The very slightly waisted sides finely painted with a continuous scene of a scholar seated in an open pavilion watching a woman seated on the ground beneath, both observed by a demonic figure and an elderly sage, supported on dense, swirling clouds over the water, all amidst a mountainous riverscape with overhanging willow and wutong trees, the composition bisected on one side by cliffs and swirling cliffs, enclosed above and below by bands of incised clouds, the slightly recessed base unglazed.
20.cm (8in) high


  • Provenance: Purchased in Amsterdam in the early 1980s
    Ove Stenbeck Collection, no.41

    Exhibited: Den Befriade Penseln. 300 År av Kinesiskt Porslin och Konsthantverk. Collection Stenbeck, Heinola, Finland, 4 June - 3 September 2000

    The cylindrical brushpot appears to have been introduced into the repertoire of Chinese ceramic forms in the late 1620s and continued to be produced in large quantities into the late Kangxi period. The current example displays the strong characteristics distinctive of brush pots produced during the Chongzhen period, such as the incised borders above and below the painting, the very slightly waisted sides and the recessed unglazed base with concentric lines. The category and evolution is discussed and illustrated by C.Sheaf, Reflections on Transitional Blue and White, Arts of Asia, Vol 39, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 2009, pp.91-99.

    As with the majority of 'Transitional' wares, it is useful to compare this example to one of the few extant examples of this type bearing a cyclical date. A related blue and white brush pot in the Shanghai Museum, painted with the eighteen luohans enclosed by incised borders, is dated by inscription to 1643. See Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections, Shanghai, 2005, Catalogue no.9.

    Whilst the particular scene shown on the current brush pot does not appear to be used on any other published examples of Transitional blue and white porcelain, several examples from the same period are similarly painted with demonic figures supported by clouds. A jar and cover exhibited in Hong Kong in 1981 depicts two demons, one holding a trident, battling a Daoist scholar, see Transitional Wares and their Forerunners, Hong Kong, 1981, Catalogue no.74. A slightly waisted brush pot in the Ashmolean Museum (dated in the catalogue to circa 1690-1705, though current scholarship would suggest an earlier dating) is similarly painted with a figure, identified as Xu Xun with demons, see Eastern Ceramics and other works of art from the collection of Gerald Reitlinger, Oxford, 1981, no.68.

    A slightly narrower cylindrical brush pot in the Phoenix Art Museum is painted with a complex depiction of a series of figures crossing violently swirling waves towards a pavilion. Three of the figures are demon Gods, one of whom is holding a trident similar to that depicted on the current example. In the catalogue entry the author proposes two possible narrative sources of the scene; 'The Legendary Marriage at Dongting', the Tang Dynasty tale by Li Chaowei, and 'Zhang Boils the Sea', the Yuan Dynasty play by Li Haogu. In both stories, a young scholar falls in love with the daughter of an aquatic dragon king, see S.Little, Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period: 1620-1683, New York, 1984, Catalogue no.19.
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  1. Asaph Hyman
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 5888
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