An underglaze blue and yellow enamelled garlic-head vase Second half 19th century
Lot 397
A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century
Sold for £42,000 (US$ 68,888) inc. premium

Lot Details
A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase Late 19th century
A blue and white yellow-ground globular two-handled vase
Late 19th century
Painted in underglaze-blue around the compressed globular body with Daoist emblems suspended from bats entwined with ribbons, the neck with three horizontal bands variously of flower cartouches, breaking waves and scrolling lotus, the sides of the neck set below the garlic rim with two coiling lingzhi sceptre handles, the decoration all reserved on a bright primrose-yellow ground, old wood box.
30.5cm (12in) high (2).

Footnotes

  • Provenance: according to the family, this vase was presented to an ancestor of the present owner by the Empress Dowager Cixi after a visit to the Shishan Ling Tombs (the Ming tombs) in April 1903.

    Although this vase is of relatively late Qing date, it is very unusual as a gift given in uncontroversial circumstances by the acting Empress of China to a British engineer in gratitude for a particular service. The family has a detailed record of the circumstances of this gift, which is reproduced in summary below.

    In 1900 the Emperor and Empress decided to undertake a unique Imperial visit to the Imperial tombs north of Beijing, using for the first (and last) time the newly-installed railway network. This was an extraordinary, unprecedented adventure with the newest steam-engine technology in China. This trip was schedule to last 14 days, and required 47 trains, each containing 20 carriages divided between passenger cars and open freight trucks. Each train weighed 500 tons. The Imperial party travelled in the 47th train, comprising 17 passenger cars with two saloon cars in the middle. Engineers and railway personnel from the Peking-Mukden Railway accompanied it for half the trip, at which point the engines had to be changed and a new engineering team supervised the rest of the journey to the tombs. Our vase owner records a remarkable and auspicious moment at this change-over point. A small whirlwind arose near the train, travelled a mile to the west of it, then abruptly changed direction and came directly back due east and passed straight over the Imperial saloon coaches in the 47th train. The Empress was 'highly pleased with the supernatural display; she said it was the spirit of 'Kung' (her consort) which came to meet her on the way and with all respect to the customary laws'.

    After spending ten days at the Imperial tombs, the Empress decided to visit the Vice Regal Palace at Pao Ting Fu. When the Royal train reached KPT, she commanded that the foreign staff of the Peking-Mukden Railway who were supervising the train service be presented to her. This led to an extraordinary scene at the platform, when the Viceroy Yuan Shih Kai (sic) who was in charge of the royal arrangements, placed all the high officials and mandarins .. on the platform in a crescent-shaped guard .. leaving a space in front in which the Dowager stood with the young Emperor and Empress immediately behind her. The 20-minute presentation, drawn out by tortuous interpretations, was made dangerously funny by the young Emperor and Empress 'peeping and giggling' at the railway officials to try and make them laugh from behind the speaking Dowager. The foreign contingent comprised 'Engineer in Chief, Manager, one locomotive engineer, and the trafficmen'.

    The family record concludes this event:

    'For my services I was decorated with the Gold Medal, 1st Class, and also a valuable vase from the Palace at Jehol, where Royal porcelain was kept in store!'

    This Imperial presentation gift is the vase offered in this lot. It seems reasonable to assume that the dilapidated but sturdy wooden box which accompanies this vase is the one in which the vase was originally presented.

    A photocopy of the text cited above may be viewed by request to the Chinese department, New Bond Street.

    The present vase draws inspiration in its decoration from Ming vessels, and later Qianlong period underglaze blue and yellow enamelled vases; for a Qianlong mark and period pear-shaped vase, decorated with lotus scroll, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pl.236.
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