A large enamelled pear-shaped two-handled vase Dated xinwei year (AD1871), signed and sealed by Cheng Men (died before 1908)
Lot 550
A large enamelled pear-shaped two-handled vase
Dated xinwei year (AD1871), signed and sealed by Cheng Men (died before 1908)
Sold for £ 10,625 (US$ 14,170) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

10 Nov 2011, 10:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Various Owners
A large enamelled pear-shaped two-handled vase
Dated xinwei year (AD1871), signed and sealed by Cheng Men (died before 1908)
Enamelled on one side in a very pale palette characteristic of the period with a single scholar lying on the ground beside a stringed instrument on a pine terrace, the reverse with an extensive riverscape, two inscriptions in pale grey on the neck divided by elephant-head handles.
40.5cm (15¾in) high


  • Provenance: Peter Wain, purchased in 1998

    Exhibited: Oriental Ceramic Society, The World in Colours, London 2006, Catalogue no.209

    Illustrated: Peter Wain, Awaiting Spring, 1998

    The collector noted that the landscape was painted in the style of Wang Yuanqi, while the figural scene recalled 18th century Yangzhou School painting.

    Anthony Evans: scholar and collector

    I first had my attention drawn to the field of '20th century Chinese ceramics' some 25 years ago. A friend asked me to look at a vase coming up for sale in one of the provincial rooms of a major auction house The vase was finely decorated in the early 18th century Imperial style, had a good white porcelain body and had been well thrown in a most unusual form. It was summarily dismissed in the auction catalogue as being 'modern'. Having purchased the piece for a very modest sum, my enthusiasm for more knowledge of this unfamiliar and unappreciated porcelain commenced. (This vase has now become one of the star lots in the Evans Collection catalogue!)

    I soon learned there was very little information available. I managed to acquire a copy of H.A. van Oort's 1977 book, Chinese Porcelain of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1986 Van Keizerrijk tot Volksrepubliek was published. This contained scholarly essays on later Chinese ceramics, including 'Iconography of Hongxian and Related wares' by a scholar called Anthony Evans in London.

    1990 was a pivotal year.

    Firstly, I had a very successful buying trip to the West Coast of the USA.

    When the Japanese invaded China, there was an exodus of senior Chinese government officers and wealthy merchants to safety up the Yangtze River, taking their treasures with them. Similarly, after the Guomindang were driven to Taiwan, many of them subsequently emigrated to the West Coast of the USA. California was for me a rich source of 'early Republic' porcelain. The exceptional pieces were put to one side. The remaining pieces, in particular the plaques (which were then considered to be unsalable) I put out on my stand at the 1990 Olympia Summer Antique Fair in London.

    Secondly, Simon Kwan's Brush and Clay: Chinese Porcelain of the 20th Century was published by the Urban Council, Hong Kong. Essentially an Exhibition Catalogue of his remarkable collection, the large amount of primary source material he, Christina Chu and Professor Liu Xinyuan had unearthed in China was a revelation, and helped enormously in my research of these USA-purchased pieces.

    Thirdly, the author Anthony Evans walked onto my stand at the Olympia Summer Antiques Fair.

    Much interest was shown at the Fair in my largely unfamiliar later porcelains, but initially there were few sales. One man in particular showed a very keen interest. He looked like a slightly eccentric scholar who couldn't get his words out quick enough to keep up with his brain! He introduced himself as Anthony Evans. I had read his artistic Iconography of Hongxian and Related wares, so it was a pleasure to meet the author. Anthony was also quite surprised that someone had read his article! When the fair closed, we went out for a meal, and the talk for most of the dinner was our mutual interest in ceramics. By the end of the week, most of the 20th century ceramics had been sold, and Anthony and I had become friends.

    After the encouraging interest at the Olympia Fair, I decided to try to gather pieces together for an exhibition to coincide with the British Antique Dealers Association's '75 Birthday' celebrations. These were due to take place in May 1993. At about this time, I had the good fortune to meet Professor Qian Wei Peng. He was on attachment to the Chinese Cultural Department at the Chinese Embassy in London. He invited me to take a trip to China with him, potentially to buy Chinese porcelain of the Early Republic period. This visit was the first of more than 25 visits I was subsequently to make.

    No matter how I tried, I could not persuade Anthony to go with me. However, he was always first in the queue to see what I had brought back from China! He helped me in curating my imminent exhibition, 'Heavenly Pieces'. Anthony helped in translation, but more importantly his knowledge about the relevant political, economic and technical factors was quite astonishing.

    The 1993 exhibition was a great success. Anthony had been first in the queue that formed from 5 o'clock in the morning for an 11am opening. It was a sell-out exhibition. I was in need of re-stocking. The only place left to look was China. Qian Wei Peng was keen to take me and I invited Anthony to join us. Again he refused. I never really understood why. Over the next twelve or so years I was a regular visitor to China. I made over 20 trips just to Jingdezhen, and was able to buy the works of major 20th century artists. At that time, Jingdezhen was in dire straits economically with little work available. It was easy to acquire major pieces, as they were offered freely.

    On my return, Anthony would come up to Shropshire for the weekend. We discussed the merits of every piece, working into the small hours, only stopping when the wine intake became a threat to the safety of the pieces....

    During one of my regular trips, Wei Peng introduced me to the merits of 'qianjiang' painting on porcelain. I returned with three or four pieces painted by Cheng Men. Anthony wanted to buy all of them. (I think he managed to buy two of them). The whole field of 'qianjiang painting on porcelain' was a revelation to both of us. I decided to hold an exhibition, and Anthony agreed to write an article for the catalogue. It took five years to assemble and research a feasible show. I was going to China up to four times a year, accompanied by Wei Peng; we toured China looking for the best pieces of qianjiang porcelain.

    The visits were always a great success, and we returned with important pieces of qianjiang. Many of these early purchases are now included in this sale of Anthony's unique collection, formed during political and economic circumstances in China which will never recur.

    In November 1998, I held an exhibition devoted to 'Qianjiang art on Chinese Porcelain', which I called Awaiting Spring. The Catalogue contained two essays on the subject.

    Professor Qian Wei Peng presented 'Qianjiang Art on Chinese Porcelain', an essay introducing the techniques of 'Qianjiang' art and the great influence this style had on later porcelain artists.

    Anthony's essay, 'Chinese Porcelain artists of the 19th century', introduced us to earlier influences from the Tang to the Qing Dynasties. He emphasised the importance of traditional scroll-painting technique being applied to porcelain. Scroll paintings have a limited life through natural disintegration, whereas porcelain (if unbroken) will go on forever. The article was remarkably thorough and accurate, as subsequent research has shown. Nothing could be more appropriate, therefore, than to reprint this ground-breaking but still relevant article to accompany the dispersal of his collection.

    It was of course written to accompany an Exhibition, and there are references in the text to paintings and objects which are no longer available to study; but it seemed a great shame to edit Anthony's research, so it is reprinted here exactly as first published by me in 1998.

    His porcelain collection is of eternal value to students, and his name will always be associated with it. This auction catalogue, recalling his scholarship and enthusiasm, will inform future collectors for generations.

    I never did persuade him to visit China....

    Peter Wain

    Summer 2011

    (Contract: 8379393/80)
    (Short description: by template)
    (Catalogue description: by template)
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