by: Kendall Hanner
Offered alongside an exquisite selection of Chinese porcelains in Oakridge’s upcoming sale of Chinese Jade, Ceramics, and Works of Art on February 9th as lot 254 is a Qianjiang enameled vase by late Qing dynasty artist, Zhu Shao Quan (mid 19th century-early 20th century). The vase, measuring nearly two feet in height, offers an expansive canvas for the artist to compose a cohesive figural scene alongside calligraphic poetry inscriptions. To one side, Zhu has depicted a standing group of five elderly scholars, gathered below vibrant foliage of an overhanging tree. The grouping is identified as the ancient Han dynasty philosopher, Confucius (551-479 BCE), and his students by an adjacent poem. Four separate poems ornament the square vase – two to the neck and two to the body.
In conjunction with its poetic counterpart, the depiction of birds interacting within tangles of floral and vegetal motifs are perhaps the pinnacle of Qianjiang ceramics, aimed to take after the Chinese tradition of literati painting. The tradition of literati painting finds its roots in the late Song dynasty as an attempt to unite the arts, literature, and self-expression of the artist’s psyche. This movement of pairing natural landscape ink paintings with calligraphy was built upon in the
subsequent Yuan dynasty, and its style expands in the 19th century into the tradition of Qianjiang enameled ceramics. Zhu embraces the literati tradition of artistic self-expression with his inclusion of a poetic inscription, doting upon his confidence in his own artistic and intellectual abilities.
In tune with contemporaneous Qianjiang ceramics are Zhu’s peach and apricot blooms of
a deep magenta, rosy pink, and a soft green. Encapsulated in the flora is a plump, red-breasted bird with vibrant green backside and blue-tipped wings, perched atop a wiry green branch protruding across the center of the visual plane. The accompanying poem praises the season of Spring for its bountiful floral blooms and the reemergence of fauna from winter hibernation. Zhu specifically remarks on the cool, springtime breeze and the soft current of a river. The intellectual artist concludes his sentiments of self-expression with advice to the reader to live life to its fullest extent through appreciation of the natural world, the value of youthhood, and constant work towards self improvement.
Zhu Shao Quan’s Qianjiang vase contributes to the perseverance of the lineage of
Chinese literati painting, immortalizing the renowned literary skills and craftsmanship of
Chinese artists who preceded its application into ceramic mediums. Intensifying the value of this specific example is the inclusion of the Guan yao nei zao four-character mark to the underside – an indication of the vase’s production in an imperial kiln. This considered, the vase assumes an elevated intrinsic value amongst Qianjiang ceramics, offering a rare opportunity for Asian art collectors to integrate such a masterpiece into their collection.
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2. Hyland, Alice R. The Literati Vision: Sixteenth Century Wu School Painting and Calligraphy.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 12.
3. Koh, N.K. Qianjiang Ceramics Painting- A Gem of Late Qing Period. Koh Antiques, 6 Mar.
4. “The Role of Poetry in Chinese Painting: Christie's.” Christie's | Stories, Christies, 25 Nov. 2016, https://www.christies.com/features/The-role-of-poetry-in-Chinese-painting-7941-1.aspx.