Head of Department
Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art / A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE IMPERIAL TURQUOISE-GROUND UNDERGLAZE-BLUE AND COPPER-RED 'DRAGON' MOONFLASK, BIANHU Qianlong seal mark and of the period (2)
HK$18,000,000 - HK$25,000,000
Captain Charles Oswald Liddell (1854-1941, who lived in China from 1877 to 1913) and thence by descent
Bonhams London, 7 November 2013, lot 36
The Huaihaitang Collection, Hong Kong
The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain, Bluett and Sons, London, June 1929, no.207
由Charles Oswald Liddell上校（1854-1941年）於1877至1913年旅居中國時獲得，並由家族繼承
Bluett and Sons編，《The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain》，倫敦，1929年6月，編號207
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The present lot can fairly be said to epitomise much of the stylistic achievements in porcelain production during the Qianlong period. From the smooth white body, perfectly formed in a softly flattened 'moon' shape, complemented by the delicate handles and perfectly proportioned neck and foot, to the strongly delineated deep copper-red five-clawed dragon emerging from dramatically rolling and splashing waves, and the technical perfection of the painting, enamelling and control of the glaze during firing, the vase embodies the Imperial style. As a symbol of the Emperor himself, the dragon is a most fitting subject for a vase destined to grace one of the halls of an Imperial palace.
The moonflask is particularly unusual for the even turquoise glaze covering the ground but stopping neatly at the copper-red and underglaze blue painting. It appears that only one other 'dragon' moonflasks with this distinctive turquoise glaze is known, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 20 May 1981, lot 775 and later offered at Christie's London, 16 December 1981, lot 96, and also illustrated by A.du Boulay, Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, Oxford, 1984, pp.212-213, no.5, and later sold again at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 November 1982, lot 175. Given the extreme rarity of this type of vase, it seems possible that the present lot would have been made as the pair to this example.
Not only is the turquoise glaze of the present lot extraordinarily rare, but indeed only a handful of other 'dragon' moonflasks with a related coloured glaze appear to exist: one is the yellow-glazed example also acquired by Captain Liddell and included in the same Bluett's exhibition The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain, Bluett and Sons, London, June 1929, no.207 alongside the present lot; and another vase with a lime-green-glaze formerly in the E.Chow Collection was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, The Edward T.Chow Collection, Part One, 25 November 1980, lot 151. This same vase from the E.Chow Collection was subsequently illustrated on the cover of M.Beurdeley and G.Raindre, Qing Porcelain: Famille Verte, Famille Rose, London, 1987.
Besides these few examples of coloured-glazed 'dragon' moonflasks, a small number of similar vases decorated only with underglaze blue and copper-red are also extant. One is the third vase from the Liddell Collection, also included in the Bluett's exhibition The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain, Bluett and Sons, London, June 1929, no.207. One from the Norton Collection was exhibited in 1965, Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, no.116 and is now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, purchased in 1964, accession no.EC.1.1964. Another in the Palace Museum in Beijing is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, no.213, and another in the Tsui Museum of Art is illustrated by Yang Boda, The Tsui Museum of Art: Chinese Ceramics IV: Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1995, no.84. Finally, Soame Jenyns illustrates another example, from the Collection of Gerald Reitlinger, in Later Chinese Porcelain, London, 1971, pl.XCIV, fig.1.
傳世品中僅見少量的龍紋抱月瓶能有如此出色均勻的松石綠地，目前僅見一件，售於香港蘇富比，1981年5月20日，拍品編號775，後曾上拍於倫敦佳士得，1981年12月16日，拍品編號96，也著錄於A.duBoulay編，《Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics》，牛津，1984年，頁212-213，編號5，及後再次售於香港蘇富比，1982年11月8日，拍品編號175。由於其存世稀有，此拍品有可能是與上述的例子原製作成一對的其中之一。
除了以松石綠釉作地，還有少量傳世龍紋抱月瓶以其他釉色作地，其中一例青花釉裏紅以黃釉作地，亦為Liddell上校舊藏，與本件拍品並展於倫敦Bluett，見Bluett and Sons編《The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain》，倫敦，1929年6月，編號207；另一件為仇焱之先生舊藏之淺綠釉地青花釉裡紅，售於香港蘇富比，《The Edward T.Chow Collection, Part One》，1980年11月25日，拍品編號151，此件隨後著錄於M.Beurdeley and G.Raindre編，《Qing Porcelain: Famille Verte, Famille Rose》封面，倫敦，1987年。
色釉地青花釉裡紅之外，御窯廠亦有燒造白底青花釉裏紅抱月瓶，惟存世亦罕:一件為Liddell上校收藏系列三件中的其中之一，也曾出展於倫敦Bluett的展覽，見Bluett and Sons編《The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain》，倫敦，1929年6月，編號207；另一例曾於1965年出展於Norton收藏之《Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics》，編號116，現藏於悉尼新南威爾斯藝術館，購於1964年，館藏編號EC.1.1964；北京故宮博物院藏一件，見耿寶昌編《故宮博物院藏文物珍品全集：青花釉裏紅（下）》，香港，2000年，圖版213；又可參考一件徐氏藝術館舊藏，見楊伯達編《徐氏藝術館：陶瓷IV清代》，香港，1995年，圖版84；最後一例參見Gerald Reitlinger舊藏，見Soame Jenyns編《Later Chinese Porcelain》，倫敦，1971年，圖版XCIV，圖1。
Captain Charles Oswald Liddell (1854-1941)
Captain Charles Oswald Liddell was born in 1851 in Edinburgh. Having moved to China for family business, he worked there from 1877-1913. He married Elizabeth Birt in 1880 in the Anglican Cathedral in Shanghai, and thereby inherited Birt's Wharf there, expanding the business to Hangzhou, Tianjin and Harbin. He was joined by his brother John when the firm became known as Liddell Bros. In 1915 Liddell was Quartermaster and Hon. Captain in the 1st Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment, having served previously (and more adventurously) in the 'Shanghai Light Horse'.
Liddell collaborated with A.W.Bahr in an exhibition in Shanghai in 1908 (he was Chairman of the North China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society), and in writing descriptions for it which were printed by A.W.Bahr, Old Chinese Porcelain and Works of Art in China, 1911. A pair of Yongzheng semi-eggshell bowls, and a pair of Qianlong famille rose 'mille-fleurs' cups from Liddell's collection are illustrated in the book. Charles Russell contributed an illustrated article on 'The Liddell Collection of Chinese Porcelain' to Old Furniture, June 1929, in which he mentions and illustrates a 6-inch-high Yongzheng pink vase, which had formerly been in the collection of Prince Chun; this was sold to Elphinstone at Bluett's exhibition in 1929, and is now in the Percival David Foundation.
After returning to the UK, he and his wife bought Shirenewton Hall near Chepstow, where Liddell created a remarkable Japanese-style garden (housing, inter alia, a colossal bronze temple bell imported apparently from Japan). Here also the porcelain came to be displayed; and an impressive display it indeed was.
Charles Liddell had formed his collection, except three pieces, while trading in China for nearly forty years. He purchased a number of them from two significant sources: the collection of Prince Chun, the last Regent of the Qing Dynasty; and from the collection of the private secretary and adviser to Li Hong Zhang. He also had the friendship and assistance of E.O.Arbuthnot, who sent many pieces to England, including ceramics which entered the enormous Salting Collection, probably the largest Chinese porcelain collection assembled in Victorian England. A pair of vases now in the Percival David Collection (PDF B588-B589) was, Bluett's recorded in their Exhibition Catalogue, 'purchased by Captain Liddell from a private Collection in Shanghai in 1899'.
In May-June 1929 Bluett's offered part of the collection for sale, publishing a catalogue of The Liddell Collection of Old Chinese Porcelain with 229 entries and eight illustrative plates, one of them unusually in colour. Among this remarkable selection was the following: Plate 102, p.295. One of three porcelain bottles in the form of large pilgrim flasks painted with a design of the Imperial dragon among clouds, the dragon in fleur de pêche (copper-red) and the lower part of each flask painted with waves in cobalt blue. Two of the flasks with the ground filled with enamel, one Imperial yellow and the other with pale turquoise-blue and the largest flask with a design on a clear white ground. Height 12½ inches. Qianlong mark and period. (These were No.207 in Bluett's catalogue, offered for sale at £300 for the three, but remaining unsold).
Porcelains formerly included in the Liddell Collection in 1929 show the calibre of the group which Captain Liddell had assembled. One of two Guyuexuan bowls (no.140 in the catalogue) was sold to the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone for £150; it was included in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1935-1936, and in 1952 was part of the Elphinstone gift to the Percival David Foundation, no.874. The second of the two bowls was purchased, again for £150, by Charles Russell, and was subsequently in the collections of Barbara Hutton and Robert Chang, sold in Hong Kong in 2006 for £10m. A further group of Chinese porcelains and works of art was sold at Sotheby's on 29 June 1944 by Captain Liddell's widow. The Morning Post, on 24 May 1929, proclaimed that 'The Liddell Collection' was the finest exhibited in public since 'The Richard Bennett Collection' which Gorer had shown to great public interest in their Mayfair gallery.
Liddell's collection was one of the earliest to be described as representing 'Chinese taste'; that is to say, in the words of the noted collector Charles Russell (expressed in a review of Bluett's sale exhibition) 'where favourite motives, emblems, or allegories are treated formally in a way dear to a Chinaman if perhaps somewhat lacking in breadth and strength to the Western eye ...' Bluett's added: 'in the Collection now exhibited, one of which was formed, so to speak, 'at home', the affluence of the aesthetic atmosphere of the East is clearly indicated'.
The sale of this splendid Imperial moon flask from one of the last great English collections is therefore a reminder that Chinese ceramics have been enjoyed and appreciated uncritically by English buyers for over four centuries. For over a century, more recent knowledgeable specialist collectors like Liddell have understood clearly the distinction between 'Export' ceramics decorating the interior of a great English country house, and 'Chinese taste' wares encapsulating the spirit and aesthetics of Imperial China since the 15th century. It was the decline and collapse of the Qing Dynasty in and after 1911 which made it possible not merely to interpret, but also to collect, the great Imperial ceramics which for the first time began to come onto the antique market in China.
Chinese manufacturers, and the culture of China, appealed to the British public in large numbers as early as 1844, when a huge 'Industrial' Exhibition at Hyde Park sold out several catalogue print runs totalling 125,000 copies. Familiar with shiny, thinly potted brightly-painted Chinese ceramics since the early 17th century, and endlessly attracted to different manifestations of 'Chinoiserie' design, British collectors liked 'Chinese pots' long before being introduced to the novel mysteries of Tang horses, Song Dynasty Ruyao, or Ming enamels. There is a largely-forgotten generation of collecting Chinese ceramics in England, running from Whistler to Salting and Liddell, but pre-dating Bluetts and Sparks. The suppliers and dealers were based not in elegant premises in Davies, Mount or King Street, but in the network of small late Georgian terraces around Wardour Street in Soho, where the young Duveen would go to hunt out fine Kangxi blue and white for his 'Industrial Entrepreneur' clients.
By definition, much of this earlier porcelain available in Europe to collectors had been 'Export' quality, handed down from older European collections, and enjoyed since the late 17th and 18th centuries for both its colours and functional value. But by the 1870s it was being more carefully 'collected', displayed in shelves with the marks and symbols identified; and published in glossy catalogues, such as the one Whistler illustrated, to publicise 'The valuable collection of Nanking Porcelain formed with great taste and judgement by Sir Henry Thompson', subsequently sold at auction in 1880. The mid/late 19th century saw enormous interest in 'Chinese pots', with buyers regarding them for the first time as 'aesthetic' objects, not functional ones. This 'first generation' of specialised collectors and taste-formers like James Whistler, Charles Liddell and Oscar Wilde demonstrably got as much pleasure from their Kangxi-period 'six-character teapots' and their 'blue dragon bowls' (to judge from their writings and paintings) as the Davids and the Clarks would do later from their better-understood Yuan and Ming.
The outstanding sale at Bluett's in 1929 from the Liddell Collection reflected the emergence of the second great generation of 'the British collecting Chinese ceramics'. Bluett's was founded in 1884 and had always specialised in Chinese ceramics and artefacts in 'archaeological' and 'domestic' Chinese taste, unlike their great early rival, John Sparks Ltd. Bluett's, Sparks, Boode, Spink and CT Loo were among the greatest European dealers in Chinese ceramics, handling what we now accept are the 'classics' of Chinese ceramics: splendid Song and Ming monochromes; outstanding Ming coloured wares; early archaeological pottery when it was still little-known but highly rated, when assessed beside comparable European material. These early 20th century collectors had the benefit of access to cutting-edge academic knowledge in London; the great early ceramic specialists and authorities, from Brankston through Eumorfopoulos to David, moved seamlessly from assisting museum exhibitions, to sharing evolving knowledge at Oriental Ceramic Society lectures and private dinners, to the basement at Bluett's as new consignments arrived fresh from Beijing and Shanghai. Happily, this close and mutually beneficial relationship in London between Museum experts, art dealers and auction houses specialists has been carefully maintained. It generated, and continues to underpin, the unique character of the annual Asian cultural week which Bonhams still helps to present as 'Asian Art in London'.
The pre-eminent position that the London dealers (and auctioneers) enjoyed in trading classic Chinese art between about 1910-1960 began to end with the emergence of new, richer, equally well-informed buyers in Chinese-speaking Asia. No wonder before the '60s that London (and other top European) dealers could offer masterpieces for sale in London: could maintain teams of suppliers (and even open branch offices) in Beijing and also Shanghai; could pick through endless supplies of interesting material, to select the best for the benefit of their changing roll call of collector clients in Europe (and also America such as the Falks, Charles Freer, Avery Brundage and Frederick Mayer).
The game was beginning to change significantly by the 1950's. The first generation of great collectors saw their collections pass into public ownership (David, Raphael) or be dispersed, often at auction (Clark, Sedgwick, Palmer). The two great Eumorfopoulos auctions in 1936 and 1940 mark a high point (or, rather, a low point?) in the dispersal of a spectacular early collection. There was nevertheless still great scope for a newly emerging group of English collectors, to buy regularly and easily, but they were often buying from other collections. The radical novelty of collecting Chinese-taste ceramics as early as the 1880s was over. The corpus of knowledge was established, though still incomplete. No longer were consignments arriving in London and Stockholm from sites at Changsha, or excavated railway cuttings in Gansu Province, revealing entirely new categories of early ceramics over which specialists could pore. The ground rules for dating early porcelain were in place, and transmitted to a wider public by the OCS (and other) exhibitions in London during the 1930s and '40s; notably by the unprecedented 1935 Royal Academy Loan Exhibition, which uniquely included masterpieces lent by the Chinese Government.
Every collection is formed in its own cultural and social context. The sale of 'The Liddell Moon Flask' recreates those decades of utterly pleasurable collecting between about 1890-1930, when interesting material was abundant, knowledge evolving rapidly, competition between collectors relatively amiable, and prices remarkably static.
Bonhams is grateful to the authors of Provenance (published by Roy Davids, Oxford, 2011) for making available much information about the Liddell Collection.