Dear Christie’s Hong Kong,
I have drafted my consignment enquiry here so that various images too large to be emailed can be hosted and consolidated in one location. This private de-listed page has been created solely for the purpose of this consignment enquiry.
The object in question is a doucai jardiniere (gang), measuring 33 cm in diameter and 23.4 cm in height:
Below are informal natural light photos of the jardiniere, taken outdoors with an iPhone (click on a thumbnail to view the full-size image):
Object Background & Provenance
I acquired this object through an English estate auction seven years ago; it was lot 238 of Duke’s Dorchester Grove “Paintings and Furniture” Sale, 18 October 2011. Duke’s is a reputable auction house serving the south English Dorset area. Their services are however split into two distinct divisions: one, specialized fine art auctions in their regular saleroom; and the other, hosted in a separate location, offer monthly general sales from local estates (called “the Grove auctions” back in 2011; it is now the avenue auctions). Unlike their fine art auctions, these estate sales offer highly mixed consignments with minimal publicity.
The present jardiniere was offered in such a general estate sale. The auction listing had only one (rather badly taken) photo and a brief description: “A Chinese jardiniere with character seal mark to the base”. There was not much attention on the object due to the setting and presentation, and in the absence of fierce competition, I was able to purchase it.
When I inquired about the provenance of this jardiniere, Rupert Perry-Warnes, the saleroom manager, replied: “The vendor is a local English lady from Bournemouth in Dorset” (see image below for a copy of his email). When I spoke with him on the phone, Mr. Perry-Warnes further explained the jardiniere was amongst the objects belonging to a deceased Bournemouth lady, consigned for auction in the general sale by a relative representing the estate.
This April, nearly seven years after the sale, I contacted Duke’s to confirm the provenance. By this point, their general sale division had experienced a change of name, a change of staff, and a relocation. I spoke to a different salesroom manager, who was able to locate the files and re-confirm the provenance:
I want to stress that this provenance is independently verifiable. English auctioneers typically keep sales records up to eight years. Christie’s can verify my claims by contacting Duke’s Avenue Auctions at email@example.com, +44 (0) 1305 257 544.
From 2011 to the present, this jardiniere has remained in my personal collection for observation and study. I was a university student in 2011 and lacked the knowledge to ascertain whether it’s proper to seriously pursue consignment of this object. I do understand, due to the lack of notable previous sales history, it is the consignor’s obligation to establish authenticity.
Having now gained significant experience in the field, I think this piece stands a good chance of being mark and period, and would like to make the following case for its authenticity:
- 1. It is a strong match to four known authentic examples:
- Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427 : an unmarked Qianlong period example from the New York 2011 fall sale. It was acquired by the prominent collector Qian Weipeng and is now part of his Tianwuguan collection.
- Cabral Moncada Leilões sale 181 lot 425: a Qianlong mark & period example from the Monserrate Palace, Sintra. Recognized by the market as authentic and sold for €640,000 (27 September 2016)
- Brooklyn Museum 32.1130.1-.2: a pair of Qianlong mark & period examples, gift of the executors of the Estate of Colonel Michael Friedsam (1860 – 1931)
- A Qianlong doucai jardiniere in the Shanyang Palace Museum
When compared side-by-side, the painting workmanship, brushwork style, and pattern details of the present jardiniere aligns closely with the established authentic examples:
- 2. The base and porcelain paste is a close match to authentic examples:
In general, the exposed paste of this present jardiniere is of a quality highly representative of early Qing Jingdezhen porcelain: fine without coarseness, velvety to the touch, soft “cake”-like texture (not overly compact), and a flesh-like pinkish yellow tone, with a thin ring of darker coloring near the edges due to iron deposits.
Please note that any dark stains spotted in the photos are from later pitch-tar stains; these spots are not original to the paste and not from iron impurities (which is generally inappropriate for the 18th c). The tar stains can be removed with mineral spirits.
A closeup view of the base of Brooklyn Museum’s jardiniere and the present example shows a close match of the paste texture, in the way the extremities fire to a deep orange, and in the little gaps in the clay. The coloring of the present jardiniere is completely natural and not dyed; I have washed the base with detergent and acetone (an organic solvent), and the coloring remains the same.
This tone and texture is shared by many other Qianlong porcelains (espeically those dating early in the reign, circa. 1730-50s). For example:
- 3. The mark is a close match to authentic examples:
The Qianlong six-character seal mark on the present jardiniere is written with a rather “heavy” hand, with the thick cobalt unevenly distributed throughout, creating a gooey and clumpy effect seen in other authentic examples. Like most authentic reign marks, it is somewhat asymmetrical, idiosyncratic, and flawed, lacking the clinical perfection seen in modern forgeries. In particular, the present mark is such a close match to one of the Brooklyn Museum jardinieres that the two may have been written by the same craftsman.
Given the nature of the forgery market these days, it’s natural to suspect, when two examples are such a close match, that one is a direct copy of the other. I just want to note that high-resolution images of the Brooklyn Museum jardinieres, including photos of the base, were not available anywhere prior to April of this year. The jardinieres were gifts from the estate of Colonel Michael Friedsam (a well-known New York Gilded Age art collector and philanthropist). However, the Brooklyn Museum has never focused strongly on East Asian art, and the jardinieres have never been on display. When I discovered their existence, the completeness of their curatorial record consisted of a single low-resolution black and white photo. HD images of the jardiniere, including the base, were available after I commissioned the museum for new photography this spring.
- 4. The delicacy and freshness of the famille rose enamels, which bear a pastel quality representative of the 18th century:
The painting workmanship of the lotuses is painstakingly detailed and withstands magnified scrutiny. The enamel color palette of pink, white, and light green is one frequently utilized in the painting of flowers on Qianlong imperial porcelain. The execution also aligns closely with authentic examples:
In general, famille rose enamels found throughout this present jardiniere is of a quality representative of the early Qing. 18th century famille rose enamels have a startling tenderness that disappears into the 19th century, and still cannot be convincingly forged.
- 5. The appearance of the jardiniere interior matches those of authentic examples:
The interior of the present jardiniere exhibits what I like to call the “empty swimming pool effect”: the glaze has a noticeable greenish-blue tint, and the walls are somewhat pockmarked with rust spots, glaze contraction spots, and water/lime stains from use. The porcelain body underneath the glaze shows faint striations from the potter’s wheel.
The above-described appearance is remarkably consistent for larger Jingdezhen porcelains with open, fully glazed interiors (such as brush pots, jardinieres, or fish bowls), owing to traces of iron oxide in the glaze and clay. Often, the larger the object, the stronger the greenish-blue tint to the interior.
The interior of the present jardiniere also exhibits small glaze contraction spots that have resulted in the exposed biscuit firing to a deep shade of orange-red. This is a rather idiosyncratic quirk I’ve noticed while handling authentic Ming/Qing porcelains: the tiny spots are always startling deep in coloring (much deeper than, say, a regular exposed foot-rim or biscuit base on the same piece), and never neutral in tone.
- 6. Glazed areas around the famille rose enamels show iridescence (i.e. halo effect)
When examined at a slant against natural light, the glazed surfaces around certain enamels (particularly the purple and pink) show iridescence. This “halo effect” can be found on enameled porcelain dating throughout the Qing dynasty, probably due to the the use of salpeter as a flux to lower the melting temperature of certain enamels. The irridescent effect found on this present jardiniere is however very subtle and controlled, unlike the wild hues sometimes found on export or minyao wares.
- 7. The meticulous application of over-glaze iron red decorations
Upon close examination, it’s apparent the over-glaze iron red embellishments have not been applied as a general wash, but painted on gradually through tiny individual brush strokes. In most gradient areas, the brushwork texture is visible upon magnification.
The iron red closeup details of this present jardiniere compares favorably to that of the Monserrate Palace jardiniere:
It can be generally noted that this time-consuming technique of creating iron red gradients through orderly, meticulously applied brushwork is a recurrent feature of Qing imperial porcelain. For example:
- 8. Kiln dust along the outside neck areas
Translucent enamels (such as light blue and green) in areas immediately below the mouth rim are blistered with kiln dust from the original firing. This is a characteristic noticeable in other authentic examples. The location is almost always around the neck areas, where the dust is more likely to settle and fuse with the enamels.
- 9. Weight and Dimensions
The present jardiniere is very heavy at 13 pounds (5.9 kg). In my experience, authentic Ming/Qing porcelain become unexpectedly heavy once a certain size is reached, probably due to having been fired in wood-burning kilns.
The diameter (33 cm) and height (23.4 cm) conform closely to authentic examples:
Two Variations on a Design: Early vs Mid-Late Qianlong
While this present jardiniere is a close match to several aforementioned authentic examples, it may still appear unfamiliar to the eye due to it not fully conforming to jardinieres in the Shanghai and Idemitsu Museums, which tend to be the most cited and referenced prototypes of this design.
However, it’s worthwhile noting that significant variations in quality exist between porcelain vessels from the same reign bearing identical designs. Even for relatively short reigns like Yongzheng, wares of identical patterns can look quite different when details such as porcelain paste quality and painting execution are considered. This is more so the case with the Qianlong period, which stretched a good 61 years, and — like the Kangxi reign — can be grouped into early, middle, and late periods.
The present jardiniere belongs to a group of examples displaying noted (but consistent) deviations from more common prototypes of its pattern. I believe the differences are due to separate manufacturing dates, with the former dating to an earlier period within the Qianlong reign than the latter:
|Early Qianlong||Mid-Late Qianlong|
|Christie’s sale 2427 lot 1704||National Museum of China|
The basis of my observation is informed by characteristic differences between the two groups — characteristics which can be further linked to early vs late production tendencies of Jingdezhen porcelain during the 18th century.
For instance, jardinieres made earlier in the reign are painted with a “hand” that appears weaker but more refined and delicate than later examples. This painting workmanship hews to Yongzheng standards rather than typically Qianlong contours, which tend to emphasize vigor and angular shapes:
This differing approach to painting workmanship can be further observed in the way the famille rose lotuses are painted: the earlier flowers are detailed and “feminine”, with a Rococo-esque focus on swirling linearity; the second later group feature flowers with fuller, almost cone-like petals.
More fundamental material differences between the two groups can be spotted. The enamels found on earlier examples tend to appear even, clean, and lighter in tone. Those on later examples are thicker and darker, showing more production flaws such as firing bursts, impurities, and flaking.
The quality of the underglaze cobalt forms another contrasting point. Towards the end of the 18th century, the cobalt used to decorate Jingdezhen blue and white porcelain will often appear to “lift” and separate from the biscuit body during a firing, resulting in blue decorations that look as if sandwiched or floating amidst the glaze. This quality appears in many doucai jardinieres that appear to have been created towards the end of the reign.
It is due to the above-stated observations that I have dated the present jardiniere to an early Qianlong date, and have aligned it to examples from Christie’s, Monserrate Palace, and Brooklyn Museum (rather than to the more well-known ones in the Shanghai and Idemitsu museums).
Comparison Against a Known Forgery
Today’s forgery industry is relentlessly aggressive, leading to general fear that newly created fakes can resemble authentic examples detail-for-detail, point-counter-point. I want to argue against this anxiety by comparing the present jardiniere against a well-made forgery:
The above object first appeared on the market March of 2011, having been offered by Wichita Auctioneers (a fraudulent, now-defunct US-based small auction house). It was evidently convincing enough to a number of buyers that the lot hammered for 190,000 USD.
It’s unknown whether this first sales record is authentic. Regardless, this same exact object was convincing enough that it was initially included the following year in Sotheby’s New York fall auction as lot 388 (it was later pulled from the sale).
A side-by-side comparison reveals that the above jardiniere is a direct copy of an authentic example illustrated in a 1983 Japanese publication (Sekai Toji Zenshu, Volume 15: Ch’ing Dynasty, Plate 94).
In 2015, the Wichita forgery reappeared on the market, this time through the Maine auctioneers James D. Julia:
It is during this time that I was able to obtain close-up photos of this forgery, taken under normal lighting. Although professional catalogue photos of the Wichita forgery looks somewhat convincing, side-by-side comparisons of informal photos against natural light iPhone photos of the jardiniere in my possession reveal deep fundamental differences.
Enamel quality and painting workmanship:
Appearance of the base and paste quality:
Appearance of light blue, pink famille rose, and iron red enamels:
Appearance of the purple and yellow enamels:
Appearance of the interior:
As examplified by the side-by-side comparisons above, in each case the present jardiniere is closely aligned with authentic examples and significantly different from the forgery.
HD photos of this jardiniere, and of the various comparison examples cited, are available via dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/52dks1226lm4reu/AABpi0jQN4RgFJ9v_HgGGHEGa?dl=0
Some potential next steps:
- • If there is any interest, I can bring this jardiniere to Hong Kong for on-site inspection. My next trip to Hong Kong will occur around 11 – 22 February.
- • I have commissioned Brooklyn Museum to take a new set of detailed photos of their jardiniere (32.1130.1). These images will be delivered around the week of 11 February. I’ve also contacted the conservation department to see if informal non-studio curatorial photos of the jardiniere can be taken. However, due to my status as a private individual, this request may be refused. If Christie’s can help in contacting the museum, I’m sure the request will be taken seriously.
- • The best method to authenticate an object is to physically compare it, side-by-side, with an established example. The closest matches to the present jardiniere are the Brooklyn Museum example and Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427 (which is now part of the Tianwuguan collection). Would it be possible at all for Christie’s to help arrange for such a side-by-side comparison? The Brooklyn Museum jardiniere has never been on display and remains to this day in storage. Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427 is now owned by dealer-collector Qian Weipeng and his Tianwuguan collection.
- • Duke’s estate sale division has been unwilling to provide further information regarding the provenance beyond “from a deceased estate of a private person” and “the vendor is a local English lady from Bournemouth in Dorset”, citing the understandable impulse to protect the privacy of their consignors. If more specific information will aid the legitimacy and defense of this jardiniere, perhaps Christie’s can contact Duke’s Avenue Auctions (firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0) 1305 257 544) on my behalf?
- • I believe the jardiniere in my possession is a near-identical match to Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427. The porcelain paste, quality of enameling, style and execution of painting workmanship, foot-rim design, and glaze color all appear to be extremely close. If Christie’s is uncomfortable offering the present jardiniere in auction, due to the lack of notable previous sales history, might Christie’s be open to mediating a private sale? The current owner of Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427, Qian Weipeng, might be interested in acquiring a closely related object to form a pair with his current jardiniere. Since he owns Christie’s lot 1704 sale 2427, a side-by-side comparison of the two jardinieres will be possible, and it can be judged if the present jardiniere in my possession is indeed a Qianlong period match.
- • Finally, I have communicated with Doreen Stoneham, director of Oxford TL authentication. She is of the opinion that 18th century porcelain can be successfully TL tested for authenticity. I hesitate to send in the jardiniere for testing, because the method is fundamentally destructive (and disrespectful to the piece, if authentic). However, if Christie’s will accept TL authentication, and recommends it as an objective measure of authenticity, I’m open to sending in the jardiniere for such a test.
I have drafted this enquiry with sincerity and careful research; there has not been any intent to misrepresent or to deceive. I can be reached anytime to answer further questions regarding this jardiniere (email: email@example.com, tel: +1 617-999-3479).
Thank you for your time, and yours respectfully,
Ascot Court Antiques
Saint Louis, MO