The vase of the four seasons for sale on December 2 in Hong Kong by Christie's at lot 3122 reaches perfection by the balance of its shape, the beauty of its colors, the successful combination of techniques and the simplicity of symbols.
It bears the mark of Qianlong but indeed the maturity of its technique and the care of its execution could not be associated with any other period. This lobed vase 36 cm high was part of a pair unique of its kind whose other element belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Its first glaze is celadon. Celadon imitating the jade was mastered from the Ming but the Qing made considerable progress by varying the thickness of the layer, allowing both a setting of the color hue and a thicker surface inviting to moulding and carving in low relief .
Each of the four sides of the lobe was processed with large reserves within the celadon, enabling to apply superb yangcai colors within a thin golden frame. The four sides show the four seasons with the flowers symbolizing all things positive : the birth of spring and the abundance of summer on the two broader sides, the longevity of autumn and the endurance of winter on the two narrower sides.
This piece with a much balanced aesthetics is also equipped with a nice pair of elephant heads as golden handles.
The catalog does not attempt to precisely date this masterpiece made in the Qianlong period, but indicates that other themes were used for pieces made in a similar mixed technique : four season landscapes, hunting scenes. The extreme rarity and the complexity of execution makes me suggesting that this technique was only practiced during a very short period.
A boys vase sold for HK $ 64M including premium by Sotheby's on April 7, 2015 was also based on celadon and yangcai. This piece could better be dated because its theme was related to an imperial encouragement to the renewal of the iconography linked to the festivals during the eighth year of Qianlong, 1743 of our calendar.