Despite the risk of being overshadowed by his father and son, Yongzheng left a legacy of which he could be proud. He was raised by his father Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), who granted him responsibility, taught him to make his own decisions early on and take on challenges. Upon Emperor Kangxi’s death no successor had been appointed. There was fierce rivalry amongst Kangxi’s many sons in the succession, and it was rumoured that Yongzheng had changed the will in his favour. Nevertheless, Yongzheng ascended to the throne in 1723 and despite many hurdles, proceeded to steer the country with a firm hand and a clear vision. He generously awarded Mongolian and Tibetan nobles with gifts of painted enameled porcelains. His main talents lay in communication and organisation, and focusing on government issues, as well as dealing decisively with corruption. Ultimately through a strict regime, he gained the trust and loyalty of his subjects and enjoyed a prosperous period in Chinese history (Image left: Courtesy of Palace Museum, Beijing).
He dared to make his own way and was considered by many an eccentric, often deviating from the given path. Yongzheng was also not afraid to enjoy himself and spent time in the company of his children dressing up, as well as frequently entertaining and collecting. There are many whimsical portraits of Yongzheng at various odd pursuits. One painting shows him ladling manure; another shows him in a wig and European dress out hunting (Image below: Courtesy of Palace Museum, Beijing). One of his court painters, the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) was commissioned not only to paint portraits, but also portraits of vases and other items in his vast collection. In 1728, Yongzheng commissioned Gu Wan Tu, ‘Pictures of Ancient Playthings’, depicting a selection of his vast collection in a number of scrolls. The Percival David Foundation and the Victoria & Albert each have a scroll, these are immensely useful when studying the forms and glazes of the period.
Preceded by the lengthy reign of the great Kangxi (1662-1722) and succeeded by the great Qianlong (1736-1795) with yet another long reign (he abdicated just before his 60th anniversary in reverence to his beloved grandfather), one might think that Yongzheng’s influence was not so great, considering he only enjoyed a 13 year rule. However that is far from the case. The finest porcelains of the Qing dynasty are attributed to his reign and his craftsmen were able to bring their painterly style and the porcelain itself to new, dizzying heights, previously thought unattainable. His hard rule was counterbalanced by the production of delicately enameled porcelains thin as an eggshell.
In the sixth year of his reign, 1728, Yongzheng initiated a project with Prince Yi, to find new enamelling techniques. He was fascinated by the earlier glazing techniques of the Song dynasty and without fail sought to replicate and improve upon them. Together they successfully identified eighteen new enamel colours. It is perhaps during this time of experimentation that the magnificent celadon charger (lot 304) was produced. The combination of blue and celadon had not been seen before and it is suggested that this was a trial piece. The charger comes from a private Scottish collection. Only one other charger of this type is known, sold at Sotheby’s New York rooms in 2004.
The sale is further enhanced by the presence of a pair of superb doucai bowls, also from a private Scottish collection (lot 419). Doucai enameled wares required two firings, the initial one with the underglaze blue outline, and the second firing to set the polychrome enamels filling in the design. Doucai enamels achieved fame through the Chenghua emperor (1465-1487) whose delicate and superb chicken cups represent rarest and most treasured of all Chinese porcelains. The enamels on these gently flaring bowls are of an exceptional quality, and the charming and fine design of butterflies, peonies, lotus, chrysanthemum and other flowers within roundels is a classic one, much loved by the Yongzheng emperor.
We are proud to once again feature select items from the prestigious collection of Leonard Gow, who held at one time the finest collection of Kangxi porcelain in the country. Mr. Gow, (1859-1936) was born into a family of shipping magnates, and went on to become a much respected philanthropist and collector. He also had later pieces, examples of which are found in this sale (lot 343 – 357). A pair of Yongzheng mark and period bowls, glazed in yellow with green incised five-clawed dragons, provide an excellent example of enamelling straight onto the biscuit, without a protective layer of glaze in between, a type of which Mr. Gow was exceedingly fond (lot 354). R. L. Hobson, keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities and Ethnography of the British Museum, wrote of the Gow collection in the Burlington Magazine, 1924: "It is unfortunate for the devotees of Chinese porcelain in London that this collection is so distant. One has to go beyond Glasgow to see it, but it is safe to say that one would have to travel much further to see a private collection which is better in its own particular line." Lyon & Turnbull are pleased to help with that particular predicament by showcasing the bowls during Asian Art in London and selling them at a location close to London.
Yongzheng was otherwise known for his love of simplicity, a plain glazed lemon yellow or shocking pink bowl, or amusingly painted trompe-l’oeil pieces, imitating wood or stone. He provided the highly gifted Tang Ying, Vice Director of the Imperial Household, with ancient masterpieces from the palace, to copy from and inspire new works in the manner of. The flambé bottle vase (lot 280) is such an example, with a type of glaze which fascinated him greatly and was found on various shapes. The succeeding Qianlong emperor had very large shoes to fill, and although he was not known for eclipsing his father in quality, he certainly did in quantity, as under his reign the production grew to previously unimagined volumes. In the end he projected his own image more successfully than his more modest father, who had paved the way for him. His succession was a peaceful one, as Yongzheng placed a note in the palace with the name of his successor on it – to be matched with the note he had on his person when he died. Unsurprisingly to many, it was Qianlong, emperor Kangxi’s favourite grandchild.