National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Water Pot Chinese Qing Dynasty (artist)
Water Pot, Kangxi period, 1662/1722
porcelain with pale blue glaze
overall: 7.1 x 10.4 cm (2 13/16 x 4 1/8 in.)
Widener Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: Chinese Porcelains
Object 10 of 24

Water pots, sometimes called water coupes, were designed as ornamental and functional forms for the Chinese scholar's desk. They contained water for use in making ink or replenishing the brush washer.1 These small globular vessels have a high, rounded shoulder that descends into a sunken channel encircling the short neck. The neck terminates in a slightly thickened lip. Pale blue water pots very similar to these four are found in several collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum Art, New York, the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, and the Baur Collection, Geneva.2

Pale blue glaze appears to have been more broadly used during the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns than peachbloom and was applied to a wide variety of vase shapes rather than to only eight types. Nevertheless, certain forms are found in both glazes,3 among them the gong-shaped brush washer, the "amphora" vase, and the water pot.

Small globular water pots can be subdivided into those with and without necks. While peachbloom examples have been published in both types, among the pale blue wares the short-necked form is predominant.4 It has become customary to describe the small neckless water pots as pingguo zun, apple-shaped vessels, and to consider the short-necked form as a variant.5 It seems possible, however, that this variant might have been classified by the Chinese as a separate type with its own name, at least in the nineteenth century. In 1899 Stephen W. Bushell wrote:

"Two favorite designs, for example, of the little water-bottles intended to be used with the writer's pallet [sic] are the p'ing-kuo tsun [pingguo zun] or apple jar, which is molded as an exact facsimile in size and shape of the fruit, and its fellow, the shih-liu tsun [shiliu zun] or pomegranate jar. I have seen these two shapes only in China."6

The water pots with short necks do resemble pomegranates more than apples, although they lack the foliated lip found on the globular pots usually described as pomegranate-shaped.7

(Text by Virginia Bower, published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue: Decorative Arts, Part II: Far Eastern Ceramics and Paintings; Persian and Indian Rugs and Carpets)


1. On the use of such water pots, see Chu-Tsing Li and James C. Y. Watt, eds., The Chinese Scholar's Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period: An Exhibition from the Shanghai Museum [Exh. cat. The Asia Society Gallery, New York], 1987, 167, no. 39, repro. The Arts of the Ch'ing Dynasty [Exh. cat. The Arts Council Gallery, London], 1964, 67, no. 266, pl. 90, calls this form a brush pot of globular shape.

2. Suzannne Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, rev. ed. New York, 1989, 239, no. 240, repro.; George J. Lee, Selected Far Eastern Art in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1970, no. 342, repro.; John Ayers, The Baur Collection, Geneva: Chinese Ceramics, Geneva, 1972, vol. 3, A319, repro.

3. Ralph M. Chait, "The Eight Prescribed Peachbloom Shapes Bearing Kang-hsi Marks," Oriental Art 3 (Winter 1957), 130, is the primary source for the claim that only eight types of vessels, which he calls "prescribed," were produced in the peachbloom glaze, and this view is widely accepted. Chait, however, acknowledges that there is no textual evidence for this opinion. It rather represents what a Chinese adviser informed him was an accepted opinion among Chinese connoisseurs at the time his article was written.

4. Research has thus far failed to uncover any published pale blue water pots without necks, but it would be premature to claim they were not manufactured. In addition to the example donated by Edwin C. Vogel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has two pale blue water pots donated by Michael Friedsam, 32.100.435 and 436. The former lacks a neck, but it is not certain if this is its original state. At least two pale blue "beehive" water pots attributed to the Kangxi period can be cited, one in the collection of August Warnecke, Hamburg: see P. W. Meister, China Porzellan: Sammlung A. Warnecke, Hamburg, 1978, 16, 023, repro. The other is in the collection of the University Museum, Philadelphia, acc. no. 88-10-13, collection of Dr. Frank Crozer Knowles. Peachbloom "beehive" water pots are more common than pale blue, and the National Gallery has several. Rather rare are yellow examples, of which the National Gallery has one, 1942.9.502.

5. Chait 1957, 137; Valenstein, 1989, no. 241.

6. Stephen W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Collection of W. T. Walters, New York, 1980, 308.

7. Terese Tse Bartholomew, The Hundred Flowers: Botanical Motifs in Chinese Art [Exh. cat. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco], San Francisco, 1985, no. 32, discusses the symbolism of the pomegranate and reproduces a Yuan pot of said shape with foliate rim. A similar small globular pot dating to the Yongzheng period is in Yihua Li, ed., Kangxi Yongzheng, Qianlong Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection. Hong Kong; Beijing, 1989, 311, no. 140.

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