National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Chinese Qing Dynasty (artist)
"Beehive" Water Pot, late 19th century
porcelain with yellow glaze
overall: 7.9 x 12.7 cm (3 1/8 x 5 in.)
Widener Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: Chinese Porcelains
Object 11 of 24

"Beehive" water pots are usually seen in peachbloom or sometimes pale blue glaze.1 This one, glazed in a pleasing amber yellow, is a rarity. It is shaped in accordance with the standard prescribed form for such pots. The dragon medallions, incised under the glaze and spaced around the body, are like those on the peachbloom examples in the National Gallery collection (1942.9.514 and 515). The translucent glaze has a slight iridescence and a barely perceptible fine crackle. It covers the entire vessel, including the foot and base, in contrast to the peachbloom and blue monochromes, which have an exposed biscuit foot and white glazed base. Indeed, a foot-ring that has been glazed over is highly unusual on Chinese porcelains. The attractive shade of yellow used here shows a brownish tinge, especially where it has collected in the thickened ring at the base and in the incised lines of the dragon medallions. A mustard tone, typical of many Kangxi yellow glazes, is also apparent.

This unusual pot has been an object of attention both because yellow glaze on "beehive"-shaped water pots is so rarely seen, and because of certain technical features that differ from typical Kangxi porcelains, specifically from peachbloom water pots. These include the glazing in color of all surfaces except the interior, which has been left unglazed, and the small spur marks on the glazed foot-ring. Some authorities have questioned the style of the calligraphy on the Kangxi mark, although others have pointed out that marks of the Kangxi period vary greatly. Opinions as to the proper dating of this vessel have likewise varied, with some scholars expressing doubt about a Kangxi attribution.2

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has a yellow water pot that is also glazed yellow over the foot and base.3 It is said to have come from the collection of Prince Gong, a member of the imperial family in the nineteenth century. The date of this water pot has also been reconsidered and has been changed from Kangxi to "date uncertain."4 Fu Shen, curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, compared the calligraphy in photographs of the bases of the two pieces and expressed his opinion that it was so similar that the inscriptions could very well be by the same hand.5 The Widener piece was catalogued early as being from Prince Gong's collection and a companion piece to the Metropolitan Museum pot. Another, in the Percival David Foundation, does not have a yellow-glazed base.6 Although certainty is not possible, the present writer attributes the pot to the late Qing period, finding the above opinions entirely convincing. In addition, Clarence Shangraw of the Tsui Museum, Hong Kong, strongly supports a later attribution than Kangxi. He mentions the "floating cobalt" in the mark as being a late nineteenth-century feature and notes that the profile flares more than the Kangxi "horse-hoof" shape. Shangraw states that he has seen a number of taibozunof later production glazed in colors other than peachbloom that share the characteristics of the Widener piece.7

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


1. One of the eight prescribed shapes, also called taibozun(see Ralph M. Chait, "The Eight Prescribed Peachbloom Shapes Bearing Kang-hsi Marks," Oriental Art 3 [Winter 1957], 137).

2. Fong Chow, conversation with the author of 27 August 1963 (documentation in NGA curatorial files).

3. Acc. no. 14.40.375, from the Altman collection.

4. The change was made and recorded on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's, catalogue card on 21 August 1972 by Suzanne Valenstein.

5. Fu Shen, conversation with the author of 17 March 1992 (documentation in NGA curatorial files).

6. Margaret Medley, Illustrated Catalogue of Ming and Ch'ing Monochromes in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, section 6, London, 1973, 30, no. 508, describes it as having "an uneven yellow enamel applied over a thin feldspathic glaze....The yellow enamel is finely crazed and slightly iridescent." She assigns it to the Kangxi era and gives its diameter as .124 m (4 7/8 in.).

7. He refers specifically to the following publication: Baochang Geng, Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Beijing, 1993, 222. This study on copies and fakes concludes that a majority of taibozun were from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

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