A PAIR OF SEPIA & GRISAILLE PISTOL HANDLED URNS AND COVERS

Reference#: P3944

Late Qianlong – early Jiaqing period, circa 1795-1800

Height: 17 ¾ inches (45.1 cm.)

RELATED EXAMPLE:
Parke Bernet Galleries, 16 October 1969, lot 67 (with sepia landscape).

Each urn of shield form, molded on either side with a small oval cartouche flanked by pistol-shaped handles, the lower portion with a molded petal border and all surmounting a circular base formed by smaller, molded leaves and a square plinth, topped by a low-domed cover with a basket-form knop, decorated in blue, iron red and black enamels and gilt. The oval cartouche containing a scene of two pheasants on rockwork, framed by a grapevine border, all beneath further floral and grapevine bands on iron red, white and blue grounds, the cover with related bands and a gilt knop.

Known as “pistol-handled” urns, the present shape enjoyed great popularity in Europe and America at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. The form has been attributed to both Wedgewood designs and a Swedish, Marieburg original, although it is difficult to say which was supplied to the Chinese potter to replicate. The first Chinese examples appear to have been produced in the 1770’s; made primarily for export to Scandinavia, they feature the similar central oval and square base with molded leaves, but include a molded swag on either side and feature a flat cover with bud-form knop.1 The decorations within the central ovals vary, however most use the bold palette of blue, red and gold. Landscapes, flowers, L’Urne Mysterieuse, coats of arms or initials embellished such vases for a large audience.
The present shape is probably a later variation of the 1770’s form, and was probably made for the American market. The blue and gilt grapevine motif can be found on other wares exported to America, and urns of the earlier type were decorated in similar tones and with monograms for specific American families.2 The pair of pheasants in the central ovals is quite unusual within the repertoire of decorations for this shape. The coupling would have symbolized fidelity in both China and the West, and would have been attractive to the romantic sentimentality of the early nineteenth century.

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