Emperor's Elegy to his Morning Brew

25th October 2019

“Inside a humble house the joy of tranquillity and harmony is longed for… …. Look up at the faraway jade-like moon, Drink a few bowls of this tea.”

On a cold Spring day in 1746, the Chinese Emperor Qianlong was so moved by what Bertie Wooster would refer to as his “vital oolong” that he immediately wrote a poem about it. Sanqing Cha (Three Purity Tea Poem) details the making of the brew containing prunus, pine nuts and lemon boiled “with snow water for a treat” and recalls how the drinking of the beverage made him feel that “this must be a gift from an Immortal”.

The poem features on an Imperial Chinese two-colour lacquer teabowl, which is expected to fetch up to £50,000 when sold at auction at Woolley and Wallis in November.

“Tea making has always been an art form in the Far East,” said the firm’s Head of Asian Art, John Axford. “There is a lot of ceremony and ritual around the brewing and drinking of different teas, and the Emperor Qianlong was especially keen on ceremony.”

The poem features on a porcelain lidded bowl in the collection at the British Museum, and a near identical teabowl is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This particular teabowl is believed to have previously been in the collection of famed French art collector, Ernest Grandidier, whose Chinese porcelain collection is now largely kept at the Guimet Museum in Paris.

“This example is purely an homage,” explained Axford. “Lacquer isn’t a preferred, or indeed suitable, material to contain hot tea, so this object was made to commemorate Qianlong’s poem and to honour it, along with the art of tea-making. Since it bears the six character seal mark for Qianlong, it is likely that he commissioned it as a gift from his court.”

The teabowl (lot 34) is being sold on 12th November as part of the Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art sale, and carries an estimate of £30,000-50,000.

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