Published: October 7, 2003
On September 16, Doyle New York conducted the highly anticipated auction of the F. Gordon Morrill collection of Chinese and Chinese export porcelain.
The Morrill collection comprised 115 lots, including more than 30 lots of important Yuan and early Ming blue and white porcelain, a group of fine Qing porcelain and a large selection of very early Chinese export porcelain.
With important collectors, prominent dealers and distinguished museums from around the world bidding on the telephones and in the salesroom, the collection fetched $12,046,669. A very rare Yuan Dynasty blue and white porcelain “Pilgrim” flask from the mid-1300s sold for $5,831,500, setting a new world auction record for a piece of Chinese porcelain. The previous world record for Chinese porcelain was set in Hong Kong in October 2000 when a Sixteenth Century Wucai fish jar and cover sold for $5,657,640.
Prior to the exhibition and auction at Doyle New York, there was a highly successful exhibition of highlights from the Morrill Collection in Hong Kong in August. The exhibition took place at prominent entrepreneur David Tang’s exclusive China Club, and attracted large numbers of collectors and dealers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Chinese mainland.
The F. Gordon Morrill collection was one of the finest collections to appear at auction in decades. The collection was assembled by Morrill during the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when many notable collections were coming onto the market. Morrill was one of the few important collectors focusing primarily on blue and white porcelain created during the Fourteenth and early Fifteenth Centuries. In 1971 and 1974, a number of pieces from the Morrill collection were exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which described the Morrill collection as “equal in quality to the superb collection at the Ardebil Shrine in Tehran, Persia.”
“We were honored to offer the F. Gordon Morrill Collection at Doyle New York,” said Kathleen M. Doyle, chairman and chief executive officer of Doyle New York.
Highlighting the Morrill collection was the massive blue and white porcelain “Pilgrim” flask from the Yuan dynasty, which sold to a prominent collector on the telephone who preferred to remain anonymous.
Measuring 14 inches tall, the flask was acquired by Morrill in 1973 from the estate of Sir Harry Garner, an internationally prominent collector and author of the classic book, Oriental Blue and White. This extraordinary flask was decorated on each side with a nearly identical design of a water dragon chasing a pearl amid surging waves. Only six other examples of the “Pilgrim” flask form are known to exist, and all are in museum collections.
Another highlight of the Morrill sale, also from the Yuan dynasty, was a large single dragon dish dating to the mid-1300s. The dish was decorated with a celestial dragon exuding bands of flames and facing directly front. Only two other large single dragon dishes of this era appear to exist, one in the Topkapi Saray in Istanbul and one in the Ardebil Shrine in Tehran. At 19 inches in diameter, the Morrill example is the largest of the three. On the Morrill example, the dragon’s head is facing forward, making this the only known Fourteenth Century example of a dragon depicted face forward. The dish sold for $1,687,500.
The Morrill auction featured an unusually large selection of Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain. Highlighting the Ming porcelains was a blue and white “Phoenix” porcelain jarlet measuring only 53/16 inches tall. The jarlet bore the double-encircled six-character mark of the Emperor Xuande (1426-1435) and was of the period. A symbol of the Empress, the legendary phoenix, was depicted on two sides of the jarlet in midflight amid twining vines and flowers. After much competition, this diminutive jarlet sold for $511,500.
Another featured Ming porcelain was a blue and white “Six Fruits” bowl, which, like the jarlet, also bore the six-character mark of the Emperor Xuande and was of the period. Measuring 119/16 inches in diameter, this bowl was plain on the interior and painted on the exterior with six auspicious fruits. The bowl sold for $483,500.
Among the other notable Ming dynasty porcelains was a graceful blue and white porcelain Meiping, circa 1420-1430, decorated with peony scrolls that sold for $321,100; a blue and white porcelain dish with a barbed edge from the Yongle period (1403-1425), $298,700; and a rare blue and white porcelain “Melon” jar from the Xuande period. Measuring only 41/4 inches tall, the jar sold for $276,300.
The Chinese export in the collection numbered 60 lots of Sixteenth through early Eighteenth Century blue and white and armorial porcelain, and included objects created for the Dutch, English and Italian markets.
Highlighting the export ware was a rare famille rose porcelain five-piece “Pronk” garniture, circa 1740. The garniture comprised two beakers measuring 111/4 inches tall and three bottle vases measuring 113/16 inches tall. Each piece was boldly enameled on both sides with a pink-breasted, long tailed parrot, or macaw, grasping cherries while perched on a swing suspended from a shaped cluster.
This garniture had been on loan to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., from 1998 until 2003. The garniture sold for $77,675.
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