Jade brush washer

China, Qing dynasty, 18th – 19th century

Length: 7 7/8 inches, 20 cm
Width: 5 1/2 inches, 14 cm
Height: 2 1/2 inches, 6.5 cm

A jade brush washer in the form of two large plum blossoms flowers supported on branches, which form the base. The body of the brush washer is carved as two hollowed, wrapped-up plum blossom flowers with five petals. The branches are carved in openwork with smaller plum blossoms and lingzhi fungus and extend underneath to form the base. The jade is well polished and of greenish colour with some yellowish inclusions.

The superb quality of this jade group shows the high technical level of cutting and polishing in Chinese jade carving craftsmanship. Receptacles filled with water for washing a brush after painting are typical accoutrements of the scholar’s desk and exist in a variety of different materials and forms. This brush washer, carved from a large piece of jade with a skilful and naturalistic depiction of plum blossoms, fits perfectly into the general spirit of the Chinese literati, who would have appreciated the visual pleasure its utter simplicity affords the viewer. The plum is also a symbol for passing first in the civil service examinations.[1] As the first to bloom each year, the plum represents not only renewal and heralds spring but is also emblematic of perseverance and purity. Three Qing dynasty jade brush washers comparable in style but their receptacles in a double-gourd form are respectively in the collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing,[2] Minneapolis Institute of Arts[3] and the Alan and Simone Hartman collection.[4]

Provenance: private collection, the Netherlands

  1. Tse Bartholomew, T. Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, 4.20, p. 97
  2. Zhongguo yuqi quanji bianji weiyuan hui ed. Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji, vol. 6, Hebei meishu chubanshe, Shijiazhuang Shi, 1992, no. 294
  3. Chinese Jades, Archaic and Modern from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, London Humphries, London, 1977, no. 200, pp. 150-2
  4. Kleiner, R. Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996, no. 100