Scholarly Objects | Chinese Brush Pots

Scholarly Objects | Chinese Brush Pots

Only a few select objects were required for the table of a Chinese scholar. There was an ink stone to grind up ink, brushes of different sizes for calligraphy, a brush washer for cleaning and a brush pot for storage.

24 March 2022

Brush pots (known as bitong) have become synonymous with the art of the literati and Chinese art in general. They were made throughout much of China’s long history in a wide variety of materials from bamboo and hardwoods to ivory, horn, jade, bronze and porcelain. Most (but not all) assume the characteristic cylindrical shape. Many are decorated with subjects, motifs and auspicious symbols embodying concepts such as good fortune, longevity, the benefits of scholarship or just good stories from Chinese literature.

Sworders have sold good examples in a multitude of different media in recent years.


Lot 29, 5 November 2021 | A Chinese blue and white brush pot, Kangxi (1662-1722), sold for £162,500


Across two sales in 2021 we sold a number of 17th century blue and white brush pots for substantial sums. Foremost among these was a Kangxi (1662-1722) example inscribed with the text from the ancient Chinese poem Shengzhu de Xianchen Song (Ode to the Finding of Virtuous Officials by the Divine Ruler). The piece came for sale in good condition from a private collection in Suffolk with a guide of £2000-3000 but made £162,500.

Lot 6, 14 May 2021 | A Chinese blue and white brush pot, Chongzhen (1628-1644), sold for £23,400


During the so-called Transitional period (1620-1683) when court patronage of the porcelain factory at Jingdezhen all but dried up, production was far more diverse. Ceramics made specifically for merchants and scholars featuring moments from famous Chinese epics were particularly popular. The brush pot sold for £23,400 in May 2021 was good example, painted with a scene from Romance of the Three Kingdoms in which the poet, statesman and warlord Cao Cao asked his attendant to hang a robe to a willow tree as the prize in an archery contest.


Lot 163, 8 November 2019 | A Chinese hardwood brush pot, 19th century, sold for £8,500


Some of the finest pots are found in a number revered indigenous woods– notably huanghuali, zitan, hongmu and aloeswood. A hardwood brush pot on three bracket feet, carved with taotie masks sold for £21,000 in May 2021 with another inlaid with ivory, shell and hardstones with a butterfly above scrolling flowers bringing £8,500 in November 2019.


Lot 240, 17 May 2019 | A Chinese ivory brush pot, Qianlong (1736-1795), sold for £15,600


This Qianlong (1736-1795) ivory brush pot sold for £15,600 in May 2019 is deeply carved with the story of Pan Yue (247-300) as told in the 'Book of Jin': 'As he rides through a town in a chariot, young women show their affection for the famously handsome young scholar by throwing fruit at him while others gather at a gate to catch a glimpse.


Lot 165, 17 May 2019 | A Chinese jade brush pot, of shaped tapering square form on four ruyi head feet, sold for £26,000


Most but not all brush pots assume a standard cylindrical form. This jade example of a tapering square form on four ruyi head feet is carved to each panel with a mountainous landscape, either with a literatus, a woodcutter, or a farmer with his buffalo. In a celadon stone with russet inclusions, it took £26,000 in May 2019.



We are conducting an auction of Chinese and Japanese Works of Art on Friday 13 May 2022. Final entries welcomed by tomorrow, Friday 25 March.

For more information about the sale, please contact - 


T: 01279 817778







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