‘Opulence and elegance’: The bird and flower motif in Yongzheng ceramics

Specialist Ruben Lien on the decoration of 18th-century Chinese porcelain — featuring works in the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction on 30 November in Hong Kong

The Yongzheng emperor, who reigned from 1723 to 1735, was the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty. Notoriously heavy-handed but capable, Yongzheng’s relatively short rule was characterised by prosperity and peace alongside his efforts to curb corruption.

The ‘bird and flower’ pattern, already a popular decorative motif on Chinese porcelain, began to take on a more ‘painterly’ quality during the Yongzheng period. ‘With the development of new firing techniques and glaze formulas, their depiction on porcelain became more expressive and lively,’ explains Christie’s specialist Ruben Lien.

Painting on porcelain required the artist to accommodate the shape of the piece. The two circular sides of a moon flask were painted separately; the exquisite example to be offered in the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art  sale on 30 November in Hong Kong features two magpie-robins, generally shown in pairs.
‘The magpies perched on prunus trees signifies the wish for joyfulness,’ Lien reveals.

Similarly extraordinary is a falangcai cup, painted continuously around the exterior. When turned in the palm, says Lien, the movement recalls ‘the unrolling of a handscroll’. The example offered by Christie’s features a bee motif — common in Chinese art, but not previously seen on falangcai.

The vivid style of the period is on full display on an exquisite 23cm, chrysanthemum-shaped dish — the largest of its kind seen to date — decorated with peonies. Says Lien, these symbols of wealth and prosperity impart ‘an air of opulence and elegance’.

These and many other exceptional pieces will be offered in the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art  auction on 30 November in Hong Kong, as part of Hong Kong Week.