The original design for this planter is preserved in the Palace Archives in Beijing, and the design is illustrated by Guo Xingkuan and Wang Guangyao, in Guanyang Yuci: Gugong bowuyuan cang Qingdai zhici guanyang yu Yuyao (Official Designs and Imperial Porcelain: The Palace Museum's Collection of Official Porcelain Designs and Porcelains from Imperial Kilns of the Qing Dynasty), Forbidden City Publishing, Beijing, 2007, p. 178, no. 38. The yellow note accompanying the design sketch says that four pairs were made with blue ground, four pairs with yellow ground, and four pairs with white ground.
The graceful purple wisteria that decorates this planter is rarely seen on porcelains prior to the 19th century, but appears on a significant number of Dayazhai porcelains. This flower seems to have been a favourite of Dowager Empress Cixi and decorated a number of her robes. A 1903 portrait of the Dowager Empress by Katherine Carl in the Hall of Pleasure and Longevity shows Cixi wearing a yellow robe decorated with shou characters and purple wisteria. The wisteria that appear on the robes and the Dayazhai porcelains may have had a special aesthetic appeal for Cixi. The combination of the cascading bunches of delicate purple flowers and the twisted vines from which they grow provide a pleasing casual, yet feminine and elegant design. It is known that twisted vines and tendrils appealed to Cixi in another context, since she personally was very fond of painting grapes on the vine. Like grape vines, the long vines of the wisteria plant and the flowers growing along them provide a suggestion of continuity, which was always a concern of the royal household. Wisteria also had an association with achieving high rank, since the Chinese name for wisteria ziteng means purple vine, and is taken as a reference to the purple sash and the cord used for fastening the official seal.
A planter of the same shape, design and ground colour was sold in our Hong Kong Rooms on 3 December 2008, lot 2213.