This bottle belongs to a group of bottles produced at the Palace workshops during the late Qianlong period. After the mid-reign, there were considerable cuts in the enamelling workshops in a progressive attempt to save money after the extreme costs of a disastrous campaign to conquer Burma, and bring the fabled jadeite mines under the Qianlong Emperor's control, and the more successful campaign to conquer the troublesome tribes to the West in Turkestan, and bring it into the Chinese Empire as Xinjiang province, achieved in 1759. During the late Kangxi, Yongzheng and early Qianlong reigns, Court artists, both Chinese and Jesuit, were involved in designing and sometimes in enamelling the pieces themselves, resulting in the finest enamels on metal, glass and porcelain produced in China. The mid-reign of the Qianlong Emperor saw a gradual decline in artistic standards, although technical standards were maintained, and the last part of the reign, which lasted until 1799 in terms of the use of the reign mark on wares made for the Qianlong Emperor saw a series of more decorative subjects. These included the same sort of Chinese and European subjects seen in the earlier reign, but with more decorative intent. In enamels on metal this late-Qing Palace group can be traced into the early Jiaqing reign. See, for instance, two bottles illustrated in Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1978, nos. 14 and 15, one with a Qianlong mark and one with a Jiaqing mark, but both of identical style and palette. Another bottle of this group with a Qianlong yuzhi mark is in Michael C. Hughes, The Blair Bequest. Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Princeton University Art Museums, no. 345, demonstrating continued, personal Imperial interest in the enamel workshops right to the end of his reign.
Magpies in the branches of a prunus tree form a rebus meaning 'May you have happiness up to your eyebrows,' while the cat and the butterfly form a rebus hoping for longevity. Another Qianlong-marked enamelled copper bottle decorated with a scene of a cat and butterfly is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and is illustrated in Snuff Bottles, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Vol. 47, Hong Kong, 2003, no. 144.