Chinese nodding-head figures are documented in England and Continental Europe as early as the 1760's and 1770's and Zoffany's famous portrait depicting Queen Charlotte in her Dressing Room at Buckingham Palace painted in 1764 shows two such figures in the background (see C. Saumarez Smith, Eighteenth Century Decoration, New York, 1993, p.255, fig.246). A closely related group of 'twenty-four figures of Chinese burnt clay with colouring 13 inches high, representing the Emperor and Empress of China and the whole Imperial household' are in the Danish Royal collection, acquired in an auction in 1777; a pair from the group is illustrated in B. Dam-Mikkelsen and T. Lundbaek, Ethnographic Objects in the Royal Danish Kunsthammer 1650-1800, pp.173-179.
Nodding-head figures were imported into England, Europe and America from Canton in large numbers from the 1780's. The great interest in these figures in England is derived in large part from the personal tastes of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Prince's interest in Chinese decoration was first expressed in his Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House; however his sudden inspiration to achieve an Oriental interior at Brighton Pavilion was prompted in 1802. The final achievement, an ornate palace of fantastical proportions, was due to the combined efforts of the Prince himself and his principal designers, John and Frederick Crace, over the next twenty-five years. A number of Chinese figures of this type were prominently displayed in the corridor of the Pavilion (see J. Morley, The Making of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Boston, 1984, pp. 169-176).
Other comparable seated nodding-head figures are known. A documented pair dating to 1803 'copied from the life and brought from Canton' are in the collection at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (see C.L. Crossman, The China Trade, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991, p.317, col.pl. 112). Others recently sold at auction include a pair sold from a private collection, Sotheby's New York, 22 April 1995, lot 86 ($79,500) and a further pair, the property of a Gentleman, sold Christie's London, 7 July 1994, lot 114 (38,900).