PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EAST ASIAN COLLECTION An Exceptionally Rare Qianlong Rose-ground Moon Flask Rosemary Scott, Senior International Academic Consultant The development of a full enamel palette was one of the major achievements of the Qing imperial ceramic and glass workshops and was used to great effect on porcelains decorated in a range of different styles. Many designs were simply applied to the white ground provided by the porcelain glaze, others, however, appeared against a coloured ground. It seems that only plain coloured backgrounds were used on enamelled porcelains of the Kangxi and Yongzheng reigns, while coloured grounds with delicate painted or incised scrolls and lattices appear to have been a creation of the Qianlong craftsmen. The design of the incised pale rose pink ground areas with floral scrolls on the current flask is known in Chinese as 錦上 添花 jinshang tianhua ‘flower brocade design’. This specific type of decoration does not appear to have been used prior to the Qianlong reign, and it may be assumed that it was created by the great imperial kiln supervisor 唐英Tang Ying in order to meet the expectations of his demanding patron, the Qianlong Emperor. There are two versions of this ‘flower brocade design’, applied to the two most esteemed types of porcelains made for the Qianlong court - 琺瑯彩 falangcai and 洋彩 yangcai. In one group the delicate scroll or lattice on the background enamel was painted, while in the other the design was incised into the background enamel before firing. In Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign (華麗彩瓷 : 乾隆洋彩, 廖寶秀 主編), Taipei, 2013 edition, Liao Pao Show suggests that the painted version was applied to falangcai porcelains in the 5th and 6th years of the Qianlong reign, while the incised version appeared on yangcai porcelains just a little later, in the 6th year – which also seems to mark the beginning of an era of particularly fine production at the imperial kilns. In the same volume, many examples of such porcelains from the collection of the National Palace Museum are illustrated. Those with incised ground include pls. 1-14, 17-19, 21-25, 29-31. By reference to archival material, it was possible for the compilers of the Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign volume to determine the dates of production for the illustrated vessels, and it is noticeable that all those with similar incised ground to that on the current flask date to the 1740s – early in the Qianlong reign, during the tenure of Tang Ying. Many of these National Palace Museum vessels share with the current flask distinctive painted formal floral scrolls with shaded stems and blooms. In his writings, Tang Ying noted that the decoration on yangcai porcelains was influenced by the West, and this can be seen not only in the formal style of these floral scrolls, but the use of shading and white details in the painted enamels. These painted scrolls, presented against a background of incised lattice, or, as in the case of the current flask, a delicate incised feather-like scroll, do indeed merit comparison with the silk brocades suggested by their Chinese name. While a number of enamelled porcelain vessels with deep rouge pink incised background are known, and many are illustrated in Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign, op. cit., very few with the delicate incised pale rose pink ground seen on the current moon flask seem to have survived. It is interesting to note that no vessels with this colour ground are illustrated in Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign. A late Kangxi bowl in the National Palace Museum has turquoise panels reserved against a plain pale pink ground and is illustrated in Special Exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, p. 42, no. 6. Another Kangxi yuzhi bowl with plain pale pink ground was exhibited in Hong Kong in Selected Treasures of Chinese Art - Thirtieth Anniversary Exhibition, Min Chiu Society, Hong Kong, 1990, p. 344-5, no. 157. A Qianlong teapot with pale pink scrolling ground surrounding panels containing delicately painted chrysanthemums and rocks is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong - Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 365, no. 46. This teapot, however, has the scrolls painted on the pale pink ground in a slightly darker pink enamel, rather than being incised into the pale pink enamel, as on the current flask. The pink areas on the Beijing teapot provide a ground for formal floral scrolls and blue archaistic kui dragons. Similar pale pink ground with scrolls painted in a darker pink providing the ground for coloured floral scrolls and blue archaistic kui dragons, can also be seen on a teapot from the collection of Mr. C.P. Lin (illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration – Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, p. 165, no. 190). Plain pale pink enamel ground with painted formal flower scrolls, can be seen on the neck and foot of a square Qianlong vase, with squirrel and grape decoration around the body, from the Qing imperial collection in the Nanjing Museum (illustrated in Imperial porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Nanjing, 1995, no. 88). There is, however, a Qianlong bowl with a design of scrolling flowers against an incised pale pink ground - the incised scrolling decoration similar that on the current flask - in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum, Fine-Enamelled Ware of the Ch'ing Dynasty - Ch'ien-lung Period, II, Cafa, Hong Kong, 1967, pp. 112-3, no. 35. The flower painting in the reserved panels on either side of the current flask is finely executed and the same design is seen on both sides – albeit with some small differences in detail, such as on the rocks. The decorative combination of white magnolia (yulan 玉蘭), crab apple (haitang 海棠) and peonies (fuguihua 富貴花), seen in these panels, has an auspicious meaning, since the names of the flowers combine to form a rebus for 玉堂富貴 yutang fugui ‘may your noble house be blessed with wealth and honour’, since the first character of magnolia and the second character of crab apple combine to provide a rebus for玉堂 yutang ‘jade hall’, which is an elegant way of referring to a wealthy household, while the peony is known as the flower of ‘wealth and honour’. The same combination of plants can be found on a number of fine 18th century enamelled porcelains, including a large Yongzheng dish from the Qing Court Collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1999, vol. 39, p. 67, no. 57. A different combination of three flowering plants - peonies, lotus and plum blossom - adorns the circular panels on either side of a Yongzheng moon flask decorated in doucai technique in the collection of Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci mingqi zhan, Shanghai bowuguan suozang, 1995, p. 87, no. 72. A comparable doucai moon flask bearing a Qianlong mark is in the Palace Museum collection, Beijing, see Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 38, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 265, no. 243. Unlike the current flask, however, these two doucai examples have cylindrical necks. A pair of Qianlong moon flasks with archaistic dragon handles in the Matsuoka Museum of Art has a design of peonies and magnolia, somewhat reminiscent of the design on the current flask, on one side and an inscription on the other. The Matsuoka flasks, which are slightly larger than the current vessel, do not have bulb necks and have a dark ruby ground surrounding the reserved circular panels, see Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics from Matsuoka Museum of Art, Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum, 1997, p. 44 no. 35. Some of the minor decoration on the current flask can also be seen on other fine imperial enamelled vessels of the Qianlong reign. The band of blue and yellow ruyi heads around the mouth, for example, appears around the mouth of a number of Qianlong vessels with colour grounds, including a turquoise-ground vase with formal scrolling plant designs in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, op. cit., p. 135, no. 118, a vase with lime green ground, floral scrolls and reserved flower panels, also in the Palace Museum and illustrated in the same volume, p. 141. No. 123, a vase with rouge red ground and floral scrolls from the Palace Museum, also illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, op. cit., p. 145, no. 127, and a vase with gold ground, floral scrolls and reserved flower panels in the Palace Museum, illustrated in the same volume, p. 155, no. 137. The small upward-pointing ruyi band with pink shading seen around the foot of the current flask can also be found, in the same orientation, around the lower neck of a pair of blue ground vases, dated to 1742, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign, op. cit., pp. 148-9, no. 47. Flattened porcelain flasks with compressed bulb mouths and strap handles appear among Chinese porcelains of the early 15th century. An early 15th century blue and white example with Islamic inspired lattice decoration is in the collection of the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, see Rosemary Scott, Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration, op. cit., p. 39, no. 26; while another is in the Palace Museum, Beijing. The form enjoyed renewed popularity in the 18th century, and in the case of a Yongzheng blue and white example in the Palace Museum, Beijing, the same lattice decoration was applied (see Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red, III, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 36, 2000, p. 113, no. 99), while the underglaze red Qianlong flask in the Baur Collection was also decorated with an adaptation of the early design, see John Ayers, The Baur Collection, 1974, vol. 4, no. A535. On the current flask, however, a delicately enamelled, typically Qing, design has been applied in a manner that perfectly complements the form. From the Qianlong reign several moon flasks, with a variety of neck forms, with coloured grounds are preserved in the Palace collections. A triple-necked moon flask with pale celadon ground and reserved circular panels showing immortals in landscape is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, op. cit., p. 142, no. 124, while a moon flask with dragon handles and a turquoise ground surrounding reserved panels depicting children at play is in the same museum collection, illustrated in Kangxi Yongzheng Qianlong - Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, p. 354, no. 35. A conjoined double moon flask with one rouge red and one blue ground flask is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated, Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch’ien-lung Reign, op. cit., pp. 88-9, no. 21. These conjoined flasks have long necks and everted mouth rims. Fine Qing dynasty enamelled porcelains with rare pink or pinkish-mauve ground colours appear to have particularly appealed to the famous 19th century collector, Alfred Morrison, who amassed the Fonthill heirlooms collection. Recent research has shown that the current flask was one of several porcelain vessels decorated with backgrounds in these rare colours, which Morrison purchased from the London art dealers Durlacher Brothers of New Bond Street between September 1864 and September 1866.
QIANLONG FOUR-CHARACTER SEAL MARK IN IRON-RED AND OF THE PERIOD (1736-1795)