This superb vase is a tour de force of the decorator’s art and would have been extremely time-consuming to produce, requiring a painter of exceptional skill. Even with the resources available to the Qing emperors, it is not surprising that very few pieces decorated with this complex design were made, and only a handful have survived. The dense arrangement of various flowers decorating this vase is known as wanhuajin (myriad flower brocade), as well as baihuadi (ground of one hundred flowers), and, according to T. T. Bartholomew in Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2006, p. 146, during the Qing dynasty the design conveyed the hope that the Qing dynasty "would last as long as flowers continue to bloom."
A Qianlong-marked double-gourd vase with similar mille fleurs decoration is illustrated by S. W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art, London, 1981 edition (reprint of the ten-volume 1896 edition), p. 214, figure 279. Bushell noted that the flowers on the vase were "... painted in natural colors, so that each species may be recognized at a glance by one familiar with the garden flora of China. Among them may be distinguished peonies of several kinds, lotus, chrysanthemum, magnolia, roses, hibiscus (both pink and yellow), orchids, iris, lilies (scarlet and white), asters, hydrangea, wisteria, dielytra, pomegranate, begonia, narcissus, convolvulus, syringa (white and lilac), Pyrus japonica (hai-t'ang) and double peach, Olea fragrans, cockscomb, etc."
The mille fleurs design - in a somewhat paler famille rose palette, and in a slightly more open format where white background is visible between the flowers and leaves, and without iron-red - first appears during the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), as represented by a small bowl in the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 39 - Porcelains with Cloisonné Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 18, no. 15. Another similar Yongzheng-marked bowl, formerly in the Edward T. Chow Collection, is illustrated by M. Beurdeley and G. Raindre in Qing Porcelain - Famille Verte, Famille Rose, London, 1987, p. 102, pl. 146. Two other similar bowls have been sold at Christie's, one in Hong Kong, 28 October 2002, lot 606, and one in New York, 15 September 2009, lot 371. This same design continued into the Qianlong period as seen on a bowl from the Robert Chang Collection sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 31 October 2000, lot 811, that has a Cai Xiu Tang zhi mark in blue enamel.
During the Qianlong period a variation of this design appeared, with the design becoming more dense, allowing no visible white space between the flowers and leaves. The famille rose palette also became richer and with more realistic shading of the enamels, as well as with the addition of iron-red. This version of the pattern is well represented by a large Qianlong-marked vase in the Musée Guimet, illustrated by Beurdeley and Raindre, op. cit., pp. 118-19, pls. 164 and 165. Another well-known Qianlong-marked example is the bottle vase in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated by He Li in Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1996, p. 307, no. 664. See, also, the double-gourd vase decorated with this design sold at Christie's London, 11 November 2003, lot 94.
This version of the design, with its rich interweaving of the flowers to form a harmonious overall pattern, continued to be admired during the reign of the Jiaqing emperor. A fine example of this is the Jiaqing-marked vase in the Shanghai Museum illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji, vol. 21, Shanghai, 1981, pl. 144. A pair of cups with this design and iron-red Jiaqing marks from the Edward T. Chow Collection was illustrated by C. and M. Beurdeley in La Ceramique Chinoise, Fribourg, 1974, no. 151, and later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, The Edward T. Chow Collection, Part One, 25 November 1989, lot 171, and again at Christie's Hong Kong, 29-30 April 2002, lot 708. Another pair of similar cups was sold at Christie's New York, 21 September 2004, lot 343, and a single cup at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1751.