REF No. 6419
Pair of Chinese export porcelain blue and white dinner plates with the Pronk Arbour pattern.
Qianlong period circa 1739
Diameter: 9 inches; 23cm
A pair of dinner plates painted in undeglaze blue with a scene of a Chinese couple in an arbour surrounded by several children, with ducks on a pond in the foreground, the rim with panels of fruit, flowers and insects interspersed with palmettes.
These plates have a design by the Dutch artist Cornelis Pronk, who was commissioned by the Dutch East India Company in 1734 to make drawings to be reproduced on porcelain. This is probably his fourth design for the VOC, produced in 1737, and is known in blue and white and famille rose but not in Chinese Imari, though the original drawing has not been found.
The sources for the design are complex and Pronk worked by assembling elements from various prints and drawings in a manner that was standard procedure in his day. Yasumasa Oka (1985), has identified a drawing by Pronk of a cholon - or ‘Chinese teahouse’ in the gardens of Bosch en Hoven, near Haarlem, that is the same shape as the topiary here. Such teahouses were a popular feature of many Dutch gardens and were usually small buildings in which tea could be drunk - and an expression of the interest in the East at that time. The Bosch en Hoven cholon was also engraved by Hendrik de Leth - and it was replaced in the 1920s by a small chapel.
The four insects in the rim are taken from Maria Sybilla Merian’s Erucarum Ortus, published in full in 1718, and in an enlarged Dutch edition, European Insects, 1730. Three of these have been identified before (Cohen & Cohen 2013, p66-7). The flowers in the other eight panels are European in style but have not been found.
A Meissen teabowl with this pattern is in the New York Metropolitan Museum, No 64.101.165 from the Untermyer Collection, and another in the Gröninger Museum (CJ Jörg, pers. comm.), possibly Amsterdam decorated, which suggests that Pronk or the VOC may have had European examples made up as a trial or that an alternative place of manufacture was being investigated as it was becoming clear that the ‘Pronk’ venture in Canton was not proving cost effective.
In fact this ‘arbour’ design seems to have been influential on other designs made in the ‘Pronk workshop’, probably created by someone else - perhaps in Batavia from where the venture was monitored. Two of the insects in the border panels are found on the Insect teaservice, which is also attributed to the workshop. It has colouring and other features that match - and the cups have a very distinctive shape only found on a few services (Doctors’ Visit, Insect, Trumpeter, Parrot and Spaniel) - all connected with the workshop. One insect from the rim appears in the Archer pattern, another is repeated on the ‘fritillary’ vases. In addition, the palmette feature in the plate rim reappears in the ‘palmette’ services, in two colourways, which also echoes the design on the back of these plates.
References: Scheurleer 1974, plate 202; Jörg 1980, p34, Nos 48-50; Jörg 1989, No 52; Du Boulay 1966, p262; Le Corbeiller 1973, Cat 30; Ibid. 1974, fig 24; Forbes 1982, p42, No 69; Litzenburg 2003, p177; Howard 1994, Nos 55-6; Clunas 1987, pl 48; Shimizu & Chabanne 2003, p207, No 158; Oka, Yasumasa, 1985, Antiek, 20th year, no. 2, aug/sept 1985, pp69-76; Mezin 2002, p53, No 28, a blue and white plate.