REF No. 6536
chinese painted enamel on copper dish with european subject
Qianlong period 1736-96
Length: 11 inches; 28cm
A rare Chinese painted enamel oval dish, decorated with a scene of seated Europeans, the rim with puce panels of flowers reserved on a green trellis diaper ground.
This very finely painted European subject dish, made for the Chinese market, is an example of what might be called ‘reverse chinoiserie’ - it is a Chinese made piece with scenes of Europeans intended for a Chinese market.
Just as chinoiserie designs on, for example, Meissen porcelains of this date have a particular style of Chinese figures and scenes that are a long way from the Chinese reality, having been filtered though the eyes of Westerners, so does this dish have a style of Western figures filtered through Chinese eyes.
The composition of this scene is quirky and strange, including the uncertain use of perspective and inclusion of Chinese vases and furniture, and it belongs to a small group of such pieces painted by Chinese artists attempting to create entertaining images of European figures. There is no original print source for this - rather it is a Chinese assembly using elements from prints and books that they may have seen but which have been imperfectly understood. This particular group of designs is poorly understood and has been little studied to date.
In 1925 a discovery was made in the Forbidden Palace of a collection of very fine hua falang or 'painted enamels' which came from the period 1720-1780. Each was packed in individual cedarwood boxes and stored in the Duanning Palace, next to the east wing of the Qianqing Palace. These items are now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The objects tell the story of the evolution of Chinese enamelling, beginning with the activities in the reign of Kangxi. The Emperor was fascinated by the different techniques of enamelling on metal, glass, Yixing wares and porcelain and encouraged experimentation and the importing of ideas and expertise from the West. He extended the Beijing Workshops in 1693 and built a glass factory in 1696 under the direction of Kilian Stumpf (1655-1720) who taught the Chinese how to prepare different enamel colours. By 1706 Kangxi was distributing enamelled glasswares as presents and enamelled copper boxes with Kangxi marks are known from this period. By the end of his reign the French Jesuit Missionary Jean Baptiste Gravereau was supervising the enamelling and this coincides with the development of the pink enamel that gave its name to famille rose.
The artistic styles of enamels during the reign of Kangxi were mainly Chinese, derived from cloisonné. But under Yongzheng the designs flourished, influenced by European enamels brought to the workshops and by painters such as Castiglione, who is known to have painted in enamels, and his student Lin Chaokai who was active during Yongzheng's reign. The European designs merely acted as a starting point for the Chinese enamel painting.
The Emperor Qianlong continued this tradition of enamel painting but showed his own interest in Western Images by encouraging the use of Western figures and landscapes, including European hunting scenes. He further developed the workshops and moved some of them to Canton where items continued to be made in this style.
In the early years this workshop in Canton also made pieces of very high quality that were exported to the west, in particular to the Scandinavian market. The Danish supercargo Christen Lintrup de Lindencrone (1704-1772) was in Canton in 1738 and 1741 and brought back fine pieces for Royal customers in Denmark and Sweden, including a group of sconces ordered for the Danish royal appartments of Sophie Magdelene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, the wife of Christian VI.
The imperial workshop ceased interaction with the export trade and new workshops were set up to supply it. The painted enamel european subject (and european shaped) pieces were popular and continued also to use these ‘reverse chinoiserie’ designs, though somewhat reduced in quality. Very few examples of European prints directly copied in enamel on copper are known and only a handful that are found both on enamel and on porcelain.
References: Yang Boda, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, an exhibition catalogue that reattributes some ‘Beijing' enamel pieces of this type to Guangzhou workshops; for trays of this shape with similar decoration, see Arapova, Chinese Painted Enamels, pl. 108, p. 163, in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; and Hildburgh, Chinese Painted Enamels with European Subjects, pl. 1A; Cohen & Cohen 2015, p30-31, two similar enamel trays with european subjects; Clemmensen, T and Mackeprang, MB. 1980, pp148-58, discussion of Lintrup’s voyages.