REF No. 6280
Three Massive Chinese export porcelain blue and white chargers
Kangxi period circa 1700
Dutch or English Market
Diameter: 21¾ inches; 55.5cm
A set of three massive chargers painted in underglaze blue with an elaborate design consisting of a central roundel of flowers surrounded by eight floral panels, the rim with four peacocks alternating with floral reserves on a scrolling lotus ground, the reverse with Daoist symbols and a lingzhi.
In China the peacock is a symbol of beauty and dignity and, in the Ming dynasty, the tail feathers were used to show official rank.
These elaborate and high quality chargers are fine examples of pieces that were very popular for displays in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, often in special rooms called 'porcelain cabinets' after designs by Daniel Marot. In late nineteenth century England there was a renewed vogue for these fine Kangxi blue and white pieces and one of the most famous displays of such collections was in the Peacock Room in the London home of Liverpool shipping magnate Frederick R Leyland.
He had commissioned Thomas Jeckyll (1827-1881) to design the dining room around his collection of porcelain, including chargers of this pattern, and around the famous painting by the American artist James McNeill Whistler, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain. Whistler himself came to London to work on details of the woodwork for this room and, while Leyland was away in 1876, he embarked on a much more elaborate scheme with gold peacocks on blue, inspired by the peacocks such as those found on this piece. He got carried away with it, painting over expensive leather wall coverings brought to England by Catherine of Aragon. He later wrote: “I went on - without design or sketch - putting in every touch with such freedom…And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy of it.”
Whistler demanded 2,000 guineas for his efforts and a furious Leyland refused payment, as he had not asked for the work - though he was reputedly pleased with the finished product. In the end they settled at 1000 pounds - which was a calculated insult as tradesmen were paid in pounds and gentlemen paid in guineas.
The room was later bought by Charles Lang Freer who had earlier bought the Whistler painting and it was set up in Detroit. After Freer's death the room was moved to the Freer Gallery of Art in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC where it is now fully restored and filled with porcelain, including chargers of this type.
It is interesting to note that in the times of both Marot and Whistler the ideal was to design the wall paper and colour scheme around the porcelain - something that is not always the case today.
References: Merrill, Linda (1998) The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography; Lisa N. Peters (1996) James McNeill Whistler, Smithmark, New York; Pinto de Matos 2003, p70, N0 11 an identical dish