Idealised landscapes encircling the body of a vase, like a painting on a handscroll that is revealed with every turn, are relatively rare on Qianlong porcelain. Such continuous paintings commanded not only accomplished brushwork but also particular skill at composition, especially for vases of this pear-shaped hu form. A closely related example with slight variations in mountainscape views, similarly flanked by archaistic kui dragon handles, and possibly the companion to this vase, from the Umezawa Gallery, Tokyo, is published in Mayuyama. Seventy Years, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 1071, and included in the exhibition Shincho toji [Qing ceramics in the Umezawa Kinenkan, Tokyo], MOA Art Museum, Atami, 1984, cat. no. 17.
Vases decorated in this style, with mountainous landscapes featuring pavilions in richly-coloured vegetation among towering rockwork and expanses of water, are known to have been applied onto porcelain by Tang Ying (1682-1756), superintendent of the Jingdezhen imperial porcelain factory and a gifted painted himself. Scenes signed with his seal, either painted directly by him onto the vessel or transferred from his ink paintings by professional porcelain decorators have survived from the early Qianlong period. The painting is in the ‘Four Wangs’ orthodox school style which was very popular in the early 18th century. Moreover, Tang Ying had learned painting under Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715), one of the Four Wangs, in his early years.
For an example of a landscape vase of this type from the early Qianlong period, see one of lantern-shape with an inscription by Tang Ying, from the collection of Charles Russell, sold in our London rooms, 25th June 1946, lot 79, again in these rooms, 15th November 1988, lot 52, from the collection of Paul and Helen Bernat, and a third time at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th April 2001, lot 516, and published in Peter Y.K. Lam, ‘Tang Ying (1682-1756). The Imperial Factory Superintendent at Jingdezhen’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 63, 1998-99, p. 73, fig. 8, where it is compared to a landscape painting by Tang Ying, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, fig. 9. The same vase is also published in Julian Thompson, The Alan Chuang Collection of Chinese Porcelain, Hong Kong, 2009, pl. 101. A smaller lantern-shaped vase similarly painted with a landscape and inscribed with a poem, dated to the dingmao year of Qianlong (in accordance with 1747), but lacking the seals of Tang Ying, from the collections of Robert C. Bruce and H.M. Knight, was included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition The Arts of the Ch’ing Dynasty, The Arts Council Gallery, London, 1964, cat. no. 215; and an unmarked larger example, in the British Museum, London, is published in Soame Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain. The Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912), London, 1951, pl. XCIII, fig. 1.
Idyllic mountainscapes were highly favoured by members of the court and scholar elite as they provided an escape from the duties and responsibilities of official life. Along with porcelain vases, such scenes were produced in a number of porcelain shapes, such as brushpots and dishes, as well as a variety of valuable media, including jade, wood and rhinoceros horn. It remained a popular subject throughout the Qianlong Emperor’s reign and beyond, the porcelain examples being later combined with lavish borders decorated in sgraffiato to further resemble the textile borders of scroll paintings, such as a pair of vases from J.T. Tai, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2130.
The particular form of this vase, with iron-red decorated handles, is more commonly known decorated with the ‘hundred deer’ motif; see one in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999, vol. 15, pl. 17 and on the dust jacket; one, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 85; and a third offered in this sale, lot 3625.