Like so many palace snuff bottles from the eighteenth century, this was possibly made as part of a series. As befits highly artistic wares, and in common with the majority of palace enamels on glass, porcelain, and metal from the Kangxi period into the 1760s, although the subjects in a series may be similar, the compositions are never repeated from object to object. This was true also of the series of yellow-ground double gourds represented by the famous ‘Barbara Hutton Gourd’ in Sale 8.
The wares in the present group are distinguished by their shape, size, diagonally slanting plantain-leaf neck bands, formalized floral designs, ruby-pink narrow-side panels of European subjects juxtaposed with the Chinese women on the main panels, and the small, neatly drawn marks (a standard of early-Qianlong production).
Two from the series are still in the imperial collection, one in Taipei (Chang Lin-sheng 1991, no. 29; Guoli Gugong bowuyuan and Hou Yi-li 2012, p. 126, no. II-026), the other in Beijing (Xia Gengqi 1995, no. 103, and Li Jiufang 2002, no. 16), and two more are published in Geng Baochang and Zhao Binghua 1992,nos. 105 and 106.
The Chinese figures on this series all appear to be romanticised peasant women, perhaps influenced by the aristocratic European fascination during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with peasant life, idealised illustrations of which were prominent among the European prints and designs that influenced imperial arts at both Guangzhou and Beijing during the eighteenth century. A related but much more elaborate and larger example is Sale 4, lot 38, with its European figures.
The most obvious European influence here is found in the ruby-pink panels of landscape on the narrow-sides, not only in the subject matter, which is obviously Western, but in the style of painting, with its realistic shading and use of body colour as much as line to define form. Alerted to this, the viewer notes that the same is evident in the Chinese scenes. Although the faces of the women are defined by iron-red lines, they are also delicately shaded, and the folds in the clothing are entirely defined by body colour and chiaroscuro rather than by filled outlines. The background foliage and grassy ground are also painted entirely in the European style.
The depictions here may be European in some details, but the general theme is thoroughly Chinese.
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