The plate for this fine Chinese mirror painting is possibly of French manufacture, supplied to the painters of Canton, the centre for 18th Chinese mirror painting, through the agency of the Compagnie des Indes. It maintained a presence in Canton during the trading seasons, in common with other European trading companies. The introduction of the technique of painting on imported glass in China is often accredited to the Jesuit missionary Father Castiglione (1688-1766), who arrived in Peking in 1715, although the techinque of `back', or `reverse' painting was already well known in Europe. The designs were either painted onto the mirror glass before silvering or traced onto pre-silvered plates so that the mercury backing could be removed prior to decorating. After cleaning, the surface to be painted was washed over with gum water applied by a soft hair pencil or brush. Once the gum had dried, the artist worked on the image in reverse using a fine writing brush to apply oil colours, occasionally mixed with gum. The finished articles, often several at a time were then placed in a clay pan between layers of finely sieved quick lime before the colours were hardened in an oven.
The repetitive subject matter in mirror paintings of this genre suggests that many were based on prints. Birds and flowers were a popular theme, as exemplified by the present mirror which include Feng Hang birds, a composite creature with the head of a pheasant and the beak of a swallow. A river background such as that scene depicted here, was frequently employed and is often assumed to represent a Utopian view of the Pearl river, or Chu Kiang, which flows through Canton (cf. Graham Child, World Mirrors, 1990, pp.361-86). Jourdain and Jenyns, op. cit. p. 37, speculate that the present river scene may be set amongst the `terrain at Macao'.
An alternative version of the same river scene portrayed in a landscape aspect, sold Sotheby's London, `The Horlick Collection', 5 June 2007, lot 37.