Vibrantly painted with a playful scene of boys playing with firecrackers, this pair of vases belong to a select group of porcelain wares made during the Daoguang reign to furnish his newly built Shengdetang (Hall of Prudent Virtue). Part of the Jiuzhouqingyan complex in the Yuanming Yuan, the Shendetang was completed in 1831, and became the Emperor’s preferred residence. Featuring three connecting wave roofs on a square-shaped structure, the hall was markedly different from the more characteristic Confucian-inspired architecture, a feature that was reflected in the style of porcelain that was lavishly produced for it. This special group of wares are attributable to two decades between 1831 and 1850 and are often characterised by novel and lavish designs, as seen with this pair of vases.
A vase of this type and painted with this motif, but with a key-fret band on the neck, from the Georg Weishaupt collection, illustrated in Chinese and Japanese Porcelain of the 19th and 20th Centuries and their Forerunners, Stuttgart, 2002, pl. 38, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 16th January 1989, lot 706; two slightly larger examples were sold in our New York rooms, 28th November 1994, lot 382 and 383, the first with yellow and turquoise-ground flower-scroll borders, and the second with a pink ground and elaborate dragon handles; another was sold in our London Colonnade rooms, 18th July 1994, lot 154; and a further vase but with a Daoguang reign mark and of the period, from the collection of Edward T. Chow, was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th May 1981, lot 597. See also a vase of this type, decorated with boys on dragon boats, between blue-ground borders, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhao Congyue, Porcelains with Inscription of Shendetang Collected by the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2014, pl. 50; and another with the borders on a yellow ground, from the Huaihaitang collection, included in the exhibition Ethereal Elegance. Porcelain Vases of the Imperial Qing, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2007, cat. no. 140.
The lively scene on these pieces is set in an elegant winter landscape, with the boys wearing fur coats and playing among flowering winter trees. Together with their engagement with firecrackers, it suggests that the vases were made for celebrating the New Year, when boys were encouraged to light firecrackers to ward off evil and therefore bring peace.