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Fine & Decorative Art

Daoguang Vase

Daoguang Vase
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Daoguang Vase

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Daoguang vase in famille rose enamels on yellow ground. The bottle form porcelain vase is encircled with lions, known as shishi in China, but often referred to as Foo dogs in the West. The lions are painted in underglaze cobalt blue, green, rose pink, and aubergine. On the reverse is a single white blossom on a vine. The Daoguang Emperor (Tao Kuang, 1820-1850) was the sixth Qing ruler of China. In general, this was a period of decline in China, although some fine ceramics were still created.

A group of ceramics, to which this vase belongs, have yellow grounds. The colored grounds of the Daoguang period have a texture that has been compared to muslin. Daoguang famille rose porcelain often used an underglaze blue, in a revival of the style of the Yongzheng Dynasty (1723-1735). Enamels are translucent and used in combination with incised sgraffito outlining.

Famille rose is a family of enamel colors introduced from Europe that came into use in China in the late 17th century. Famille rose colors were termed yangcai, “foreign colors.” Their use became widespread, achieving great technical and artistic distinction in the reign of Qianlong (1736-1795). However, the use of enamel colors with underglaze cobalt blue had actually begun with the doucai palette in the 15th century under the Ming Xuande Dynasty.

In the nineteenth century under first Jiaqing (1796-1820) and then Daoguang the finances of China declined, eventually resulting in severe austerity. The situation became so dire that the 1800 mile long Grand Canal connecting the agricultural provinces to the the capital of Beijing, became impassable from lack of funds for dredging. 

This was also the period in which mass opium addiction, fueled by the Western powers, ravaged China. The Opium War with the British was fought from 1839-1842. China was defeated and forced to sign a treaty with the British on punitive terms. Daoguang died in 1850 at the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion continued until 1864 when the revolt against the Qing rulers was finally ended. The deadly conflict was estimated to have caused the deaths of as many as 20 million people.

The Daoguang vase is unmarked, but bears an old paper label dating it to the Kangxi Dynasty (1662-1722). In examining Chinese ceramics, labels and even reign marks must be approached with great caution. The characteristics of the piece itself must be closely examined to determine origin and authenticity. In this case, the Daoguang vase actually dates from the middle of the 19th century.