Look Up and See Joy

Look Up and See Joy

Included in our May Asian Art sale, we are pleased to present a finely potted Chinese Republic period famille rose vase. Decorated with magpies perched among the branches of a blossoming prunus tree, against a yellow sgraffito ground, the vase has a six-character Qianlong mark to base. The characteristic combination of bright yellow glaze and the lively birds, together with a soft touch of the pink flowers, brings with it the breeze of spring.

20 April 2023

It is one of the most important Chinese customs to greet one another with auspicious words during festival seasons. Believed to spread good fortune, these wishes reflect people's desire for peace, their hope for prosperity, and their prayers for happiness and love of life.

The auspicious words became auspicious motifs used directly or indirectly in everyday life, from animals to plants for the rebuses they represent. Magpies, or Xique, are often described as ‘birds of joy', and often seen with other flowers to form auspicious visual puns, such as ‘Xi Shang Mei Shao’ (magpies among prunus branches) representing 'may your joy reach up to the top of your eyebrows'. ‘Tai Tou Jian Xi’ (look up and see joy) is another popular phrase for best wishes as the magpies are standing in the tree branches.

A Chinese famille rose vase

A Chinese famille rose vase (£2,000-£3,000)

The vase is further embellished with an incised sprawling pattern in the sgraffiato technique, a new decorative process on porcelain from the Qing dynasty, in which a needlepoint was used to engrave delicate scrollwork on a coloured ground. Commonly known as ‘Jin Shang Tian Hua’ (adding flowers to a brocade), this etching technique’s name is also a famous idiom meaning ‘making what is good even better’ and carries the auspicious connotation of ‘being blessed with a double portion of good fortune’.

A Chinese famille rose vase

A Chinese famille rose vase (£2,000-£3,000)

This rich overall background design first appeared and became popular in the Qianlong period, reminiscent of French rococo textiles, which would have entered the court through Jesuit missionaries and merchants in Guangdong. It required formidable skill and labour to execute and imitate the impression of a rich brocade, which brings the auspicious message to the next level.

For a plate with a similar design from the Tongzhi period in the Qing dynasty was previously sold for £11,180. 


To find out more about our 19 May Asian Art Sale, please contact asianart@sworder.co.uk 




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