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Brief description

Glazed porcelain bottle vase decorated in blue with amusing figures, and scrolling patterns around the rim and base, marked on the base with the Kangxi reign mark (1662-1722), thought to be made in China c.1880.

Object name

bottle vase

Object number



Temp Exhib Space

Production date

c.1880 (manufactured)

Production place

China (manufactured)


Victorian (1837-1901)





Physical description

Glazed porcelain bottle vase, with a foot-rim and a globular body tapering to a cylindrical neck. It is decorated on the body and neck with figures painted in blue. Some figures are holding fans and lanterns, while some have ill-fitting, incorrect, or no clothes. Two small boys hold a large coin or shop sign. The vase has a scrolling pattern running around the rim and repeating arching panels running around the foot. A Kangxi reign mark, consisting of four Chinese characters, is painted in blue on the base of the vase.


Height: 25.6cm
Diameter: 7cm

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Object history note

Although this vase is marked with a painted Kangxi reign mark, which would indicate that it was made in China between 1662 and 1722, it does not date from this period, and reflects an interest in antique ceramics during the nineteenth century. It was most likely made in China around 1880, for the Chinese market or for export to Europe, and would have most likely been sold in Liberty's, which acquired objects directly from China and Japan to sell in its store.


Elizabeth Kramer, Senior Lecturer in Design History at Northumbria University, examined this object on 16 March 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

She noted that this vase looks Chinese, although the Kangxi reign mark was also used by the Japanese. It was also noted that the display on the mantelpiece in the Aesthetic room looks appropriate for the period in terms of colour and material.

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.

Charles Newton, former Curator of Design at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, examined these objects on 25 March 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

He noted that the vases are of Persian form, with Chinese decoration, and it is likely to be of Chinese manufacture for export. The complicated exchange of design ideas between Persia and China makes it very difficult to assess this vase: the Persians in their turn imitated Chinese decoration, and the Chinese had imitated the Persian use of blue on a white ground. It was suggested that a blue and white ceramics expert should be consulted for more information. See John Carswell, Blue & white: Chinese porcelain around the world (London: British Museum Press, 2000).

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.

Stacey Pierson, Lecturer in Chinese Ceramics at SOAS, University of London, examined this object on 29 September 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

She described this as one of a pair of vases (69/2001 and 70/2001) which are identical, although the design is mirrored. The shape of these vases is Kangxi (1661-1722), though they have a slightly wider neck. Dark decorative panels, as on these vases, were not popular before the 18th century: the style originates from the Ming period but usually with a white background.

The motifs themselves are not Kangxi in style, and depict 'ethnic' and 'foolish' people generally being silly. These motifs relate to books, commissioned by the Chinese court, being published in the previous century, starting in the Kangxi period. The books showed illustrations relating to the inferiority of certain peoples, usually foreigners and poorer people. There is an illustrated example of one of these books in the exhibition catalogue China: the three emperors, 1662-1795 (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005). On these vases, the lack of clothing, ill-fitting or incorrect clothes and 'amusing' stances emphasise the percieved inferiority of the figures. Illustrations of this kind are comparable as a Chinese equivalent of some of the artist William Hogarth's work, these motifs can be seen as 'entertainment' pieces. It is likely that these items were made for a shop in China to be sold to foreigners (who were numerous in China by this point), and could be considered as a frivolous or light-hearted purchase, like a toy. These types of objects would have been consumed by the Chinese as well as foreigners. The motif of the two boys holding a large coin suggests commerce, and could even be the sign of the particular shop that sold this vase, possibly even an early trademark.

Objects like this could definitely have been bought from Liberty’s, who often ordered stock directly from China to sell in their London store. See Sarah Cheang, The Ownership and Collection of Chinese Material Culture by Women in Britain, c.1890-c.1935, unpublished thesis (University of Sussex, 2004). There are examples of Chinese ceramics dating from the late 19th century in the home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London. See also the 'The Peacock Room', which is on permanent display in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

These types of wares would have been described as 'old' in catalogues. In general, the pieces on the fireplace in the Geffrye Museum's Aesthetic Room (Room 7) may be too new for the room; it is more likely that the inhabitants would have consumed antique pieces to display in this manner. The antiques would also have been cheaper than new wares. It is possible that smaller vases would have been grouped together on tables, as was the case from the 1900s especially. See the photograph of the collector Alfred Trapnell from a dealer's catalogue of 1901, illustrated in Pierson, Collectors, collections and museums (2007), p. 238. It might also be worth exploring the Courtauld Institute of Art's collection of decorating magazines, many which are available from 1860. Although a fascinating source, decorating magazines and surviving interiors show a personal or idiosyncratic view of interiors which is not necessarily representative. For example, see the painting by Louise Jopling (1843-1933) Blue-and-White, 1896, showing two women with ceramics on display and in use in the kitchen, reproduced in The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior (London: Lund Humphries, 2000), p.45.

A full transcript of notes from this examination is available on the object history file and as a digital asset.
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