The decoration carries the auspicious message of wishes for a successful career. The magnolia and peonies together comprise a visual pun for the auspicious phrase yutang fugue or ‘wealth and rank in the Jade Hall’ – the government bureau where esteemed scholars were appointed to work for the imperial court. The pheasant also symbolises high-ranked civil officials.
The famille noire colour scheme was highly prized by Western collectors in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the time such styles commanded the highest prices of any Chinese porcelains and were popular with top collectors of Western art – this 2ft 4in (70cm) vase was formerly in the collection of the financier Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (1910-2004).
Fakes became a problem to the extent that the existence of any famille noire from the Kangxi period has been questioned. More recent research, suggesting pieces of this type appear in European inventories from the early 18th century, has helped to rehabilitate the genre.