Uncovering Famille Rose Porcelain
Originating in the 17th century and in production until the early 1900’s, Famille Rose is a style of porcelain consistently in demand by buyers attracted to its aesthetic qualities – and collectors looking for the rare and exquisite. Initially named for its pink & soft hued opaque glazes, the term ‘Famille Rose’ describes a range of varying patterns, colours and quality.
The History of Famille Rose
An exquisite Chinese porcelain with a French name, Famille Rose – meaning ‘pink family’ – originated in 17th century China. The title was bestowed by a French scholar in 1862 in reference to the opaque enamel glazes, which were typically in a palette of pink, white, yellow, and green. Europeans had introduced these colours to China via the Imperial Court, and locally they were known as yangcai, meaning foreign colours.
Famille Rose is the term commonly used by auction houses, dealers and collectors, to describe a range of patterns and styles. Chinese terms for these items include yangcai, falangcai (produced in imperial workshops), fencai (meaning powder colours) and falangcai (referring to enamels of different compositions).
Production increased significantly in the early 18th century, with Famille Rose surpassing in popularity the Famille Verte (“green family”) under glazed porcelain created during the Kangxi period (1661–1722) of the Qing dynasty. It became highly popular in the West, with export flourishing by the end of the century – and it continued in production until about 1911. Wares include vases, bowls, plates, ginger jars and snuff bottles.
Pictured: A Chinese Famille Rose Vase, Qianlong Mark to the Base
Distinguishing the Rare and Collectable
As auction prices attest, the variety and quality of Famille Rose porcelain varies. Whilst beautiful examples such as the one pictured above can be picked up for very modest prices, the earliest Famille Rose is in high demand – and Kangxi and Yongzheng examples are the most sought after.
Yongzheng period Famille Rose is typically considered the peak of quality, with Yongzheng ‘eggshell’ wares prime examples of the delicate designs and outstanding quality. Gu Yue Xuan porcelain – influenced by European art – is also in high demand.
You may also come across the names Famille Jeune and Famille Noire when looking at Chinese porcelain. Characterised by yellow enamels and intricate illustrations, Famille Jeune was introduced in the 17th century and was highly popular during the Kangxi period. Famille Noire, with its black enamels, was produced in the late 17th century.
Pictured: A Pair of Chinese Famille Rose Lantern Vases Depicting Elegant Ladies & Deer Enamels
Famille Rose Designs
Whilst the colours are a distinguishing factor, authentic Famille Rose can also be recognised by patterns and markings. Early Famille Rose wares feature free flowing floral designs, landscapes and figures.
During the 18th and 19th century – in line with demand from overseas buyers – creators introduced the Rose Mandarin and Rose Medallion designs.
Rose Mandarin porcelain often features domestic or courtly scenes and figures at leisure. The design is typically more formal, with elaborate borders of flora and fauna.
The most popular of the export designs, Rose Medallion wares feature a central medallion often depicting a bird and a tree peony surrounded by at least four panels illustrated with flowers, fruits and birds. The design features intricate borders of pink florals, scrolls and tendrils, and outer edges may be decorated with bats, birds or butterflies.
Theodore Bruce Asian Arts Specialist, Amelia Scott, explains that some of these motifs have added meanings.
“I have always been drawn to Famille Rose porcelain, I find the soft pastel palette & intricate textual enamels really beautiful and over the years I have collected a few pieces that truly bring me joy. Quintessential Famille Rose for me always incorporates the butterfly motif. The butterfly is one of China’s most important symbolic animals, signifying true love & rebirth.”
Pictured: A Chinese Famille Rose Canton Wall Plate with Central Lotus & Gilt Detail, Early 20th Century
Identifying the Period and Maker
One interesting point to note is that when Famille Rose exports increased, so did European copies.
A specialist can help determine the date and origin of porcelain by looking not just at the patterns and glazes, but also the thickness of the porcelain, and at an item’s weight balance, for instance.
Akin to antique silver hallmarks, Chinese porcelain features maker marks that help specialists identify a piece’s origin. While late 19th and early 20th century Famille Rose may have no markings or be stamped with ‘Made in China’, 17th and early 18th century Famille Rose will generally feature a seal or characters on the base.
Pictured: A Chinese Famille Rose Hundred-Butterflies Bottle Vase, Guangxu Mark & Period
Buying Famille Rose
As Amelia notes, the popularity of Famille Rose porcelain shows no signs of waning.
“In the last 12 months we have seen strong prices realised at auction for Famille Rose porcelain, a trend I think will continue in the future.”
Theodore Bruce offers Famille Rose porcelain in Asian Decorative Arts auctions and you may also find beautiful examples in Single Vendor Home Contents collections.
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Pictured: An Antique Chinese Porcelain Rose Famille Trinket Tray Depicting Children Playing
A Pair Of Chinese Famille Rose Imperial Yellow Wall Vases With Twin Dragon Handle Detail, 19th Century, Qing Dynasty
An Antique Chinese Famille Rose Celadon Glazed Plate Depicting Butterfly & Floral Enamels, Qing Dynasty
An Antique Chinese Famille Rose Teapot Depicting Enamels Of Butterflies & Birds Of Paradise, 19th Century
A Chinese Porcelain Drum Stool, Painted In Vibrant Famille Rose Enamels, Qing Dynasty, 19th Century