Description & Technical information

This work is part of “A Group of Southeast Asian Birds”.
Stock No.: A5271

A resplendent male mandarin duck resides under a lotus flower at the edge of a pond. The bird’s elaborate plumage consists of a broad white eye-stripe bounded above by a shimmering green crest and below by flammeous cheeks. The pale orange raised ‘sail’ feathers culminate the bird’s ornate display to attract a mate.
Widely regarded as the world’s most beautiful duck, the Mandarin is a native of China and Japan, although they have travelled widely and even established colonies in the United Kingdom.
A symbol of fidelity, mandarin ducks frequently appear on wedding gifts in China and were traditionally presented to newly married couples.


This work is part of “A Group of Southeast Asian Birds”.
This exceptionally vibrant group of twelve studies of Southeast Asian birds presents a series of highly accomplished works that demonstrate some of the finest examples of Chinese export painting.
Individual species are typically shown, with the exception of paradise flycatcher, with a female black-naped oriole, and the study of a paradise flycatcher, with a black-collared starling. All of the studies feature native vegetation such as blossoms, fruiting shrubs and tall grasses, providing ornamentation and emphasising their naturalistic context. The artist’s playful nature is also revealed as one of the spotted doves keenly observes a beetle as it unwittingly approaches it on the underside of a stem. The compositions also depict a graceful elegance, illustrated by the arching grasses evoking the curve of the jacana’s tail and the tips of the foliage echoing the bird’s sharply pointed feet and beak. The works are also typified by a soft palette of exquisitely rich mineral pigments, fine shading around the bird’s eyes creating expressive vitality and exceptionally detailed plumage, highlighting individual feathers. These qualities invite the viewer to truly contemplate the attributes of each species in their individual magnificence.
The present studies also bear comparison to works in other notable collections. The pheasant-tailed jacana appears in a similar manner to a red-crowned crane, plate 61 in the John Reeves Collection of Zoological Drawings from Canton, China. In both works the bird appears facing to their left with tall grass behind them, drooping under the weight of their seed heads. Both drawings depict rocks either underneath or beside the birds and the foliage behind the two birds is extremely similar in their pale green hues and depictions in small clusters. The birds also share the same poised expression, extremely fine detailing of the feathers and soft shading to demarcate the wings.
John Reeves worked for East India Company as a tea inspector. Spending time in Canton and Macao, under his direction he commissioned Chinese artists to paint the local flora and fauna, these works were sent back to England between 1817–1830 and were an invaluable contribution to the study and understanding of natural history.
The notable similarities between this exceedingly accomplished group and the Reeves collection firmly places this series within the canon of highly acclaimed Chinese export paintings, produced for distinguished western collections.

Period:  c.1800–1860
Origin:  Guangzhou (Canton) or Macau
Medium: Watercolour on pith paper
Dimensions: 35.5 x 30.5 cm (14 x 12 inches)
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints