Thinking pink

Large famille rose lidded vases in the Corridor at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the curious facts about the type of Chinese procelain known in the west as famille rose is that the pink colour used in it didn’t originate in China.

Pair of famille rose ducks from the Gubbay collection at Clandon Park, Surrey. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The recipe for this substance, a preparation of colloidal gold and stannous hydroxide, was known as ‘purple of Cassius’, after the German physician Andreas Cassius the younger who published the recipe for it 1685 – although he wasn’t the first to describe it. 

Jesuit missionaries subsequently took the formula to China, where it was introduced into the porcelain production process in about 1723.

Famille rose chargers in the Drawing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Ironically, Europeans admired famille rose for its seemingly exotic colour scheme, as well as its technical finesse. However, not only did the pink colour originally come from Europe, the decoration of many famille rose pieces was also specifically designed for the European market.

Famille rose fishbowl in the Saloon at Wallington, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Does that mean that we can never really appreciate something if it doesn’t have an element of familiarity?

5 Responses to “Thinking pink”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Well, of course not. Familiar often soon becomes boring. I suspect that is why you became smitten with Japanese art.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Ha ha, yes you are probably right – the lure of the unknown.

  3. style court Says:


    Your last line leaves me with a lot to ponder. And the European connection reminds me of Qing court painter Giuseppe Castiglione, the 18th-century Italian artist who, as I understand it, served in the Chinese palace studio. Again, the East-West interplay is endlessly fascinating.

  4. style court Says:


    Love the pattern on the backs of the ducks!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, Castiglione is indeed very relevant to this, as he was one of the Jesuits introducing western technologies and techniques – in his case art-related ones – to the Chinese court.

    Yes the ducks are terrifically smart aren’t they? Hannah Gubbay, who left them to Clandon together with the rest of her ceramics collection, was a cousin of Sir Philip Sassoon, the collector and politician, and his sister Sybil, who married the Marquess of Cholmondeley – and they all shared a taste for flamboyant eighteenth-century furnishings.

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