‘Doctor’s model’ or ‘erotic figure’? The Chinese naked lady conundrum

We have just received Ben Janssens magnificent 2015 catalogue. Many of the objects illustrated, and described in learned text , are quite breathtaking in their beauty. All will be on display and for sale (unless previously sold) at TEFAF which starts in Maastricht on March 13.

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One small item grabbed our attention almost immediately. The Ivory Erotic Figure of a Lady is a particularly exquisite figure of a reclining, naked Chines lady: the sort of figure usually described in auctioneers’ catalogues as a ‘doctor’s lady’. They were supposedly used by Chinese doctors prevented by etiquette from touching or viewing the naked bodies of their patients. The patient-doctor relationship could be sanitised by the use of such models for pointing out areas of discomfort.

However, in a scholarly text attached to the catalogue details of the piece, the ‘doctor’s lady’ concept appears to be discounted. The careful placement of the lady’s left hand between her legs is simply an erotic device, apparently.

Ben Janssen suggests, ‘The precise function of these figures has been widely debated by historians, leading one to the conclusion that they were likely to be crafted as erotic toys (see F M Bertholet Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chinese Erotic Art, Brussels, 2010). It has been recorded by the Ming scholar Shen De-Fu (1578-1642) that ivory carvers ‘made small figures of pairs in sexual congress which were of the highest artistic quality’. The present example is especially interesting with a towering hairstyle indicating a high courtly rank, and the uppermost point of the hair knot with a small ruyi symbolising longevity. An erotic figure of a reclining nude lady in a similar pose but with somewhat rougher carving, dated earlier to the Ming dynasty, is in the Irving Collection.

‘Two other closely comparable reclining nude ladies, similar in pose and dated  to the Shunzi (1643-1661) and Kangxi (1662-1722) periods of the Qing dynasty are in the Muwen tang collection.’

This relatively new assessment of the role of such figures may not, however, represent the whole story. We know that the earliest use of the ladies dates back to the Ming Dynasty in the 1300s and they were still being used as recently as 100 years ago.  It is often suggested that doctors would use a carved wooden stick with a carved ivory hand on the end that was positioned as if pointing.  That way the physician wouldn’t have any physical contact even with the small figure, taking the  modesty factor even further.  These pointers do crop up from time to time but are quite rare today. Their existence might suggest that such figures had multiple uses. Indeed, the purporting of them to be  ‘doctor’s ladies’ might have conveniently disguised ownership for more carnal use . . .

This figure for sale has come from a private collection in Germany. It is available at 14,000 (Euros) from Ben Janssens www.benjanssens.com

Berwick shows off Chinese treasures from its Burrell collection

The northern English town of Berwick upon Tweed is showing off treasures from a collection of artefacts, porcelain and pictures bequeathed to it by the late Sir William Burrell who, of course, endowed the much larger collection owned by the City of Glasgow. Berwick’s collection includes Chinese porcelain and decorative objects, some of which are currently on display in three glass cases.

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Two cases of Oriental pieces from Berwick’s Burrell collection  Photo Paul Harris

Some of the pieces are not without interest although we found the captioning accompanying them to be a bit hit and miss. Whoever did the captioning seemed to be unaware of the difference between certain Chinese mythical animals and has confused kylin with lion dog. Also there is some ambiguity present with Chinese blue and white apparently confused with Delft ware. Needless to say, we have apprised the organisers of these small infelicities!

The Burrell connection with Berwick upon Tweed derives from his purchase of nearby Hutton Castle as his country residence for when he tired of ‘big business’ as a shipping magnate based in Glasgow. His shipping concern brought him into close contact with countries like China and Japan and he obtained some outstanding pieces from both countries.

Despite his fabulous wealth which funded a vast art collection, Burrell was an extraordinarily mean man. A friend of ours, who we used to work with, London publisher Mr Charles Skilton in 1955 produced a lavish coffee table book on the Scottish artist Joseph Crawhall. It was produced on handmade paper with colour collotype tipped in plates printed in East Germany. The price was 5 guineas then (it sells for around £100 secondhand these days) but Charles thought it worth his while to show the book to Burrell, who was the artist’s greatest patron. Indeed, the book contained many plates illustrating Burrell’s purchases.

Burrell leafed idly through the book, gave it back to Charles with the observation ‘very nice’. He forbore to purchase a single copy of the limited edition. After a simple dinner Charles went off to bed early as every body in the house seemed to have disappeared. At 9pm precisely, all the lights went out. Burrell had the master switch installed above his own bed and the last thing he did before going to sleep at an early hour was to turn off the electricity throughout the castle!

The quality of the Chinese pieces is not on quite the same level as his European art purchases. Within the exhibition are some outstanding oils and watercolours by artists like Degas, Boudin, Maris, Crawhall and (Arthur) Melville.

The exhibits have not been widely seen before now and The Granary Gallery in Berwick, which is hosting the show, is well worth a visit. Guided tours, talks and a schools programme are accompanying the exhibition and you can learn more at www.berwickvisualarts.co.uk/get-involved.

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Kangxi blue and white vase from Berwick’s Burrell collection   Photo Paul Harris

Berwick’s Burrell Collection is on show at The Granary Gallery, Dewar’s Lane, Berwick upon Tweed until May 4 2015

10,000 times over the estimate . . . perhaps we should get rid of them altogether ?

 

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Not a lot of people know Taylor’s Auction Rooms, founded as a family business in 1974. A few may have heard of Montrose, a once sleepy fishing port on the east coast of Scotland and which turned to the oil industry during the now long forgotten boom times. But the auction room isn’t exactly Sotheby’s, and Montrose is as far away from Bond Street as it’s possible to imagine.

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That having been said, Taylor’s in Montrose was home a couple of weeks ago to what is being termed by the local paper, The Courier, as The Sale of the Century: it’s not often that a couple of bits of Chinese porcelain, one in decidedly distressed condition, shoved into a general sale, sell for 10,000 times the estimate.

It was an apparently modest lot, estimated at £20-30. It went for £200,000 hammer – an estimated £252,000 when commission and VAT is added. The auctioneers, who declined to comment in any detail, were, in local parlance, ‘fair scunnert’ as they ran their calculators over the day’s takings. A spokesman for Taylor’s said, “Unfortunately, we can’t say much more at this time while we are still waiting for the sale to be finalised.” That is, of course, shorthand for “until we get paid”.

10,000 times estimate

10,000 times the £20 estimate . . . it’s got to be the moonflask!

The catalogue described the winning duo as ‘a Chinese blue and white two-handled vase with six character mark’ and ‘a Chinese blue and white pot with four character mark.’ The larger 18.5 cm tall piece looks suspiciously like a moon flask and the smaller one like a baluster vase decorated with prunus leaves. Probably Kangxi. Quite a bit of damage was evident on both and there was evidence of some stapling. However, they were intently viewed by some members of the Scottish antique trade. One confessed that he went to his bank and “drew everything out”. He went to the sale with £60,000 in his pocket but didn’t even get a bid in . . .  Chinese internet bidders, who doubtless had never seen the lot except online, racked up the bids until it was a two way contest and someone’s nerve went at nearly a quarter of a million all-in.

This does, of course, raise all sorts of interesting hypotheses. Perhaps, auctioneers would be rather more comfortable with a situation where they were not obliged to make estimates which might turn out to be, let us say, somewhat wide of the mark?

Of course, there is always another possibility. Perhaps, the flask and vase were not quite worth £200,000 plus. We’ve all bought something which looked nice enough on the net but was a trifle disappointing once the box was opened . . .

Note: The last record price at Taylor’s was in 2010 for a photograph album. The family-run business describes itself as ‘one of the leading auction houses in Scotland’ selling 4,000 lots every four weeks (often running two sales in tandem). It employs 50 staff. A few more sales like this and the Bond Street office might be in the offing . . . prepare to move over, Sotheby’s.

 

 

 

Symposium to mark the launch of Asian Art in London 2015

This year’s Asian Art in London (November 5-14) will open in grand style with a symposium to be held in the august surroundings of The Royal Institution in the heart of London’s Mayfair.

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The symposium, intriguingly titled The Asian Art in London Symposium The Psychology of a Collector, will be held at the RI on the opening day, November 5. Organisers promise “a distinguished and exciting line-up of speakers”. No further details are available at the present time but we shall post further news as it becomes available.

A look at the art of the Chinese firecracker label

We recently came across what might, at first sight, be regarded as something of a byway of Chinese art: the art of the firecracker label. Firecrackers have been a source of fun and pleasure for Chinese for centuries and a range of social events are marked by their detonation from shop openings to marriages to celebrations of Chinese New Year. However, we were not aware until very recently that the package labels were avidly collected.

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James Dyer Ball, in his book Things Chinese, has a detailed description about the process and material used for making firecrackers around the end of 19th century. At that time, firecrackers were usually made by women and children, who used straw paper to make the body of the firecracker, while the fuse was made of bamboo paper imported from Japan, then stiffened with buckwheat paste. The bamboo paper was cut into strips of 14 inches (360 mm) long and 13 inch (8.5 mm) wide, laid on a table; a string of gunpowder was placed at the center with a hollow tube, then twisted up to make a piece of fuse. The firecracker tubes were made from pieces of straw paper wrapped around iron rods of various diameters then tightened with a special tool. The process is very dangerous and sometimes whole factories are destroyed with considerable loss of life.

Cenxi City firework factory blast 11 dead Nov 1 2013

A destroyed firecracker factory in China, Chenxi City (November 2013) 11 workers died.

200 to 300 firecrackers were tied up in a bunch, then red clay was spread at the bottom of the bunch, and forced into each end of the firecracker with a punch; gunpowder was poured into it, then the other end was sealed with an awl by turning the tube inward, and a fuse inserted.

There is a goodly selection of firecracker labels to be seen at Mr Brick Label Flickr, from which these examples are taken. Generally, a branded label was affixed to each pack and, at the end of the process, the packs were bundled into wholesale lots known as ‘bricks’, which contained, on average, 80 packs each.

tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo8_r1_540 tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo3_1280 tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo4_r1_540tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo6_r1_250 And a rather more threatening example!

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Firecrackers are particularly popular at weddings in China. Here a Shanghai wedding party observe – from a distance – firecrackers in their honour. Photo by Paul Harris from About Face: Photographs from the Streets of Shanghai 2003.

Christie’s: ‘King of Ming’ collections expected to realise US$35 million plus

THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH

 MARCH 17 TO 21, 2015 AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER

ALL LOTS TO BE SOLD WITHOUT RESERVE 

SIX LIVE AUCTIONS AND A SERIES OF ONLINE-ONLY SALES 

COLLECTION TO REALIZE IN EXCESS OF US$35 MILLION

Christie’s have announced that the landmark five-day auction series devoted to the collection of the celebrated American scholar, dealer and collector Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, will be running March 17 to 21 at Christie’s flagship New York galleries at Rockefeller Center.  After successful tours to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, and London last autumn, Christie’s is unveiling Mr. Ellsworth’s collection of over 1,400 lots that will be sold without reserve via an extended, eight-day public exhibition leading up to the start of the auction series. To honor the collecting legacy of Mr. Ellsworth —  fondly nicknamed “The King of Ming” — Christie’s will recreate the sumptuous interior of the celebrated  22-room Manhattan residence, where he lived among superb examples of Asian art, blended effortlessly with fine English silver and antiques in his signature style.

This extraordinary collection, widely considered to be one of the most important private collection of Asian Art ever to come to market, is expected to realize in excess of US$35 million.

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth by Gene Maggio, NY Times

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth by Gene Maggio, New York Times

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (1929-2014), was a distinguished American scholar, dealer and collector of Asian Art who was widely recognized throughout Asia and the Americas for his ground-breaking role in the study and appreciation of Asian Art. Mr. Ellsworth was a passionate connoisseur who opened new arenas of collecting to Western audiences and built a successful business purveying the very finest works of art to his generation’s foremost collectors. During his long career, he counted John D. Rockefeller, Brooke Astor and the actress Claudette Colbert among his clients and dear friends. His home became an epicenter of New York art society, where he greeted both friends and fellow scholars, and perfected the harmonious East-meets-West design aesthetic that has influenced so many decorators since.

Among Mr. Ellsworth’s greatest scholarly contributions to Asian art was his reevaluation of modern Chinese painting, of the 19th and early 20th century, a period that had been largely ignored by critics and academics. He revealed the results of his decades-long investigation into modern Chinese painting in Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800–1950, a groundbreaking multi-volume project. In addition, Ellsworth donated some 471 works of later Chinese painting and calligraphy to New York’s Metropolitan Museum, a testament to the collector’s belief that his source material should be available to everyone.  For more background on Mr. Ellsworth, please click here.

To celebrate this exceptional collection, Christie’s is organizing public exhibitions, a five-day series of live auctions and a series of online-only sales to be held during Asian Art Week at Christie’s New York.

A TOUR OF A RARE COLLECTION

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth led an elegant and stylish life, surrounded by rare and superb works in his grand Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City.  To step inside his vast and exquisitely appointed residence was to be surrounded at every turn by magnificent objects representing a lifetime of collecting. His admiration and respect for Asian and Western art was apparent in his library, which was adorned with distinguished English furniture and décor with fine Asian bronzes placed throughout the room. The first lot of the Evening Sale that opens the auction series will be one of Mr. Ellsworth’s most treasured pieces, a fine gilt-bronze figure of a bear, Western Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 8) (estimate: $200,000-300,000).  This 3-inch tall bear sat prominently on Mr. Ellsworth’s impressive George II mahogany pedestal desk (estimate: $8,000-12,000).

In addition to the fine scholar’s objects on his desk, collectors will also be drawn to the remarkable Southeast Asian bronzes artfully displayed on the far right corner of his desktop, including a figure of Avalokiteshvara, Thailand, 8th century (estimate: $300,000-500,000) and a figure of Buddha, Thailand, 8th century (estimate: $250,000-350,000).

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 5th Avenue Apartment

Inside Robert Hatfield Ellsworth’s opulent New York apartment Photo Christie’s

Revealing Mr. Ellsworth’s sophisticated eclectic taste, the foyer was adorned with a bold modern Chinese painting of Lilies by Pan Tianshou (1897-1971)(estimate: $700,000-900,000) flanked by a pair of George I walnut and parcel-gilt two-light girandoles (estimate: $5,000-8,000), directly above a very rare pair of huanghuali bamboo-form continuous horseshoe-back armchairs, quanyi, China, late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 17th century-early 18th century (estimate: $300,000-500,000). He also placed a Southeast Asian bronze rain drum (estimate: $6,000-8,000) supporting a Japanese bamboo flower basket, Taisho period, 20th century (estimate: $6,000-8,000); and a Ningxia pillar rug, North China, early 19th century (estimate: $10,000-15,000) at the foyer entrance.

One of his first purchases as a teenager was a large polychrome wood figure of a seated bodhisattva, China, Song-Jin dynasty (AD 960-1234) (estimate: $200,000-300,000), which he prominently displayed in the living room. Notably mentioned in Orientations 1991 article “Not for Sale: A Few of Robert Ellsworth’s Favourite Possessions”, Ellsworth identified the seated figure as the one object he would seize first in event of fire.

In 1971, Mr. Ellsworth published Chinese Furniture: Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties, a groundbreaking book that set new standards for dating Chinese furniture. The living room held some of the finest examples of classic Chinese huanghuali furniture ever assembled, including an extremely rare and important set of four huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs, quanyi, China, Ming dynasty, 17th century (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000); a very rare huanghuali waisted rectangular corner-leg games table, China, Ming dynasty, 17th century (estimate: $500,000-700,000); and a rare huanghuali ‘four-corners-exposed’ official’s hat arm chair, sichutouguanmaoyi, China, Ming dynasty, 17th century (estimate: $300,000-500,000).

The living room also featured with a pair of Japanese six-panel screens, Stable With Fine Horses, Anonymous, Edo Period, 17th century (estimate: $200,000-250,000), and bronzes formerly in the Pan-Asian Collection, which was a significant assemblage of important artworks representing the full scope of aesthetic and spiritual traditions throughout India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia.  It is highlighted by a large and important gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, Nepal, 13th century (estimate: $2-3 million); a highly important figure of Shiva Gangadhara Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola Period, 9th century (estimate: $2-3 million); and a gilt-bronze head of Buddha, Thailand, Sukkothai period, 14th /15th century (estimate: $80,000-120,000).

A consummate host, Mr. Ellsworth took pleasure in entertaining scholars, collectors, celebrities, and fellow dealers admist the superb objects he chose to keep for his own collection.  His dining room also displayed his unerring eye and ability to combine East and West, where fine Chinese furniture and Asian sculptures blended with English silver and European paintings. This room features a rare pair of huanghuali lampstands, dengtai, China, Ming dynasty, 17th century (estimate: $60,000-80,000); an important stone figure of Buddha, Thailand, Dvaravati period, 8th century (estimate: $200,000-300,000); a pair of Regency Sheffield-plated wine coolers, circa 1815 (estimate: $5,000-8,000); and a portrait of Madame Dupleix de Bacquencourt, née Jeanne-Henriette de Lalleu, attributed to Jean-Marc Nattier (Paris, 1685-1766) and Studio (estimate: $20,000-30,000).

Residing on the headboard in Ellsworth’s bedroom was a rare and important bronze figure of a Yogi, possibly Padampa Sangye, Tibet, 11th/12th century (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000), which was also part of the Pan-Asian Collection. So cherished was this sculpture in the Ellsworth household that when it was sent to the Los Angeles County Museum in the mid 1980s, the housekeeper, noticing the work had been removed, threatened to leave if the beloved work was not returned promptly.  This figure is a masterwork of early Tibetan art and is possibly a portrait of one of the most renowned sages in Tibetan Buddhism, Padampa Sangye. The sculpture is widely regarded as a magnum opus of Tibetan art.  Rarely do works of such iconic and supreme distinction come onto the market.

PUBLIC EXHIBITION March 11-18, please click here for exhibition hours 
ROBERT H. ELLSWORTH MEMORIAL LECTURES March 13, 3pm-5pm 
PART I – MASTERWORKS INCLUDING INDIAN, HIMALAYAN AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN WORKS OF ART, CHINESE AND JAPANESE WORKS OF ART   March 17, 6pm
PART II – CHINESE FURNITURE, SCHOLAR’S OBJECTS AND CHINESE PAINTINGS  March 18, 10am and 2pm 
PART III – CHINESE WORKS OF ART: QING CERAMICS, GLASS AND JADE CARVINGS  March 19, 10am and 2pm 
PART IV – CHINESE WORKS OF ART: METAL, SCULPTURE AND EARLY CERAMICS  March 20, 10am and 2pm 
PART V – EUROPEAN DECORATIVE ARTS, CARPETS, OLD MASTER PAINTINGS AND ASIAN WORKS OF ART  March 21, 10am
PART VI – THE LIBRARY March 21, 10am 
ONLINE ONLY SALE March 18- 27
   

 

Related Sale Sale 11418 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME I – MASTERWORKS INCLUDING INDIAN, HIMALAYAN AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN WORKS OF ART, CHINESE AND JAPANESE WORKS OF ART TUESDAY, 17 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11419 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME II – CHINESE FURNITURE, SCHOLAR’S OBJECTS AND CHINESE PAINTINGS WEDNESDAY, 18 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11420 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME III – CHINESE WORKS OF ART: QING CERAMICS, GLASS AND JADE CARVINGS THURSDAY, 19 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11421 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME IV – CHINESE WORKS OF ART: METAL, SCULPTURE AND EARLY CERAMICS FRIDAY, 20 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11422 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME V – EUROPEAN DECORATIVE ARTS, CARPETS, OLD MASTER PAINTINGS AND ASIAN WORKS OF ART SATURDAY, 21 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11423 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME VI – THE LIBRARY SATURDAY, 21 MARCH 2015 New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Sale 11220 THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH VOLUME VII – CHINESE WORKS OF ART ONLINE 18 March – 27 March (Online Only) Amsterdam

Of Chinese teapots, wine pots and wine ewers

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Still life with Yixing teapot

So, when is a teapot not a teapot? This may sound like a trick question from Mastermind, but it is a valid query when it comes to the Chinese version of the vessel. The answer is, ‘When it is not a wine pot.’

The Ch’a Ching, the earliest book on the subject of tea, appeared in China in 780. Legend has it that tea was first drunk there more than three thousand years before, but it was under the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that the drink became fashionable and the wild tea plant, Camellia sinensis, was brought into cultivation (Source: Hampshire Cultural Trust, The Allen Gallery).

dreweatts chinese ivory coffee pot qianlong wine pot in elephant for m

Fanciful ivory teapot (left) and Qianlong cloisonné wine pot (right)

The first significant imports of tea to Europe arrived in the early years of the 17th century. They came thanks to Portugal’s development of sea-routes to China and the trading skills of the Dutch. Surprisingly, there is debate as to whether the Chinese used teapots at this time. If so, they would have represented quite a recent change to the traditional method of making tea, in which the drink was brewed in open pans or in the actual cup using specially prepared ‘tea paste’.. Such teapots as were manufactured were unglazed, the Yixing style of pot, made from brown or purple clay, being most common and these started in production some time around 1500.

teapot_yixing Typical unglazed Yixing teapot

Assuming it existed, the Chinese teapot was indistinguishable from what is termed a wine-pot or wine-ewer. Vessels of this type were exported along with the tea itself and if not actually intended for tea-making, may have been interpreted as being so here in the West.

As James Norwood Pratt writes in The Tea Lover’s Treasury, ‘The teapot has not always been the undisputed lord of the tea service; historically the teacup comes first.’ He explains how tea ‘bricks’ were crumbled into kettles filled with boiling water. Pratt also notes that the first teapots of which positive records exist only appear around the year 1500.

However, he does find this discovery hard to believe because there has been much conjecture among tea scholars that the wine ewer, a tall, water-pitcher-shaped vessel with a spout, resembled a teapot, and, ‘it strains credulity to believe so inventive a people as the Chinese never thought to brew tea in their so-called wine ewers.’

As Laura Everage points out in Teapots through the Ages (December 2006), ‘During the 17th century, Europeans were introduced to the beauty of Chinese pottery through the East India Company, which imported the tea and used the pots as ballast in the lower portion of the cargo ships, while the tea was stored above the water line.’

A true distinction between wine-ewers and teapots was only established after 1694, when the British East India Company directed that teapots made for them in China must have “a grate… before the spout”. In other words, they wanted a sort of pierced barrier where the tea enters the spout so as to hold back the tea-leaves. Of course, it was not long before European ceramicists started to copy examples arriving from China and sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the two.

Anita Gray, at Gray’s Antiques Market in London has some interesting examples of teapots manufactured during the Qianlong era and which are shortly to go on open sale.

A Chinese Armorial Teapot and Cover (ref BC60). Of oval form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body boldly painted in shades of overglaze blue with large well-drawn flowering branches, including lotus, continuing around the pot, an armorial painted on either side of the pot in iron-red, black and gilding of a cockerel holding a branch in its beak above a winged coronet, both below a border of fleur-de-lys outlined in iron-red and gilding around the base of the short neck, the cover similarly decorated with large blossoming blooms and a fleur-de-lys border around the rim, the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height: 12.5 cm; 5 in

A Chinese famille rose ‘European-Subject’ Teapot and cover (ref BC69). Of rounded form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body painted in famille rose enamels with a European figurative scene of a lady dressed in long robes carrying a basket of flowers, a male figure with his hand on her shoulder dressed in short trousers, a blue jacket and a black hat stands next to her holding a garden fork, a multitude of flowers grow nearby with a further woman similarly dressed in European clothing watering the flowers with a large vessel, a tall tree to their right, the scene repeated on the opposite side of the teapot, the cover with a matching scene of floral foliage and a tall tree, the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height (including cover):  12 cm; 4 ¾ in

A Chinese famille rose ‘European-subject’ teapot and cover (ref BC58) Of oval form, with c-shaped handle, straight spout and low domed cover finished with a bud finial, the body painted in famille rose enamels with a landscape, a ruin in the background and in the foreground two European figures reclining against a rock, one, a lady, dressed in a long dress and wearing a hat decorated with flowers, the other, a gentleman, wearing a short coat, short trouser and a hat, their arms entwined as they each hold a small glass in their hand, at their feet two spotty dogs await, two trees nearby, their trunks mirroring the intertwining of the couple’s arms, the scene repeated on the opposite side of the teapot, the cover with a matching scene of intertwining trees and ruins, the bud finial gilded and  the base glazed.

Period: Qianlong 1736-1795 Height (including cover):  13.5 cm; 5 ¼ in

A Chinese famille rose teapot and cover depicting the Judgement of Paris. (ref BC54). Of globular form, with a straight spout, c-shaped handle and domed cover with a bud finial, painted on either side with Paris seated wearing a puce robe, with a small dog beside him, and offering a green object to Aphrodite who is flanked by Hera and Athena, and with Cupid looking on, Hera and Aphrodite only covered by either a shawl or a fan, Athena dressed in long iron-red and yellow robes, at their feet a bird, pine trees enclosing the scene, the cover with birds in flight, a similar large bird and pine and finished with a bud finial, the base glazed. Period: Qianlong 1736-1795

Height: 14 cm; 5 ½ in

Footnote: This is the most popular European design on Chinese porcelain of the 1740s and there are at least six different variations. The scene depicts King Priam’s son Paris judging who of the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite was the most beautiful – he chooses Aphrodite by handing her an apple.

A very similar example of a teapot is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, illustrated in William R. Sargent, Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics – From the Peabody Essex Museum, 2012, other forms but with the same mythological motif include a barber’s bowl from Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, MA (illustrated by Lange 2005, 165, no. 52); a dish from Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm, (illustrated in Wirgin 1998, 187, no. 201), a plate in the Victoria and Albert Museum (C.342-1931), London (illustrated in Kerr and Mengoni 2011, 71, no. 93). For further examples decorated with this scene see Scheurleer, Chinese Export Porcelain, illus. 225, 226; Beurdeley, Porcelain of the East India Company, Cat. 31, 130; Howard & Ayers, China for the West, p.329. For a plate with the same scene see Lloyd Hyde, Oriental Lowestoft (New York, 1936), pl. XIV, p.43 and Beurdeley, Cats 31, 130, 131. See also Anita Gray, Catalogue of Oriental Ceramics and Works of Art, pl.97b, p.67.

These teapots from Anita Gray will be unveiled and will be on sale from Monday February 16 and can be viewed, using the quoted reference numbers, on www.chinese-porcelain.com.

Chinese Art in Scotland have just put up for sale a very large wine pot (auctioned off, hardly surprisingly, as a teapot) on their ceramics page. It is 33cm in height with cover, well decorated and embellished in gold. Said Sun Yumei, a partner in the business, ‘It had been in a house where there had been a fire and the lovely decoration was almost obscured by a layer of oil left by exposure to smoke. Apart from the smoke damage, it was in perfect condition and it has cleaned up wonderfully and is now brilliant and gleaming.’ Chinese Art in Scotland have left the footed base un-cleaned, just for the historical record.

There is no grate before the spout so this vessel is based upon the wine ewer, or wine pot, as it is often known. However, it is unlikely to be pre-1694 and is probably a late 18th or 19th century object, in the view of the vendors.

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Large wine pot   Picture courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

New BBC programme draws attention to destruction of Yuanminguan

A new BBC radio programme has drawn attention to the destruction of The Summer Palace, Yuanminguan and the seizure of many artworks by British forces, under the command of the then Lord Elgin.

Liu Yang, a researcher who has spent 15 years tracking down the artworks, says “British museums never reply” when he writes to ask what they have. But he has collected hundreds of images of looted items on his computer.

He even has pictures of a Pekinese dog, taken by a British soldier from Yuanmingyuan, and given to Queen Victoria. It was the first of its breed to come to Britain – and was named “Looty”.

A portrait of Looty is still in the Royal art collection, though later newspaper reports said the dog was ostracised by other royal dogs because of its “Oriental habits and appearance”, and had to be moved from Buckingham Palace to Sandringham.

A painting of Looty by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl Looty, the first Pekinese in the UK (Credit: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014)
The programme is broadcast on

Palace of Shame

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This is a story of loot, revenge and devastated beauty that still looms over British-Chinese relations. The imperial summer palace in Beijing was an extraordinary collection of beautiful architecture, landscapes and precious art. It was looted by invading French and British troops in 1860. The then British commander, Lord Elgin, ordered its complete destruction. It was a dramatic moment of ‘national humiliation’ every Chinese schoolchild learns about today, encouraged by successive governments. Chris Bowlby discovers why it happened, with a surprising personal twist along the way – a relative of his who was a journalist in China in those days was tortured and murdered in revenge for the events around the Palace. There’s a rare interview with the current Lord Elgin on his family’s controversial role in imperial history. And what about all the looted art? We hear how it still sits in British museums, or re-emerges in lucrative auctions – while angry Chinese voices, including the martial arts star Jackie Chan, demand its return.

Presenter and producer: Chris Bowlby Editor: Richard Knight.

Cloisonne incense burner goes for £30,000 at Chiswick

Chiswick Auctions appears to be well pleased with the results of their first specialist Asian Sale which took place earlier this week. The total was around £125,000.

The star of the auction was lot 73, a cloisonné enamel tripod incense burner. Attributed to the Ming Dynasty, this piece was the star lot of the sale selling for £30,000 hammer.

73-10Feb-1600x900

The exceptional price, well above the £6,000 – 8,000 estimate, showed that the market accepted the piece as early 15th century in date, created under the reign of the Xuande emperor. This reflects recent research led by the Cloisonné exhibition at the Bard Graduate Centre, New York in 2011, and curators at the Palace Museum in Beijing have recently re-evaluated the dating of Chinese cloisonné.

It also comes in the context of increasing attention being paid to the correct dating of bronzes of the Xuande period, following the sale of the Ulrich Hausmann collection at Sotheby’s in October 2014 and work by Lu Pengliang (of the Bard Centre) published in Arts of Asia in November 2014. It is worth noting, however, that even “Xuande” bronzes of a later period with apocryphal marks can command a good price.

A 19th Century tripod incense burner with apocryphal Xuande mark (lot 207) took a respectable £800 hammer in the same sale.

Vase with Burrell provenance up for sale

215 bonhams february 25
Later this month, there will be a rare opportunity to purchase an item from the collection amassed by Sir William Burrell. Bonhams in Knightsbridge will be offering a Kangxi iron-red and gilt decorated powder blue rouleau vase which he gave to his younger sister, Mary Burrell.
Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) was certainly one of Britain’s greatest collectors and endowed museums and galleries with many fine works. Much of his collection was donated to the City of Glasgow, where he was the most prominent ship owner and trader. Today, most of his collection is displayed in a custom-made building, but he also endowed museums in places like Berwick upon Tweed, which was near to his Northumberland residence, Hutton Castle. He bought well and was a man of impeccable taste.
The item for sale is catalogued as an iron-red and gilt decorated powder blue rouleau vase (Kangxi) The cylindrical body finely enamelled in iron red and black with four large carp swimming amongst seaweed, smaller carp and langoustines, all in gilt, the shoulder with quatrefoil medallions enclosing four of the babao and reserved on a diaper border, the bamboo-trunk neck with formal shou and wan roundels framed by decorative bands above and below. 47cm (18 1/2in) high
  • Provenance: ex. Mary Burrell (1873-1968) Collection; Mary Burrell was the youngest sister of the famous Glasgow based collector, Sir William Burrell (1861-1958).  Sir William Burrell was a wealthy Glaswegian shipping magnate . . . over the span of about eighty years he amassed a vast and eclectic collection, seeking out the finest craftsmanship in the objects he acquired. The collection, gifted in 1944 to the city of Glasgow, mostly focuses on late medieval and early Renaissance Europe, but it also contains very representative and important examples of Chinese and Islamic art, Ancient Civilisations and French Paintings, including works by Rodin, Degas and Cézanne.

The combination of powder blue ground with iron red and gilded decoration was one of the most popular amongst the export types produced at Jingdezhen in the 18th century. Wares decorated in this palette were particularly favoured in the Middle East and in Europe, where they would be used as table wares or decorative objects in the residences of the élite.
Powder-blue glazed porcelain was first produced in the late 17th century in Jingdezhen. Its Chinese name, chuiqing, derives from the particular technique required to apply the pigment: the powdered cobalt was blown onto the surface through a bamboo cane whose extremity was covered in a fine gauze.
A similarly decorated vase was sold by Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1752. Another rouleau vase, with differently gilded ground but very similar treatment of the fish and very specifically dated to 1700-1710, is in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, museum no. C.1347-1910.

This particular vase is modestly priced at £10,000-12,000. Given its exemplary provenance and undoubted quality, we predict it will do much better than that.