Fantastic animal brings festive cheer

Screenshot_20171214-235448 Fantastic animals are part of the Chinese pantheon and have long been so. This one, however, can be said to be truly fantastic with a distinctly modern twist. It was spotted recently outside the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Hung Yi’s Dragon Fortune is inscribed with Chinese expressions of good fortune, breathing vibrant colours and auspicious blessings on the doorstep of the Asain Art Museum.

Reproduced courtesy of the Twitter feed @asianartmuseum

Magnificent obession: the British and Chinese wallpaper

chinese wallpaper cover

Book Review Chinese Wallpaper in Great Britain and Ireland by Emile de Bruijn, Philip Wilson Publishers 2017   £30 RRP

This is the first volume in a welcome cooperation between The National Trust and Philip Wilson Publishers which, it is planned, will lead to a wider exposure to the public of some of the valuable and unique furnishings and valuables within the properties held by the NT. We are all, of course, aware of the diligent activities of the Trust in their many fine properties.

Probably, you are less well aware of Philip Wilson Publishers, one of the UK’s best publishers of fine art books. Philip Wilson, the eponymous guiding hand, has been producing some of the most beautiful fine art books for around forty years now. It’s a long time since I last met and talked with Philip.. I can remember exactly where and when it was: in the magnificent imperial-style halls of Zagreb’s Hotel Esplanade, once a stop on the Orient Express route. The circumstances in June 1991 were rather less leisurely. Croatia had just anoounced its independence was was suddenly at war with Belgrade. I booked into the magnificent Esplanade reckoning that it was the building least likely to be destroyed by the Serbian tanks advancing on the Croatian capital. Philip, I guess, stayed there a a matter of course. There we planned our escape from the Yugoslav war. In the event, the tanks stopped before Zagreb and we were afforded the opportunity to get back to dear old Blighty . . .

As usual, Philip Wilson Publishers have excelled with their production of this book on the wallpapers within National Trust properties. Up until now, there was just a slim National Trust brochure on this neglected subject. Now we have a proper book in which the illustration is matched by the scholarship.

You might be forgiven for not having realised the passion which developed, mainly in the 18th century, for all things Chinese. China was an object of committed fascination for the upper classes and by that I mean ‘them who had money’. Porcelain, bronzes, scrolls, furniture and, indeed, wallpaper became the rage. It was not just a matter of simple decoration. Whole rooms or suites would be furnished entirely with Chinese things to create an all pervading environment. Shiploads of goods from China flooded into the UK, not to mention Portugal, France and The Netherlands. The map at the beginning of this book shows 169 country houses which contain Chinese wallpapers. And those are just the ones left after the dilapidations of the 20th century.

Of course, in return, we made the Chinese buy a lot of things they did not really want, opium, perhaps, being the most odious. Maybe the wheel now, though, is going full circle. If you examine this magnificent book’s biblio page you will see that it has been printed . . . in China. We can hardly complain about a book like this being made available.

chinese wallpaper cover dtl

Far East from the Wild West now in the West End (of London, that is)

Sky blue jar (Qianlong mark and period) -2 Magnificent Qianlong mark and period vase from the Cody collection now with Littleton & Hennessy in St. James’s London

Occasionally, you see an object which seems particularly beautiful, an object which deeply intrigues. That’s what I thought when I saw this extraordinary sky blue jar with cobalt blue and white slip ‘dragon and cloud’ decoration in the St James’s premises of Littleton & Hennessy during Asian Art in London.

It is so extraordinary that I somehow thought there must be an interesting story behind such an unusual piece. And, indeed, there is . . .  Mark Slaats, of L&H, tells me the piece was formerly in the Collection of Thomas English Cody (1889-1948), whose great-uncle was the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. Buffalo Bill Cody may have brought the Wild West to American audiences; Thomas English Cody brought the Far East to America. In the 1930s, the singer and actor was an avid collector of of Chinese porcelain and hardstone objects and he took his collection to the US, where it was recently dispersed.

The sky blue jar illustrated above has now returned to the UK courtesy of L&H.  A modest 19cm in height, it is, nevertheless, a stunning piece. And it bears to the base labels from important exhibitions. More details from mark@littletonandhennessy.com.