Our favorites from Asian Art in London . . .

Wandering around Asian Art in London two weeks ago, we saw a good many desirable things which we would have loved to take home. Here is our selection of what we thought of as the most desirable things to grace our own halls. If we only had the cash, of course!

The first two were found at Ben Janssen’s in Jermyn Street where he had his usual selection of captivating small objects, supplemented by an excellent catalogue. His catalogues go straight to my reference shelves as soon as I get home . . .

ben-janssens-elephant-incense-burner

A bronze incense burner in the form of an elephant

Ming dynasty, 16th – 17th century

Height: 6 1/2 inches, 16.5 cm

Length: 6 1/2 inches, 16.5 cm

A bronze incense burner in the form of an elephant, standing foursquare with its head turned back and its trunk curled between the tusks. The separately cast, openwork cover is decorated with bunched lotus flowers. The elephant wears a howdah engraved with lotus flowers and is richly attired with caparisons composed of ‘jewelled’ straps and tassels. The rim of the cover is engraved with a six-character mark of Xuande (Da Ming Xuande Nian Zi). The elephant’s fittings were originally inlaid in semi-precious stones.

The elephant (xiang) is known to have existed in China during the Bronze Age. Proof that the animal was a popular subject in art from very early times is provided most spectacularly by a large Shang dynasty zun (12th – 11th century BC) in the form of an elephant in the collection of the Musée Guimet in Paris.[ The elephant became extinct in China soon afterwards, but the animal’s enduring popularity as a decorative motif symbolising strength and high moral standards[ is evident from the many extant representations in practically all available materials in Chinese art. A richly caparisoned elephant is often seen in the presence of the Emperor, either as a bearer of tribute gift or as an exotic animal in the Emperor’s menagerie. The hollow body and the openwork cover suggest that this bronze elephant was designed as an incense burner. Although the cover of the present incense burner is engraved with the six-character mark of the emperor Xuande, who reigned from 1425 to 1435, the piece is unlikely to date from that period, but the compactness of the animal and the fine detail of the casting certainly suggests a Ming dynasty date, albeit of a somewhat later period.

ben-janssens-miniature-huanghuali-table

We just love the restrained elegance and delicate proportions of this miniature huanghuali table with marble top which is late Ming to early Qing dynasty, 17th – 18th century.

Length: 13 inches, 33 cm

Width: 5 3/4 inches, 14.7 cm

Height: 5 1/8 inches, 13 cm

It is a miniature table made of huanghuali, supported on two pairs of recessed legs located at both ends. The rectangular top is inlaid with a slab of marble and has everted flanges above a shaped, beaded apron. The frontward curving legs are supported by spandrels carved with chi dragons in openwork. The marble slab combines whitish and greyish colours, together with some linear red veins. The wood is well polished and well patinated.

  • This piece is a miniature version of a large qiaotouan table with recessed legs, and embodies all the characteristics of the form.  Similar small table stands with decorative stone panels are shown in the 18th-century illustrations to the novel Jin Ping Mei (‘Flower in a Golden Vase’), where they support the ‘Three Friends of Incense’ – the incense tool vase, incense burner and incense powder box.[1]  Stone panels are especially suitable for incense stands as they resist scorching, and their figuration evokes images that change according to the viewer’s mood or the side from which it is viewed. A comparable 17th-century miniature qiaotouan table made of huanghuali, similarly inlaid with a marble panel on its top, is in the collection of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture.[2]
  • Provenance: the collection of Louise Hawley Stone (1904 – 1997), Toronto, Canada. She was the Royal Ontario Museum’s first volunteer and was also a major donor, fundraiser, Board member and committee chair.

[1] Wang, Shixiang and Evarts, C. Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Chinese Art Foundation, Chicago and San Francisco, 1995, p. 82

[2] Wang, Shixiang and Evarts, C. op. cit. no. 86, pp. 182-3

rare-sancai-buffalo

We found this highly unusual blue, straw and amber-glazed model of a recumbent buffalo (Tang Dynasty, 8th century) At Littleton & Hennessey in St James’. It is modelled recumbent on a oblong base with its right foreleg outstretched, glazed in blue with straw-glazed highlights, the base glazed in blue and amber. Dimensions: 18.5 cm wide x 12 cm high

Domestic animals were popular subjects in the Tang tombs, and are amongst some of the most charming and playful examples of sancai-pottery. The current buffalo is unusual in that it is depicted recumbent, while most of the buffalo we see are depicted standing. However, a seated mythical beast in the Tenri Sankokan Museum Collection in Nara, Japan, has very similar modelling, with its left front leg tucked underneath, and right foreleg outstretched. Compare also the model of donkey in the Shaanxi History Museum, which is blue-glazed like the current piece.

Provenance: The Sze Yuan Tang Collection (思源堂藏)

You will note we have not given any prices on these outstanding pieces. As the old adage goes, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it!

 

 

 

Highlights from Christie’s ‘Asia Week’ sales

Last week in London was dubbed ‘Asia Week’ – not to be confused with the autumn event Asian Art in London – because of the large number of auction sales held in the capital. This was not any sort of official title but the sobriquet did, of course, serve marketing purposes rather well. We have noted elsewhere that Bonhams rather stole the limelight with their Chinese sale which netted well over £8m. There were, however, some other interesting lots, and prices, elsewhere. Christie’s mounted several sales and here are what we have singled out as some interesting highlights. Some very substantial prices were achieved and these tend to reflect upon the status of the auctioneer. As one Chinese buyer put it to us, “When you buy from a large auction house with a reputation you know that research has been done and you can buy with confidence.” That, of course, comes at a price . . .

a_small_green_and_white_overlay-glass_water_pot_yu_19th_century_d5796755h

A small green and white overlay-glass water pot, 19th c. but with apocryphal Quianlong mark to the shoulder  £33,750

a_rare_ming-style_yellow_-enamelled_blue_and_white_lotus_bouquet_dish_d5789416h

A rare Ming-style yellow-enamelled blue and white ‘Lotus Bouquet’ dish with Yongzheng six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period  27.4cm. £116,500

a_small_lemon-yellow-glazed_dish_yongzheng_six-character_mark_in_under_d5789481h

A small, lemon-yellow glazed dish, Yongzheng 6-character mark to base underglaze, within double circle, and of the period. 7.8cm. Finely potted with bright yellow glaze. £60,000

a_pair_of_claire-de-lune-glazed_stem_bowls_yongzheng_six-character_mar_d5789412h

A pair of claire-de-lune-glazed stem bowls with Yongzheng six-character marks in underglaze blue and of the period. From a private Hong  Kong collection amassed in the early 20th c. Diameter 18cm. £56,250

a_pale_celadon_jade_archaistic_vessel_and_cover_tulu_qianlong_period_d5789352h

A pale celadon jade, finely-carved archaistic vessel (Tulu) of the Quianlong period. In its original archaistic form a tulu would have been used for artist’s materials with chambers for water and pigments within the rectangular form.                                                £52,500

a_rare_and_important_dragon_and_phoenix_huanghuali_mirror_stand_wuping_d5789594h

A rare ‘dragon & phoenix huanghuali mirror stand of the 17th century.  80.7cm. high. £338,500

Bonhams to sell enormous Imperial Chinese Immortals screen

Lot 88 Chinese screenED 

An outstanding Imperial Chinese twelve-leaf screen comprising 64 magnificent porcelain panels depicting tales from Chinese mythology, which may well have graced an Imperial throne room, will be sold at Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale in London on May 15.

Bonhams estimate it to sell for £800,000 to £1.2m. The immortals are characters from Chinese mythology who symbolize, amongst other things, good fortune and longevity.

In the Imperial halls, such screens were often used as backdrops to thrones, reinforcing the Imperial eminence and stature behind the throne. No cost was spared in their production, using precious materials generously, such as zitan and huanghuali woods, cinnabar lacquer, gilt on black lacquer and embellishments with porcelain panels, hardstones, and cloisonné and painted enamels.

This particular Imperial famille rose and huanghuali twelve-leaf screen is dated to the Jiaqing reign period (1796-1820).

The Qianlong Emperor abdicated his throne in 1796 out of filial respect to his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor, but continued ruling in effect until his death in 1799. Therefore, it is generally recognised that the Imperial taste and demand, as well as the zenith of craftsmanship achieved during the Qianlong period (1736-1795), continued well into the subsequent Jiaqing period (1796-1820). The present screen can be ascribed to this group with its peerless quality combining two mediums, huanghuali wood and porcelain panels, attaining an imposing and opulent effect imbued with symbolism.

Panel 2 ED  Panel 1 ED

Each of the twelve leaves is finely carved from huanghuali, framing the porcelain plaques and set within the massive tiered huanghuali dais. Huanghuali wood, one of the most luxurious close-grained sub-tropical hardwood timbers used from the Ming dynasty onwards, was, and still is, highly sought after for its rich yellow-hued grain.

The twelve leaves of the screen are resplendently inset with 64 famille rose porcelain plaques. These are superbly enamelled with mythical imagery of Daoist Immortals, auspicious flowers and birds, laden with puns, rebuses and symbolic significance.

Asaph Hyman, Director of Chinese Art, commented: “The rare screen is a statement of Chinese Imperial art at its zenith demonstrating Qing dynasty master-craftsmanship. As it was made for a Qing Palace, no cost was spared in its production making use of the finest materials and artisan skills”.