A charming piece of 18th century eroticism found at Cohen & Cohen

F38 immortals, 10/9/06, 7:15 PM,  8C, 6000x7279 (0+720), 100%, Custom,  1/25 s, R61.1, G22.9, B25.4

Believe it or not, this amusing and very charming dental study, seen at Cohen & Cohen in Jermyn Street, was regarded at the time as an erotic artefact: somewhat puzzling for most of us who do not find a visit to the dentist in the slightest bit erotic! However, Will Motley has given us a very thorough rundown on this fascinating piece.

Qianlong, c. 1750

Height: 8 ½ inches (21.5cm)

A figural group of a seated Chinese man having his teeth examined by a standing lady, the man wearing a blue coat with white dragon medallions, the woman in a green coat with red flowers; on a base of blue, pink, and white rockwork.

At first it appears to depict no more than intimate grooming rituals such as ear cleaning, drinking, pedicure, or teeth cleaning. However, scenes of this nature had a veiled eroticism that was very evident to the eighteenth century viewer, Chinese or Western. In fact, these scenes would have been quite shocking to a Chinese viewer—for example, the naked man’s foot in Item 6.2 or the exposed belly and chest in 6.4 would be very risqué in a society where any form of public nakedness was strongly censured. The man’s queue (pigtail) being coiled round his head in this fashion symbolised sensuality. (It is found also in Item 6.2) In all of them, the woman is portrayed as a beauty and the man is always smiling with pleasures.

Western connoisseurs were also used to this sort of coded eroticism; eighteenth-century pastoralism was rich in symbols for love and wooing that filled the paintings of Lancret, Watteau, and others. These scenes often then appeared on export porcelain. Examples include the popular ‘valentine’ pattern, with its flaming hearts burning on an altar of love, cooing doves, drawn back curtains with garlands of flowers, and so on. Another image found in many variations is of a birdcatcher: a woman with an empty cage beside a man holding a bird, which stands for the woman’s virtue. Classical mythology was also widely used as an excuse for depictions of nudity, as seen in the ‘Judgement of Paris’ or the ‘Choice of Hercules’. So these exotic groups would have been very popular with the gentleman collector in Western Europe, stored in a locked cabinet and brought out to show his close friends on special occasions. More explicit items are also known, mainly paintings of erotic scenes on the inside of the lids of snuff boxes.

Such groups were probably private commissions or purchases by supercargoes from the shops in Canton, sold ‘under the counter’ to special customers. They are very rare but, judging by the design of the base or the details of the enamelling, it seems that some of them were made together in a small series. Differences in enamelling indicate that sets were made over a period of about twenty years, from about 1750 to 1770. The ear-cleaning group is much more common than the others and most examples seem to be a bit later than the rest. A separate series of ‘music lesson’ figures of an earlier date is also known; the pieces are of very high quality and even rarer, so they were probably only made at one time (see Sargent 1991, p118).

F20 dentist group 02, 10/9/06, 7:26 PM, 8C, 6000x7327 (0+672), 100%, Custom, 1/25 s, R61.1, G22.9, B25.4

Asian Art in London: Chinese export ware appears to be on the up . . .

Asian Art in London is always invaluable when it comes to identifying trends. This year, we visited three significant exhibitions of Chinese export ware, an area of collecting which has, let us say, been neglected in the rush for blue and white and pretty famille rose . . .

This year, Will Motley of Cohen & Cohen had one spectacular piece on display, and an array of other simply wonderful pieces in two-floored premises on Jermyn Street. The exhibition, and the accompanying book, shared the same intriguing title, Hit & Myth. The fabulous Yongzheng bowl dated 1735 (pictured below) was sold to an important museum in the Far East. The proposed destination is top secret for the moment as committee approval and paperwork is finalised. The bowl is highly unusual in that it portrays the actual making of porcelain. “As far as we know, there are only two of such bowls in the world,” Will Motley revealed.

It is the second time that Motley has sold this particular bowl. Hardly surprisingly, he is addicted to export porcelain. “It is the forgotten cousin,” he says. “It is a complex field with many sub-categories like armorial porcelain and famille verte.

“Many Chinese buyers are bemused by it,.” says Motley. Apparently, they simply fail to recognise it, so different is it from their normal taste. However, that may be changing, “I have, at least, been asked to sell single items which were part of a pair . . .The Chinese simply don’t get it.”

The title of the exhibition, and the book Hit & Myth (£35), reflects the presence of several mythological pieces and three or four other most unusual items.

1 cohen & cohen

Bound for a museum in the Far East . . .  Yongzheng bowl (1735)        Photo Paul Harris

In Kensington Church Street,  Marchants baptised their new premises, at 101, across the road from their well established ones (which are showing blanc de chine currently), with a selection of alluring pieces. Marchant, a long established firm, have an equally long commitment to Chinese export ware.

1 Asian Art Marchant new premises (3)

Marchants new premises at 101 Kensington Church Street (abovePhoto Paul Harris

An exquisite and unusual bowl on display at Marchants   Photo Paul Harris

1 marchant export bowl

Across the road from Marchant’s export ware emporium, dealer Jorge Welsh has his Out of the Ordinary exhibition. He avers that Chinese export porcelain was produced in an ‘extraordinary’ range of shapes during the late 17th and 18th centuries ‘some of which are truly out of the ordinary’. These were frequently ordered in small quantities and through the private trade. They reflect many changing aspects of daily life at the time. There is a fascinating hardback book Out of the Ordinary (£100), which we shall look at later.

We were particularly attracted by one piece, a pair of famille rose goose tureens with covers. In extraordinary condition and highly unusual, they are worth recording here in some detail (supplied by Jorge Welsh).

Pair of Famille Rose Goose Tureens and Covers

Photo Jorge Welsh      Pair of famille rose Goose Tureens and Covers

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795)

Porcelain decorated in overglaze enamels of the famille rose palette

Height: 32.5 cm; length: 39 cm; width: 25 cm

A pair of large tureens, each naturalistically modelled in two pieces as a goose with webbed feet tucked beneath the body, wings folded against the back, a long neck and small head with a slightly open beak, which serves as a handle for the tureen cover. The detailed plumage is moulded, incised and painted in different shades of brown, while the wings are painted in light brown, dark brown and blue enamel. The neck and head are painted with brown enamels, while the bulge on top of the head and circles around the eyes are painted in pink and the eyes are detailed in black. The beak and the feet are painted in different shades of orange enamel.

Jorge Welsh explains: Large soup tureens in naturalistic forms representing animals and birds were probably modelled after faience examples which were very much in fashion during the 18th century, in conjunction with rococo taste in Europe. Impressive centerpieces, these tureens accompanied table-services and were created for the amusement of guests dining in wealthy households. Large tureens were modelled in the form of fish, geese, roosters, boar’s and ox-head’s, which were also occasionally accompanied by tureen stands. Smaller vegetable and sauce tureens in the shape of crabs, fish, sows, dormice, tortoises and ducks have been recorded, amongst other shapes.

Although the actual prototype has not yet been identified, goose-shaped tureens were most likely derived from European ceramic models, which became increasingly fashionable in the 1740s. Large goose tureens were produced in Germany at the Höchst faience factory, which was patronized by the Elector of Mainz. They were possibly modelled by G. F. Hess, but surviving examples are rare.[1] The director of the factory, Adam von Löwenfinck, left in 1749 and joined the Strasbourg factory, where goose, turkey and cock tureens, among others, were made in faience from 1750 to 1754, from where this fashion spread across France.[2] This type of goose tureen was also produced at the Meissen factory by J. J. Kaendler in the middle of the century and at the Real Fábrica do Rato in Lisbon by Master Tomás Bruneto.[3] These pieces were greatly appreciated and much in demand in Portugal during the 18th century.

Although large goose tureens were usually purchased through private order, demand was such that the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ordered 25 similar tureens for its stock in 1763. The VOC archives record that ‘25 tureens, the form as a boar’s head, the stand finely painted’ and 25 ‘in the form of a goose’ were ordered. In 1764, 19 more boar’s heads and four goose tureens were shipped at fl. 10.50 each.[4] The same year the directors asked for 30 more tureens, but the purchase did not materialise because the supercargoes considered it too risky.

Chinese porcelain goose tureens were manufactured in two similar forms, but one has a much shorter neck than the other. The larger type usually measures about 40 cm in height while the one with shorter neck measures about 34 cm. Each type is often found in pairs of virtually identical form and decoration. The decoration of goose tureens varies from the very naturalistic to more fanciful interpretations of the famille rose palette. Goose tureens with short necks are not recorded as having stands painted with a representation of the same animal.

Similar goose tureens to the present examples, modelled with a shorter neck, are in the Palacio Nacional de Queluz,[5] in the British Museum in London,[6] and in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.[7] Other examples were in the Mildred and Rafi Mottahedeh collection[8] and the Helena Woolworth McCann collection.[9] An example of this type but presenting a lavish decoration heightened in gilt is found in the C.T. Loo Collection in Paris.[10]

Goose tureens with tall necks are found in the Carmona e Costa Foundation in Lisbon[11] and in the former Mottahedeh collection.[12] Another belongs to a private collection and is illustrated by Pinto de Matos.[13] A pair was in the Chateau de Plaisance, built by Pâris-Duverney (1684-1770), who was an advisor (1723-26) to the Duc de Bourbon and a protégé of the Marquise de Pompadour, and also director of the French Compagnie des Indes.[14] A further pair of goose tureens mounted in silver and made for the English market is in the collection of Brodick Castle, probably formerly in the collection of William Beckford in Fonthill Abbey.[15]

Goose tureens with tall necks are also recorded from armorial services for the Spanish market. A set of tureens including a goose, rooster and boar’s head, each accompanied by stands, was part of a large service made for the Asteguieta family.[16] Another example bears the arms of the Cervantes family[17] and one tureen from the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Collection bears the arms of Don Matias de Gálvez y Gallardo, viceroy of New Spain (1783-1784).[18]


[1] See Howard and Ayers, 1978, vol. II, p. 591.

[2] For an example of a turkey tureen see Fennimore and Halfpenny, 2000, p. 178, pl. 97.

[3] Pinto de Matos and Salgado, 2002, p. 148.

[4] Jörg, 1982, p. 190.

[5] This tureen is illustrated in situ by Ferro, 1998, p. 72.

[6] Krahl, and Harrison-Hall, 1994, pp. 208-209, pl. 91.

[7] Palmer, 1976, pp. 56-57, fig. 25.

[8] Howard and Ayers, ibid.. p. 590, pl. 614.

[9] Phillips, 1956, p. 160, pl. 72.

[10] Beurdeley, 1962, p. 172, cat. 102.

[11] Pinto de Matos and Salgado, ibid. pp. 148-149, pl. 40.

[12] This example was exhibited in the exhibition Oriental Ceramic Society, 1968, cat. 297 and is illustrated in Howard and Ayers, ibid., p. 591, pl. 615.

[13] Pinto de Matos, 2011, vol. II, p. 114-115, pl. 258.

[14] Beurdeley and Raindre, 1986, p. 205, pl. 279.

[15] See, Sargent, 1991, p. 210.

[16] Illustrated and exhibited in The Art of the Qing Potter: Important Chinese Export Porcelain, 1997, p. 71, colour pl. 50.

[17] Mudge, 1986, pp. 54, figs. 62-64.

[18] Fundaçao Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva, 2000, p. 68, pl. 53. Also illustrated in Beurdeley, ibid., p. 85, pl. XVII.