Saturday, February 12, 2022

A Chinese Cloisonne Necklace from 1979 with a Morning Glory Clasp

Way back in 2013, when I was trying to sift evidence for dating Chinese cloisonne beads, I wrote a blog post about what I subsequently learned was a morning glory motif in a champleve clasp.

The Morning Glory Clasp

A recent eBay purchase turned out to be a rare example of a cloisonne necklace of 15mm beads that could most probably be dated right down to the month and year of purchase.  

The seller kindly made the effort to go through her mother’s travel diaries, and discovered this in connection with the necklace:

“My mom flew from California to Hong Kong on September 12, 1979. Several days later she and her friend joined a tour group and they boarded a train to Canton. During her stay in Canton they also visited Foshan. While in Canton my mother mentions buying some ‘lovely cloisonné bracelets.’

Next the group boarded a train to Shanghai and lastly they flew to Beijing. My mother spent 2 weeks in China.”

Here is a fascinating online account of another adventurous woman’s trip to China in the late 1970s:

Retracing My Grandmother's Journey Through 1970s China

How much did the necklace cost back in 1979?  Another morning glory clasp necklace of smaller 12mm beads, still unused in its original box, was purchased in the early 1980s by a man backpacking in China.  If the price tag is indeed in dollars, $52 in 1983 would be the equivalent of $150 today.

Our 1979 piece is a pretty necklace that has been well cared for and still has its original polish.  And it displays an insight into the working method and skill set of the craftsperson who made the beads as well as the origin of the design.

Initially the collectivized Beijing Enamel Factory was staffed by older masters and craftsmen still surviving from the war-torn 1930s and 40s.  These men had spent decades learning their cloisonne skills – Jin Shiquan, for example, was apprenticed at age 11.  They could draw, from scratch with thin copper wires and tweezers, designs that most of us would have great difficulty copying in pen and ink.  A traditional pattern is the plum blossom branch, featured in the necklace under discussion here.  It can be seen in these early 1930s photos taken by Hedda Morisson of a Chinese cloisonne workshop.

Hedda Morrison and the "Old Man" Chinese Cloisonne Workshop

What I find interesting is the method of wiring the design in the 1979 beads.  It features the traditional motif of a blossom branch, depicted vertically as if stemming from the hole of the bead and then dividing into two twigs.  A few clouds are added alongside to form a background design that prevents the enamel from clumping up.  Then, instead of rolling the bead horizontally to add another branch on the opposite side, the bead is flipped vertically and the original design sequence repeated.  One can see this from the reversed direction of the clouds in the background. One side of the bead is thus “upside down” to the other.

This design of two blossom branches shows up in other morning glory clasp necklaces:

Different coloring, beige background enamel

Reverse coloring with light blossoms and dark background enamel

By way of contrast, a necklace of oval beads reported as imported in 1981 by the eBay seller, Joannie’s House of Treasures, shows a blossom branch design of a single branch that starts near the hole and then wraps horizontally around the bead as a sort of belt.

1981 on the left, 1979 on the right

1979 beads vs 1981 oval beads

By the time the oval 1981 beads were decorated, a newer style of working flowers was spreading among the wireworkers, wherein the center circle and petals were worked in one continuous strand of wire.  Initially the centers of the flowers were tidy circles, as in the past.  However – presumably as unskilled workers had to be hired during the cloisonne export boom of the 1980s and 90s -- flower centers often became more and more irregular and sloppy blobs.

The beads in the 1979 necklace are evidently the work of an older craftsman – or at least someone working under his supervision – as the flower centers are constructed as separated tiny circles and half-circles, as can be seen in cloisonne works from the 1930s and before.  The smaller 13mm beads shown in the blog post about the “Old Man” workshop demonstrate a similar pattern of the split blossom branch, albeit with more intricately and finely worked branches, buds in the older fashion of a circle + two half circles, no leaves, and tiny spiral floral centers instead of simple circles. Each bead in the circa 1930s necklace was rotated horizontally to create a long branch across the “front” and a small branch on the “back,” with no filler of small clouds.  I wonder if this demonstrates the origin of the pattern used in our 1979 necklace?

1979 beads top, circa 1930s "Old Man Workshop" beads below

My blog post previous to this one contains a link to a PDF discussing how cloisonne beads were manufactured circa the 1970s and the evolution of the blossom branch design.  It includes an example of a necklace like our 1979 piece --  15mm beads strung with metal links and a morning glory clasp -- demonstrating an older worker’s conception and mastery of the blossom branch design, this time as a belt around the bead, similar to the 1981 oval beads necklace albeit more finely worked.

Beijing Enamel Factory and Chinese Cloisonne Beads

Compare this older wiring sequence with the 1979 and 1981 beads.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Beijing Enamel Factory and Chinese Cloisonne Beads

The August 2021 issue of Bead Forum, a semi-annual publication of the Society of Bead Researchers, features an article by me and Rosanna Falabella (editor) on the devolution of Chinese cloisonne beads from the early decades of the Beijing Enamel Factory into the present.

Devolution of Floral Patterns on Chinese Cloisonne Beads and the Parallel HIstory of the Beijing Enamel Factory

Lush example of intricate beads, likely circa 1970s.

Moving counter clockwise around the necklace, the themes on each individual bead are:

  1. Phoenix (Feng huang) and peony blossom
  2. Red-crowned crane
  3. Goldfish with pond weed - side view of fish with only one eye - a version unique to this necklace?
  4. Blossom branch
  5. Grapevine with leaves, coiled tendril, grapes
  6. Double fish on one side; Castanets on the other (See Wikipedia article below about the Immortal Lan Caihe)
  7. Blossom branch
  8. Lotus blossom with sacred ribbons;  Red vase/jar with ribbons
  9. Blossom branch
  10. Blossom branch
  11. Gourd vine with leaves, blossom, vine, gourds
  12. Feng huang and peony blossom
  13. Gourd vine
  14. Blossom branch
  15. Grapevine
  16. Castanets; Double fish
  17. Lotus blossom with ribbons; Turquoise vase/jar with ribbons
  18. Peach tree branch with blossoms and peaches
  19. Blossom branch
  20. Blossom branch
  21. Lotus with ribbons; Red vase/jar with ribbons
  22. Grapevine
  23. Goldfish
  24. Goldfish
  25. Gourd vine
  26. Grapevine
  27. Lotus with ribbons; Red vase/jar with ribbons
  28. Blossom branch
Filigree clasp has a rounded base, stamped "SILVER MADE IN CHINA."

An early example of the blossom branch in a necklace of matching 15mm beads, demonstrating work by an older craftsman before the design was abbreviated and simplified so less skilled new employees could manage it.

Two beads are different.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mysterious Necklace with Deco-era Chinese Cloisonne Beads

Etsy shop MaisonettedeMadness has on offer an unusual necklace featuring Chinese cloisonne beads.

The necklace is described as 30 inches in length, with cloisonne beads measuring approximately 22x17mm, caged white metal beads 19x12.7mm. "Round almost black beads are stone or a Peking style glass, clasp is stamped sterling and the chain throughout is sterling silver, the metal wires are all silver in color, may vary in composition. The wire wrapped could be better."

The stamped chain, beads, bead caps and clasp seem almost certainly to be of European or U.S. manufacture.  The black beads seem to have been made to imitate black pearls, and may have some sort of coating?  The Japanese, of course, made excellent hand-wound glass beads to imitate pearls.  Could these be Japanese glass?  Or are they in fact stone?

The cloisonne beads, however, seem almost certainly to date from the 1920s-40s (remembering always the 7-year hiatus for the War with Japan and World War II).  Similar beads can be seen in costume jewelry such as shown in these previous essays here:

Maisonette speculates that the necklace perhaps was originally sold in one of Helen Burton's shops.  The necklaces that seem likely to be traceable to Helen, however, feature Chinese findings and metal beads, such as the set featured at the start of this post:

A biography of Helen by Don Menzies can be found here:

The Miriam Haskell workshop is another possibility, as many unsigned Deco-necklaces attributed to her feature a variety of Chinese and Japanese beads:

Haskell seemed to favor gold-toned brass findings, however, so the silver-toned cast filigree beads in the necklace perhaps originate in the Rice-Weiner workshop, known for its ability to cast intricate designs in pot metal:

European workshops also used Deco-era Chinese cloisonne beads, as this bracelet with what appear to be Czech findings and pressed glass illustrates:

Findings are cast brass, with old-fashioned "petal" beadcaps.
Where and when was this elegant necklace put together?  Were all the components sourced at the same time, such as during the late 1940s or 1950s?  Or was it assembled from disparate parts in a later decade?  Puzzling evidence.

UPDATE: Does anyone besides me see a similarity in the cast filigree work in these Deco-era bracelets to the design of the metal beads in the necklace?  Note the Deco design motifs along the edges of the beads.  Evidence that the necklace could date to the 1920s or 1930s?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Puzzling Evidence - Louis C. Mark, Rice-Weiner, and the Mysterious Qun Li Mark 群力

A prior post discussed a mysterious mark that appears on costume jewelry pieces featuring Chinese cloisonne beads.  These pieces seem to be attributable to Louis Mark, a designer popular in the 1940s.

More examples turned up recently on the internet:

Dragon egg brooch from eBay vendor ling805.
The above pieces feature nice Deco-era Chinese cloisonne beads. Both pieces have been given a gold finish, which I think makes them a bit more attractive than unplated pot metal. 

And a fabulous example, with intact gilding and a beautiful dragon bead, can be found at Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry [scroll down through the Morning Glory Collects gallery to see the brooch, which is in a personal collection and not for sale] - 

Prior posts on this style of Cloisonne bead can be found here:

Louis C. Mark, Rice-Weiner, and the Mysterious Qun Li Mark 群力

Chinese Beads from the Art Deco Era

Chinese Cloisonne Dragon Beads from the 1930s-1990s

Miriam Haskell Jewelry and Chinese Cloisonne Dragon Beads

The Miriam Haskell Mystery

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Puzzling Evidence - "Peking 1888" Plate from Russia and Imperial Dragons

Marina Neglinskaya, in her 2006 book Chinese Cloisonne Enamel 15th - First Third 20th Century [ISBN 1932525394] comments on the difficulty of using only stylistic variations to distinguish Chinese cloisonne ateliers in the late 19th - early 20th century, as works are rarely signed.  

At least half a dozen names appear in various c.1900 publications such as guide books, auction catalogs and exhibitor lists - Yang tien-li 楊天利, for example. Zhang Rong, in her chapter in Beatrice Quette's book Cloisonne: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, mentions Laotianli 老天利, Jingyuantang 静远堂, Zhiyuantang 志远堂, Baohuasheng 寶華生, Dexingcheng 德興成, and Decheng 德成.

What clues might tell these workshops apart?  Do stylistic variations perhaps trace the career of particular artists, such as Laotianli, from when they started out as a young artists in someone else's shop to when they founded their own ateliers? 

A particularly interesting plate is described in M. Neglinskaya's book.  It features the actual signatures, exactly copied in cloisonne wires, of four Russian diplomats, wealthy merchants or bankers, and a medallion with the Cyrillic initials CE and CA and "Peking 1888."  The initials are believed to refer to the Startseva (Elders) family, perhaps Alex Elders and his daughter Elizabeth.  The cloisonne workmanship is superb.

Also featured in the Neglinskaya book is a large circular cloisonne tray with a dramatic dragon in frontal pose.
Peking 1888 plate and dragon tray from Neglinskaya
A large plate from an online auction a few years ago features a dragon and decorative border similar to the two pieces in the Neglinskaya book.  The likelihood of the border design being the work of two different artists is remote, thus it seems reasonable that the plate may also date from around 1888.
It is extremely doubtful that this exact border could be the design of two different artists.
Comparing the dragon plate to the Neglinskaya tray, we observe a difference between the curled and spiky whiskers surrounding the lips, but otherwise the dragons are strikingly similar:

Two large 10" bowls display a dragon very similar to that in the plate, although with a ruyi border instead of the border of tiny leaf pairs:
The seller stated: "It is 26 cm or 10" diameter and is 2.75" tall. It dates c 1900-1910. It was from a Cheshire estate sale of a large collection of Oriental antiques and art."
Dragon in second bowl compared to first
Plate, Neglinskaya tray, and 10" bowl.  Note that the tray is a photo of a photo in the book, so color reproduction may not be accurate.
Two other bowls similar to the 10" examples:

An 8" pedestal dish, or tazza, featuring a similar dragon with spiky whiskers:

Plate with tightly curled whiskers, pedestal dish with spiky blue flame-like whiskers.
A comparison of all the dragons listed above:
Opening the picture in a new tab, then clicking on the "magnify" button will allow closer inspection of details.

And for further comparison, dragon designs on works with engraved LaoTianLi signatures:
Large plates

How to sort through all this puzzling evidence? The Dexingcheng atelier claimed to have been established around 1860, Yangtienli in 1874
Internet Archive copy of Thomas Cook travel guide, Peking and the Overland Route, 1917.

Did Laotianli learn this distinctive style of dragon from working in shops like these?   What other workshops continued to use this dragon design, perhaps into the 1930s?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Puzzing Evidence - Cloisonne with the Mysterious "Fang Ming" 明彷 Mandarin Hat with Peacock Feather and 1912 Republic of China Flag Logos

While working on the fish scale background pattern in Chinese cloisonne, I came across two bowls of identical design, but with different base logos.  More examples of this design turned up in a subsequent internet search.  Although these bowls don't seem all that attractive, and appear to be crude imitations of Ming cloisonne, some have evidently sold for surprisingly high prices. Many display a peculiar base logo featuring a Chinese Mandarin hat with peacock feather and the characters fang Ming (style of Ming) 明彷 (read from right to left).

When viewing the following picture gallery, readers might want to keep in mind these comments from three books:

The Pierre Uldry collection book (1985 in German, 1989 in English translation) shows 3 examples of the fang Ming mandarin hat logo, one on a bowl that appears identical to others pictured below featuring galloping sea-horses.

  • Catalog number 357, Bowl on slightly flaring foot-ring; decorated with fish and with sea-horses (haima) springing over the waves.  19th century.  Marked: fang Ming (in Ming style). H. 12.7 m; diam 25.2cm.  Ex coll. Dr. K. H. Brunner; Publ. Asiatisch Kunst, Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Zurich, 1941, 91:b
  • Catalog numbers 358 & 359, Archaistic ceremonial vessel of li [small 3-lobed-leg censers] decorated with scrolling lotus; 19th century; Marked: fang Ming (in Ming style); H. 10.4 cm. diam 22.5cm.
On page 129, the authors discuss the “predilection in cloisonné of the Kangxi period for decorative forms of Ming times,” and how closely c1700 Kangxi cloisonné works imitated 15th century Ming works:

Through this revival, the era of the Jingtai-emperor, whose reign lasted only seven years in the mid-fifteenth century, has been elevated to the golden age of Chinese enamel production.  Furthermore, Jingtai lan – in literal translation, “the blue of the Jingtai era” – has entered the common consciousness and language as the quintessence of cloisonné.  The Kangxi works of “Ming style” became synonymous with cloisonné style in general, for significantly, it was again enamel pieces of this type that were copied in the second half of the nineteenth century (NOS. 349-53, 355-59) and to which the revealing, ubiquitous mark fang Ming (Ming copy) was added. Finally, the question has to be addressed how to distinguish between these groups: the models of the Ming dynasty, the imitations of the Kangxi period, and the nineteenth-century copies.

Beatrice Quette, on page 23-24 of her 2011 book, comments:

Jingtai (景泰) marks are the most frequently encountered marks on Chinese cloisonné … and have been subject to the most extensive discussion by scholars.  The fact that this mark is so often found on cloisonné is surprising for two reasons: such marks are found on objects whose styles point to different periods, and the Jingtai reign was the shortest and most disastrous of the Ming dynasty.  Whether these marks are incised, executed in champlevé, stamped, or inscribed in the enamel, none of the many pieces that we have examined seems to date from the middle of the fifteenth century. … The ubiquity of the Jingtai mark appears to date from the Qing dynasty, when cloisonné enamels began to be designated … as Jingtai lan (Jingtai blue), in reference to a shade of blue that was supposed to have been introduced during the Jingtai reign. …

In the case of nineteenth-century copies of Ming pieces, the Jingtai mark consists of four or six characters executed in red enamel, arranged in either two or three columns set against a white ground, and placed within a square or rectangle outlined in black enamel … Jingtai marks of this type are also found on nineteenth-century Japanese cloisonné enamels (Cat. 150)

The Cat. 150 piece referred to is another small 3-legged censer with yellow background and a lotus scroll pattern similar to the Uldry collection pieces, although with handles.  It is described thus:

Incense burner (li ding)
Japan, second half 19th century; Cloisonné enamel on cast copper alloy, 5 x 7 1/8 in. (12.6 x 18cm)
Mark: a six-character Jingtai (1450-57) mark set in enamel
Les Arts Decoratifs – musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.  Purchase, 1889, 4.601

This object, the only example of a Japanese cloisonné in the exhibition, shows how some Japanese workshops imitated Chinese enamel production.  The shape of a liding is a typical shape used as an incense burner in China.  It has existed in bronze, ceramic, and in cloisonné enamel since the early Ming dynasty. … The mark of Jingtai, so often added on Chinese cloisonné, here is supposed to support a genuine Chinese origin.

On page 214-215 of Fredric Schneider’s 2010 book on Japanese cloisonne one can find an account, “Ming imitations – Hogyoku Shippo, Kaji Sataro.”

In a technical tour de force, one late nineteenth – early twentieth century maker, Kaji Sataro, and his pupil, Tsunekawa Aisaburo, were able to produce cloisonné pieces using modern wires and enamels that nevertheless imitated the archaic look of Ming dynasty cloisonné made 300 or 400 years earlier – intentionally creating all the flaws inherent in this much earlier technology.  Kaji Sataro called such pieces Hogyoku Shippo [Jewel Cloisonne]. …

A third maker, Kyoto’s Yoshida Yasubei, reportedly in the mid-1890s made pieces in unsophisticated old Chinese cloisonné technique and style, although his work has not been called Hogyoku Shippo and perhaps was only of lower commercial quality.
Gary H. Yoshino, on page 169 of his book Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, has this to say:

Click on the pictures, of course, for a larger view.  Right-clicking to open a picture in a new tab will enable the magnification zoom feature.

Appears identical to bowl above, only with brass plate inscription removed.

Chinese?  Jing Tai seal similar to what Quette describes as 19th century style (see quoted passage above).

Chinese? Charming design featuring deer, cranes, pines, bamboo, a sea-horse, floral scrolls, and "rainbow" coloring of petal surrounds and rim cloud motifs.  Another 19th century style Jing Tai seal, as described by Quette above.

Chinese? Cute rabbits, curly clouds, a nicely rendered carp, phoenixes, floral scrolls, attractive "rainbow" coloring of center sun  rays, petal surround and rim ruyi motifs.  Another 19th century style Jing Tai seal. This bowl and the two preceding all seem to me to come from the same atelier.  They're fairly large bowls, measuring about 9" across.

Late 19th - early 20th century Chinese style

Japanese? Chinese?

Japanese? Chinese?  Were drilled for use as lamps. Possible restoration work in lower right photo (half of lotus petals all going the wrong direction, what appear to be painted "wires.")

Typical Chinese "Da Ming" and "Qian Long" logos from circa 1920-1930s?
UPDATE: An example of a li ding 3-legged censer in the Ming style, with a 1912 Republic flag logo:
UPDATE: Another li ding censer from a Chinese site, with dragon handles and "Fang Ming" mark:

UPDATE: Two peculiar basins in the Ming style, with a fish scale diaper in the center medallion, 1912 Republic flag logo, and Lao Tian Li style dragons.

UPDATE: One more bowl (we now have a total of at least 11), pictured in Sir Harry Garner's book (1970 2nd edition), with his accompanying quote:
What to make of this puzzling evidence?  Perhaps we should amend the DeXingCheng shop flyer's statement, "Mr. Chia sold his product for a good price, especially to the high officials who used to take them as the old curios of Ming Dynasty"  to read "...high officials and wealthy foreigners..."?

UPDATE:  [Remember, you can right-click an image to open it in a new tab, then use the magnification feature to examine it in closer detail] eBay vendor bibberhai in The Netherlands has a covered bowl with Chinese dragon and lion motifs similar to two of the basins pictured above.  Presented with their permission are their photos of this bowl, which measures 9 cm in height, 13.5 cm in diameter, with the cover 10 cm in diameter.

It is difficult to imagine a Japanese cloisonne workshop copying the Lao Tianli-style Chinese dragon, as the Japanese 3-toed dragon iconography is very different:
The dragon of Lao Tianli

UPDATE March 2020:
Found the Sotheby's auction for a basin that sold for 18,750 quid and that looks remarkably similar to a white basin above. Pictures of the white basin show a crossed Republic flags logo on the base. Here are some close-up pics, including the link to the auction. You can open the first image in a new tab and view a magnified version that shows the details better.

UPDATE: Another example of this design, this time with a Republic flag on the back:

Another plate with Republic flags from Liveauctioneers in 2020, Belgium.

Composite of 4 variations on this basin.  Are the last two recent repros of a c1900 repro?