Saturday, January 17, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - A Chinese Cloisonne Bowl from the Warlord Era, 1923 - Gift from 馮玉祥 Feng Yuxiang

eBay vendor goldenguard has on offer what appears to be a rare piece of 20th century Chinese cloisonne - a shallow bowl with an inscription on the rim.  Is the piece of paper attached to the bottom an English translation of the rim characters?  And who was "General Fung Yuk Chang"?  Is this a bad transliteration of Feng Yuxiang's name? 
[Later: Yes, the characters do read "Feng Yuxiang."]
[Later still: a correspondent informs me that the "Fung Yuk Chang" transliteration is probably Cantonese]

He was an interesting person, indeed.  A Chinese acquaintance relates, "He drove the last emperor of China out of the Forbidden City in 1925 and was more highly evaluated  than other warlords of his time by the communist party."

An impressive memorial was constructed for his tomb.
Feng's career as a warlord began soon after the collapse of the Yuan Shikai government in 1916. Feng, however, distinguished himself from other regional militarists by governing his domains with a mixture of paternalistic Christian socialism and military discipline. He forbade prostitution, gambling and the sale of opium and morphia. From 1919, he was known as the 'Christian General'. --Wikipedia

Friday, January 16, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Japanese Champleve Vases in 1933 Shure Catalog and Cloisonne Jars, Pots, Vases from 1901 McClurg Catalog

A page featuring Chinese cloisonne from the 1933 N. Shure catalog was featured in a prior blog post.

Here's another page from the same catalog, this time depicting Japanese "cloisonne" vases that are more accurately termed "champleve," such as this piece pulled at random from eBay, where similar pieces frequently appear.  Although I have never handled one of these vases, they must be fairly sturdy, as a favorite use for them seems to have been converting them into lamps.  The little online currency calculator that I use indicates that $2 in 1933 is the equivalent of about $37 today, $3 equals about $55.

Fredric T. Schneider's book The Art of Japanese Cloisonne Enamel has a color photo of one of these 20th century champleve vases attributed to the Koizumi Company.

Another catalog page, this time from the 1901 A. C. McClurg & Co. catalog, shows an interesting selection of Japanese cloisonne pieces:

A recent eBay auction of a piece resembling one of those pictured on the catalog page:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Rare Chinese Cloisonne Pieces from the Days of the Hongxian 洪宪皇帝 Emperor, Yuan Shikai

eBay vendor cgc66 has on offer what seem to be some astoundingly rare pieces of Chinese cloisonne.  The characters on the bases translate as "Hong Xian Nian Zhi," or, "Hongxian Year Made."
Nice shape to this small vase, with a small narrow rim that, unlike later vases, doesn't detract by being thick and clunky.

Note that the enamel has not been ground and polished - for example, the dragon's blue scales.

Note the raised 3-D appearance of the characters

Why is this so unusual?  "Hongxian" was the name that Yuan Shikai chose for his dynasty when he attempted to consolidate rule with himself as Emperor, following the abdication of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.  Wikipedia will fill you in on the history, such as this tidbit:

Soon after becoming emperor, Yuan placed an order with the former imperial potters for a 40,000-piece porcelain set costing 1.4 million yuan, a large jade seal, and two imperial robes costing 400,000 yuan each.

Alas, his reign lasted merely 83 days, from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916.  He died on June 5, 1916 at age 56.

Were these cloisonne pieces commissioned along with the porcelain, jade, and robes?  Or were they speculative creations for sale as memorabilia or souvenirs?  They show a very distinctive characteristic - the final enamel firing has not been ground down.  Inspection reveals the rounded surfaces of the enamels filling the cloisons. Grinding and polishing cloisonne is a very labor- and skill-intensive and time consuming task.  Perhaps the unfinished pieces were sold for what they could get when the short-lived dynasty abruptly ended?

Note the resemblance of the style of the energetic dragon to those by Lao Tian Li, as well as the neat and tidy cloud spirals. The lotus pattern on the jar is also of above-average design and workmanship.  Could the workshop responsible have been Lao Tian Li's? 
[Later: I did not mean to imply these pieces were of a quality typical of Lao Tian Li himself - in any workshop, there are always apprentices to be trained and workers whose task is turning out the less expensive bread-and-butter pieces.]

Puzzling evidence!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Rare Deco Chinese Openwork Cloisonne Cylinder and Lantern Bead Necklace

From the private collection of the owner of eBay store Beads With a Past, an exceptional necklace of early Chinese cloisonne beads.  Although the cloison wires are flat, they share the technique used in twisted wire cloisonne, where the enamel is fired only once, leaving concave wells of glass in the cloisons.  The level of inventiveness and detail in the designs is exceptional.  I especially love the rat and bird beads! 
Did one of the old master craftsmen who used to make intricate cloisonne beads for Qing court necklaces apply his skills for the delight of a lady?  Could this be a piece from Helen Burton's 1920-30s Camel Bell shop in the Peking Hotel?  So mysterious.

A Haskell-attributed necklace featuring hexagonal cylinder beads in a simpler reverse-openwork technique, where the background is filled with enamel instead of the insides of the cloisons:

A bracelet that appears to be a mate to the necklace above, on offer from eBay vendor carousel111:
The center bead, which the vendor describes as featuring birds and flowers, seems to be Canton enamel.
A cylinder bead I recently acquired, of unknown age:
Note the fired-once concave enamel
From an online auction last year, an assortment of beads that appear to include some of these openwork beads, including one pendant resembling those used in court necklaces:
The three large round beads upper left appear to be in a technique similar to the necklace beads, as does the pendant upper right.  The large cloisonne cylinder may be a scroll weight? (example below)

What appear to be flat cloison wires, in contrast to the twisted wires used in the bead pictured above.
Japanese cloisonné scroll weights with tassels.

UPDATE: This article about Chinese silver cloisonné provides some interesting insights relevant to the above beads:中國出口銀器-開始轉寄郵件/

UPDATE: I acquired the beads shown in the upper left of the assemblage photo.  Here's what they look like up close:
The overall green cast is verdigris, which I have not removed.

Similar wirework and enamel can be seen in boxes that appear, from their "CHINA" stamps, likely to date from the 1910s-30s. 

UPDATE: What appears to be a group of graduated beads in a gourd motif, possibly salvaged from a necklace [Liveauctioneers website, item 64835265]

UPDATE: A private collector has granted permission to show this photo of this style of bead presented as a Japanese obidome accessory, purchased in 2021 from a seller in Japan.