Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Pink Cloisonne and the Chinese Eight Auspicious Symbols and Hundred Antiques or Hundred Treasures

This exploration of pink background enamel in Chinese cloisonne began with a plate displaying auspicious symbols, then examined a variety of works from Dr. Edward Gerber's collection in a distinctive design featuring the Hundred Treasures.  While the overall pattern of most of the Gerber collection pieces resembled a pair of jars with a Jingyuantang 静远堂 signature, a pair of basins were in a quite different design scheme.  A correspondent who now owns these basins suggested that they are likely from the 19th century.  
These are not small, measuring 15 1/2 inches or 38 cm in diameter.
Another correspondent has a black basin in this design, and a blue one turned up in an online auction.  The owner of the black basin describes it as "decorated in the Buddhist 'Eight Treasures' (babao) pattern with 'five Blessing' (wufu) bats amidst the clouds and 'Longevity' (shou) medallions.  The bottom is rounded, so definitely meant to sit in a hole in one of those old commodes or wash stands."

I did a photo comparison of the three basins, which shows differences in the small details that seems to demonstrate that the artists doing the wirework were copying from a master design, but not exactly.  For example, the pink basins feature an extra petal in the central medallion.  Modern cloisonne wires are glued together in sets of 8 to 12 and bent to precisely follow a printed copy of the design, so all versions are identical.  In contrast, older cloisonne craftsmen, such as Jin Shiquan, evidently worked directly in wire, likely over an underlying sketch, "drawing" with wire much as they might draw with an ink brush.  When making pairs, it seems likely to me that they might have simply bent two wires at the same time, thus matching up the motifs as they worked on each piece.  Thus the pieces in a design series might be quite similar, but they never display the exactitude of matching that modern cloisonne technicians achieve, because that wasn't an issue. The older artists doing the wirework might indeed have possessed the draftsmanship skills to draw the master design in the first place, so replicating motifs by eye alone would have been routine for them.  At any rate, these differences in the details might signify that these are not recent works from, say, the 1990s.
Another distinctive feature of the basins is their background diaper of kinky little Ming-style clouds (?).  I've only found two other examples of this exact diaper: a small bowl, and a set of stacked cylinder dishes featuring the Hundred Treasures motifs.  The bowl seems to have been done to imitate Ming style cloisonne.  The stacked dishes are similar to the pink stacked dishes formerly owned by Dr. Gerber and by Audrey Meadows; however, where the pink dishes feature interiors of plain green enamel, the blue dishes show this little kinky cloud motif.
Notice the similarity of the leafy green sprigs to those depicted on the basins.

The Hundred Treasures motifs of the cloisonne vases and jars seem to be something that was fashionable in porcelain as well.  This white porcelain jar, sold at auction in 2012, shows a startling similarity to the pink, blue, and green cloisonne versions.  The "CHINA" mark splashed on the bottom indicates that it was applied to comply with United States export marking requirements of the 1890 McKinley Tariff Act, and the paper label might indicate that it was exported after 1921, when the tariff act was amended to require the words "Made In" as well as the name of the country of origin.

What is imitating what?

Examples of Hundred Treasures rouleau vases can be found from at least the 1700s, mostly in porcelain.
A comparison of a porcelain vase and cloisonne designs:

What to make of this puzzling evidence? Are the pink basins, perhaps like the pink Dragon's Gate plate that started this series of posts, indeed from around the late-19th century to 1912, (when the Qing dynasty ended)? Their traditional motifs, careful craftsmanship, and likely use in furniture seem made to appeal to wealthy Chinese.  The little bowl and stacked blue dishes sharing that kinky cloud pattern with the basins are quite nicely made as well.

The "Hundred Treasures" pieces, however, display a jazzier overall design that might well have appealed both to foreigners and to Chinese seeking to be trendy and modern.  Those spiked finials on the jars seem very Deco, and the porcelain jar was made into a lamp, something that was very fashionable in the 1920-30s as electricity in homes became more widespread.  So could these be works from the Republic era, dating from around World War I to perhaps the early 1930s?

What do you think?  I still wonder why so many of the Gerber collection pieces are still in their original pairs.

UPDATE: Another black basin turned up in a search of online auctions.  So that's a total of 5 basins so far, all sharing the same design and all in very nice condition.
Sold at auction in 2008

Comparison of two basins.  Auction basin is on left.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - The Edward Gerber Collection and Pink Chinese Cloisonne

The previous post discussing pink background enamel in Chinese cloisonne mentioned the collection of Edward Gerber.  Doctor Gerber passed away in 2013; Clars Auction Gallery was responsible for the sale of items from his estate

Among the items up for auction was what seems to be a unique assemblage of Chinese cloisonne items with a bright pink background enamel and a resemblance to a pair of vases with a rare Jingyuantang (静远堂) signature that possibly date from before World War I.

While the Gerber pieces share a similar "hundred treasures" design, the bases of many of the items have an unusual and distinctive feature: rather than a circle inset into the base, they feature an enameled cap applied over the bottom edges.

There are many designs, from small soap dishes and tea sets to large jars and vase pairs.
The database of past sales can be searched to view the Gerber auctions. Note the pair of stacked cylinder dishes toward the back of the top shelf.  More about a similar set below.  The small vase at bottom right displays a double happiness motif.
The vase displays a pattern at the base similar to one found on porcelains; the floral pattern is old-fashioned, and the double happiness characters seem to link it to the Jingyuantang vase; the "tiger" (?) handles and overall shape, rim, pale green turquoise enamel link it to the other examples in the collection (is it a mate to the vase bottom right previous picture?).  Again, the complete set of cups and cupholders seems unusual - how did these pieces stay together so long? Online auction.

A pair of warming dishes.

Vase Pair 1, with similar exteriors but slightly different interior enamel colors and different bases (one seems to show the traces of a wax stamp indicating approved export of a non-antique item).
Vase Pair 1 compared with similar Vase Pair 2
Vase 3 details
Vase Pair 2 and Vase 3 comparison.

Three views of pink jar
Blue turquoise jar pair from another auction, not the Gerber collection

Another non-Gerber jar, this time in a green turquoise
A non-Gerber jar photographed in daylight.
Comparison of Gerber jar with blue turquoise jar.
Comparison of the green turquoise jar with the pink jar with similar large vase motif.
Ginger jar from, 2012

An old-fashioned perforated hat stand from a 2015 auction, similar but not identical to the Gerber pair pictured above.

Another hat stand pair.  Note the similarity of the twin fishes vase motif to that on the Jingyuantang vase pair at the start of this post.  The dotted base rim can be seen in other pieces above.
A  cylinder vase in the style of a hat stand.
A blue turquoise vase in hat stand-style.  According to Arthur & Grace Chu, orange enamel was a development of the 1970s, so this is perhaps a more recent production?
A similar set of stacked bowls can be seen in the Gerber collection.  According to the auction description,
"These bowls were from the Audrey Meadows estate. Her husband Robert Six, was CEO of Continental Airlines and this was a gift for his wife from the Hong Kong Government on approval of Continental Airlines initial flight to China."  Upon a bit of investigation, I discovered that during the 1970s Audrey worked with Robert to design the Continental cabin interiors and flight attendant uniforms.  She had the uniforms manufactured in Hong Kong. While Continental flew routes to Pacific islands during the Vietnam War, a route to Hong Kong was evidently only approved in the late 1970s or 1980 but never actually flown.  Robert Six died in 1981,and the company changed ownership.  Thus, it seems that these dishes must have been produced before 1980.

A teapot from another auction.
Another "treasures" vase from a 2015 auction.
A dish and small vase from other auctions.
What to make of this puzzling evidence?  How to account for the similarity between the Jingyuantang vase pair and other pieces?  
  • Are they all pre-World War II products from the same workshop? 1910s-1930s? Are some - or all - post-World War II reproductions?  1970s?
  • Where did Dr. Gerber purchase them - in Hong Kong or Taipei, before mainland China was opened to U.S. visitors in 1972?  In Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong during the 1970s or early 1980s? 
  • How did Dr. Gerber find so many of them, with pairs of items still intact?
And now for something completely different:
Continental Uniforms from the early 1970s. Audrey's designs?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Pink Enamel in Chinese Cloisonne

The prior post about an interesting plate with an unusual background of rose pink enamel prompted some further investigation, and the following observations.

The method for producing pink glass relies upon two metals - gold and/or selenium. European glass technology had discovered the chemistry for creating the right type of gold compound by the 17th century.  The powerful early Qing emperors employed visiting Jesuits from Europe to develop, among other things, the ability for the imperial workshops to produce this gold pink enamel first for porcelain and then cloisonne, especially during the 60-year 18th century reign of Emperor Qianlong.  
Qianlong porcelain with rose enamel
Chinese "Canton enamel" painted on a metal tray.
During the later half of the 19th century, improved chemistry resulted in the discovery that selenium could also be used to produce pink glass, as well as a bright, hot red in combination with cadmium.  Selenium may be a comparatively rare and expensive element, but it is nonetheless cheaper than gold.  By the 1920s, glass industries worldwide had adopted selenium and cadmium technology for pink and red. (Here's an example, from a 1941 patent).
Chinese pink glass - Boshan beads, pink "Peking Glass" finial on an enameled brass souvenir canister, opal pink dish marked "CHINA" with enameled metal rim - all likely to be from circa 1910-1930s.
Japanese cloisonne ateliers during the "Golden Age" (1880-1910) developed new cloisonne enamel coloring technologies, working with German glass chemist Gottfried Wagener, who in 1884 headed the ceramic and glass engineering department of the Tokyo Arts and Crafts School.
Japanese cloisonne examples with various pink backgrounds.  Notice the absence of a background pattern in most of the pieces.  

But what about Chinese cloisonne?  Below is a sequence of examples displaying a pink enamel background, arranged in what is my best guess as to rough chronological order.
Online auctioneer believed this to be from the 18th century.
Elegant lotus scrollwork with Victorian lamp fittings
A moon flask with Wan background pattern, apparently at one time drilled to covert into an electric lamp.
Base stamp reads "Jing Yuan Tang Made."  Online auction. Appears to be a set designed as a marriage gift, judging by the double fish and double happiness character motifs.  Is this an instance of a bright pink selenium enamel, an effort to use modern glass technology?  Could the enamel have been produced in Japan?
Zhang Rong writes, on page 167 of Cloisonne: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynastieswrites: 

Late in the Qing dynasty and during the Republic, the craft of enamel, like the last rays of a setting sun, again reached a minor peak.  The finest surviving cloisonne objects from this period exhibit marks of official and private organizations and workshops, such as Yinzhuju xunzhang zhizaosuo (... The Factory of Engraving and Casting Decorations), Laotianli (老天利), Jingyuantang (静远堂)Zhiyuantang (志远堂), Baohuasheng (寶華生), Dexingcheng (德興成), and Decheng (德成). But owing to the lack of documents, very little is known about these enameling workshops during this period.

A jar in the "hundred treasures" motif.  Note the similarity in the central motif to the Jingyuantang vase - the large decorated vase with peacock feathers (?), atop a 3-legged table; behind, a table containing a bowl of peaches. Also observe the more careful composition of the overall design in the vase pair, whereas the motifs on the jar seem to be scattered all over the place.

An unusual cloisonne foot on the jar, apparently a sort of cap crimped on over the bottom of the cylinder.

The former collection of Edward Gerber seems to contain a large number of this style of pink cloisonne, many still in pairs.  More on this in an upcoming post.
Carefully worked pieces that seem to date to the Republic period (1912-1949)

This lotus petal pattern appears in other shapes, such as a vase or box.

The "Made In China" stamp appears on pieces for export to the United States, in compliance with a 1920 tariff act revision.

This elegant design seems very 1930s-40s, but I wonder if it is in fact from the government-sponsored cloisonne workshops of the early 1950s, when they were trying to modernize and revive the craft. It's an unusual design of abstract Chinese motifs. Are the tonal variations in the pink the result of grinding and mixing varying proportions of white in with the deep maroon enamel?

Another example with a turquoise background in the medallion.

The "petal" diaper in this lamp, as well as the little gourd motif floating all by itself on the side opposite the main motif, matches other pieces that seem to date from the 1950s, before the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

These melon boxes appear in various background colors other than pink, seem to be from the 1980s or later.

Basins featuring an 8 Treasures motif, scrollwork on base.  1990s? Or 1890s?

This plate with the parrots and fruit tree branch also appears with a bright lime green background.  The wires seem to be silver.  The motif seems Chinese.  I don't know where or when these plates were produced - 1990s or later?  
What to make of all this puzzling evidence?  Comments, anyone?