Acquired by the present owner from Jeremy Ltd., London.
The taste in England for all things 'Indian' (that is Chinese), became firmly established after the restoration of the monarchy in the 1660's, and was initially supplied by Portuguese traders who held a virtual monopoly of trade with China until the end of the 17th century. The Dutch traders were a little more successful than the English in circumventing by nefarious means this monopoly, both countries trading with Chinese merchants in Formosa and at Bantam in Java. In 1699 the Emperor K'ang Hsi finally opened the port of Canton to the English East India Company. However, the supercargo of the ship Macclesfield reported soon afterwards that 'Ye many troubles & vexations we have met with from these subtile (sic) Chinese - whose principles allow them to cheat, and their days practise therein have made them dextrous at it'' indicating that trading would still be difficult. Similarly, direct trade with Japan was also impossible, the Portuguese having been evicted in 1638, the Dutch being allowed a small and difficult trading post on the island of Dyushambe close to Nagasaki. The East India Company did attempt to open trade with Japan, but reported that 'since our King (Charles II) was married with the daughter of Portugal, their enemy, they could not admit us to have any trade, and for no other reason.'
London joiners profited from this, a thriving trade arose in England with wares that were decorated to simulate oriental lacquer. The methods used by the English proponents of this art were fully explained in a book published in 1688 by John Stalker and George Parker entitled 'A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing Being a compleat Discovery of those Arts with The best way of making all sorts of Varnish for Japan Wood...The Method of Gilding, Burnishing and Lacquering....' (John Stalker & George Parker, A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing, Oxford, 1688, reprinted by A. Tiranti, London, 1960.) The volume also included 'Above an Hundred distinct Patterns for Japan-work in Imitation of the Indians, for Tables, Stands, Frames, Cabinets, Boxes, &c.' The origins of Stalker and Parker are unclear, although the former's address at the 'Golden Ball in St. James's Market, London' indicates that he was a tradesman. The publication is obviously directed to both the professional and the amateur, the 'recipes' being extremely clear in their direction. Although the fascinating series of plates illustrating Oriental scenes, pursuits, flowers, trees, birds, animals and butterflies are very similar to the decoration on contemporary cabinet-work, strangely no direct copies have been found. The differences between Oriental, both Chinese and Japanese, and English work is seen in these designs.
The decoration of the former is well mannered, in scale, and with reasonable perspective. English work is far more exuberant and 'colourful' in style - birds and butterflies become larger than people and buildings, and the flowering trees and plants form the effect of a fantasy jungle, again totally out of scale with any other elements of the design.
The present cabinet, with its lavishly decorated surfaces ornamented with Oriental scenes and figures in gold on a rich red ground continues in this tradition, although it is dated some twenty years after Stalker and Parker's publication. They give specific directions 'To make Red-Japan'' stating that there are three varieties. '1. The common usual Red; 2. The deep, dark; and lastly, the light, pale red.' Owing to the natural fading of the original pigments, it is probable that the original colour was one of the first two.
A very similar bureau cabinet was acquired by William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme in 1923 , which was subsequently sold in the Leverhulme Collection at Thornton manor, Sotheby's house sale, 26-28 June 2001, lot 221 (£190,500) and there is an almost identical example that is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, see A.C. Tait, Furniture at the Lady Lever Art Gallery', Apollo, October 1947, fig. 7. A green japanned example, with sililar squared double dome and fretted apron was sold, The Property of a Lady, Christie's London, 22 April 2004, lot 60, £106,050. A black japanned example with near identical crestings to the offered lot and most probably from the same workshop was sold from the collection of William Campbell, Sotheby's Milan, 20 June 2006, lot 293, €138,000.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale