T he foreign factories, or hongs, were the catalyst for the rapid development of trade and economic prosperity along the Canton waterfront in the 19th century. The present example depicts the Canton waterfront during this time of affluence and growth, as evident by the busy waterways.
Between 1765 and the early 19th century, varied views of the hongs were recorded on porcelain, until ultimately destroyed in 1856 by a devastating fire, and following that, the beginning of the Second Opium War. Hong bowls, in their depiction of the factories and flags, arguably relate more closely to Chinese export paintings rather than other types of Chinese export porcelain and serve as a guide to the evolution of European commerce on the Canton waterfront.
This interior view of a lacquer shop, probably on New or Old China Street, is a rare record of the lively Chinese export lacquer market in the early 19th century in Canton (Guangdong). Cantonese lacquer decoration was described as painstaking and skillful. Chinese export lacquers were most often modeled after European designs, as evident in the gilt-lacquered tilt-top tea table shown on the left of the present example.
Sunqua (active 1830-70) painted with a distinctive style that has earned him the reputation of one of the most important Chinese painters for the European market of the 19th century. Sunqua's earliest works are identifiable by the distinctive use of free brushstrokes and a warm color overall. Sunqua was also known for the delicate treatment of details in his pictures. His later works, such as the current example, are not usually signed. His style became more in tune with the works of other contemporary artists, but his brushstroke remains fluid and the composition and coloring of his paintings becomes stronger.
Hong Kong has always been a fishing and farming village in the south of China, however it was ceded by the Qing government to the British Empire following the end of the First Opium War under the Treaty of Nanking in 1843. Since then, the rapid development of Hong Kong was documented in many China trade paintings. The present example depicts Hong Kong around the 1860s, some twenty years after the British took over the free port.
As one of the treaty ports opened to the west as the result of the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, Shanghai became one of the most important ports for western trade in the mid-19th century. Many European and American traders had offices in Shanghai, such as Dent & Co., usually flying the Portuguese flag to the right of the Customs House. Other prominent houses on the Bund include Russell & Co., Heard & Co. and Jardine, Matheson.
E laborately decorated, the Leake Okeover service is considered one of the greatest examples of Chinese export armorial services. The opulent service was made for Leake Okeover (1702-65), who married his wife Mary Nichol about 1730, but who died without heirs.
The current lot contains examples from two services made for James Hamilton, 5th Duke of Hamilton, made five years apart. The first service, characterized by the large central coat of arms and grisaille and gilt floral sprays at the rim, was made in 1733. The second service, with a smaller coat of arms at the center, and also with the addition of James Hamilton's third wife, Anne Spencer's, family coat of arms in pretense in the center of the Hamilton arms, was made in 1738, following their marriage in 1737.
The present example perhaps was made for Francis I, who was first the Duke of Lorraine, and later exchanged the duchy of Lorraine with Stanislaus I (Stanisław Leszczyński), King of Poland, for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Francis I later became the Holy Roman Emperor and reigned from 1745-65.
The most famous and longest-ruling female reigning monarch of Russia, Catherine the Great reigned between 1762 and 1796, and was responsible for strengthening and expanding the empire.
Sometimes referred to as Obelisks and modeled after Dutch Delft originals, these Chinese export versions of the famous Dutch tulip vases are extremely rare. The Delft versions were almost certainly physically sent to China to be copied, as even the AK mark on the base was faithfully copied. The AK mark belonged to original Delft maker Adriaen Kocx, who likely created the form to hold one of Holland’s most famous flowers, tulips.
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N o other examples of Chinese export 'Eagle' plaques appear to be recorded with a central front facing eagle with an English motto as the present example. Other related examples depict an eagle in profile with its head pointing to the right, talons grasping arrows and an olive branch, and the ribbon behind inscribed and carved with the Latin motto E Plurbis Unum. Scholars note that a similar example was discovered with an inscription stating that was from a yacht at Ningbo in the third quarter of the 19th Century, hence most plaques are currently attributed to have been made around that. However, when comparing the complexity of carving between the present example and others, the present example appears to be more detailed and finely carved, especially at the border, perhaps suggesting an earlier date for the present example.
The present example is part of an iconic Chinese export service made for the American market in the very beginning of the 19th century. All pieces from this service depict a memorial, presumed to be George Washington's grave, after his death on December 14, 1799. The service was actually made for Joseph Sims, a China trader, and Rebecca, his wife, of Philadelphia. This attribution was made after the discovery of a hand written provenance note accompanying three examples of the service that were donated to Kenmore, a plantation house museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
While the inspiration of the decoration is yet unknown, the dating of this type of platter derives from the dates of usage of the flag of the Republic of China. Known as the "Five Colored Flag", or Wuseqi, it was used by the Provisional Government of the Republic of China between 1912 and 1913, and later used by the better known Beiyang Government between 1913 to 1928. An example from this group of platters is famously in the collection of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State, and scholars have theorized that these platters perhaps commemorated the Washington Conference of 1921-22 when eight nations recognized China’s sovereignty.
As one of the most recognizable patterns in Chinese export art, the 'Tobacco Leaf' pattern was an immensely popular design during the late 18th century for wares destined for Europe. The author notes that the tobacco plant was actually unknown in Asia during the late 18th century, and the
"leaves actually resemble those of the anona, custard apple", and the "large main flower resembles a species of the passion-flower vine". The elaborate nature of the pattern meant that the 'Tobacco Leaf' services were among one of the more costly pieces to produce, which meant that only the richest and most powerful families were able to collect these pieces, most notably the Rockefeller family of New York.
The present elaborately decorated part dinner service was originally part of a much larger service, with each individual piece painted in the center with a different scene depicting Chinese figures. Previously known as 'Palace ware', though with no particular connection to the Chinese Imperial Palace, the term was largely replaced by 'Rockefeller Pattern' in the 20th century due to several members of the Rockefeller family owning examples from the service. These members famously include John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his sons, Nelson A. Rockefeller and David Rockefeller.