A WINDOW INTO A GOLDEN AGE OF COLLECTING CHINESE ART IN EUROPE
The sale of the present selection of items from the collection of the Swedish academic Emil Hultmark (1872–1943) is a reminder of the pioneering role these collectors had in the development of our knowledge in the complex fields of the decorative arts of China. One of the co-founders of the ‘Kinaklubben’ (China Club) in Stockholm in the 1920s, together with Carl Kempe (1884–1967) and Crown Prince Gustav Adolf, Emil Hultmark was a contemporary of famous European collectors such as George Eumorfopoulos (1863–1939) and Sir Percival David (1892–1964) in England, and Alfred Baur (1865–1951) in Switzerland. While the Percival David and Eumorfopoulos collections are now preserved in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Baur collection in Geneva, a significant part of the Hultmark collection is now kept alongside the Swedish Royal collection in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, all similarly fulfilling an essential role in the teaching of Chinese Art in the West.
Collectors at that time would have had very little literature available at hand to identify the items they were acquiring, and mostly created their own literature and exhibition catalogues. They greatly relied on their exchanges with fellow collectors within clubs and antique societies to research their acquisitions and periodically exhibit their collections.
Several items in the present sale were included in an exhibition dedicated to his collection at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm in 1942 (fig. 1). This exhibition included Oriental art, but also 17th and 18th century Swedish paintings as well as silver and precious metalwork for which the Hultmark collection was famous.
Emil and Astrid Hultmark had a passion for their collection and displayed it in their homes, providing their visitors with a rare opportunity to discover this aesthetic. Chinese and Japanese arts were exhibited in several rooms of both their houses in Stockholm and Stogestrabo (fig. 2), as featured in an article dedicated to their households (Svenska hem i ord och bilder [Swedish homes in words and pictures], Stockholm, 1936. pp. 169-203). Their Stockholm residence at 32 Birger Jarlsgatan street even had two salons dedicated to an Oriental theme: a 'black' salon featuring black lacquer furniture and bronze and a 'red' salon with ceramics and lacquer works (fig. 3).
The selection of items in this sale is representative of the European collections at that time. Ranging from early metalwork and jades to early Ming ceramics, the present group is highlighted by an exceptional early 15th century ‘dragon’ box (lot 2) incised with the reign mark of the Yongle Emperor (1403–1424). Such boxes are extremely rare and mostly preserved in museum collections, with only a few examples ever offered at auction. Beside the example we sold in these rooms on 4th April 2012, lot 3200, the closest comparative would be the box from the Frederick Knight collection sold in these rooms on 18th May 1982, lot 45. This rediscovered masterpiece of Chinese lacquerware, and more generally the items presented in this sale, all acquired in Europe during the 1930s and kept in the family since then, provide us with a fascinating window into this golden age of European collecting.
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