PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTION
Collection of Mr. & Mrs. George P. Raymond, River House, New York, of the Goodrich Tyre Company, Akron, Ohio, from 1918 - 1978. Acquired by him in Beijing, 1918, as a member of the American Expeditionary Force, by purchase, reputedly removed from a temple in the Imperial Palace complex.
Acquired directly from the widow by the present owner in 1978.
Exhibited: Bluett & Sons, Ltd., Oriental Art II, London, 1991, no.31.
These staggering cabinets, almost 11 ft high, from the group known as sijian gui or four-part wardrobes, are perhaps the finest known examples of this form and their monumental size makes them ideal for sweeping pictorial decoration on large lacquer surfaces. They are one of the earliest recorded examples of landscape-decorated painted lacquer furniture.
This pair of cabinets was purchased in 1918 in Beijing by George P. Raymond, a scion of the 'Goodrich Tyre' fortune, involved in the American Expeditionary Force in China. According to family tradition, the cabinets were taken from a temple within the Imperial Palace complex. A photograph of the pair apparently taken in situ is written with the name and address of the photography studio, "Zhu Xin on Liulichang in Haiwangcun Park". Lark E. Mason Jr. included these cabinets in 'Examples of Ming Furniture in American Collections Formed prior to 1980', Chinese Furniture, Selected Articles from Orientations 1984-1994, pp. 130-137, fig. 2, where he mentioned a pair of imperial lacquer cupboards and hat chests in the Philadelphia Museum of Art given in 1939 and another pair purchased in 1940, one in black and gilt lacquer, the other in red, both pairs now 'preside regally over the Ming room in the center of the gallery'.
Imperial cabinets of this size and quality are extremely rare. An example smaller in size but painted with pavilions, figures and boats in a riverscape in gilt on a black lacquer ground is illustrated in Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1), The Complete Collection of Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2002, no. 175. Another painted with ladies engaged in literati pursuits and children at play is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, illustrated by Jacobsen and Grindley, Classical Chinese Furniture, Minneapolis, 1999, no. 48. A slightly later 17th century pair in red lacquer with cloisonne enamel mounts is illustrated by Finlay, The Chinese Collection. Selected Works from the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, 2003, no.109.
It is important to note that most of these monumental cabinets extant in Western institutions were removed from Imperial palaces in Beijing in the early 1900s, and bear related provenances to the present pair. A few massive cabinets are visible in situ in various palaces and halls in the Forbidden City, now in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing. No distinction appears to have been made between function of the hall and the type of material used in the cabinets, nor in their placement within these Imperial halls. Compare the cabinets within a photograph of the Kunning Gong, 'Mansion of Earthly Tranquility,' in Ho & Bennett, Splendour's of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Chicago, 2004, fig.141, where multiple hatchests are stacked reaching over 20 ft high. A similar cabinet is partly visible in a photograph of the Yangxin Dian, Hall of Mental Cultivation, the personal residence and executive offices of the Qianlong emperor, ibid., fig.283.
Wanli mark and period furniture is exceptionally rare. A similar pair of Wanli marked gilt-painted brown lacquer cabinets with landscapes and pavilions, was sold in these rooms 28th May 1991, lot 364. They lack the hat chests and have relatively shorter doors and a wider scrolling apron, possibly concealing a deeper bottom shelf. A rectangular cabinet with panels of dragons in qiangjin technique and a reignmark dated Wanli dingwei year (1607) is in the Palace Museum Beijing, op.cit., no.172. Smaller cabinets with gilt lions are also known, see Beurdeley, Chinese Furniture, Tokyo, 1979, pls. 166-8, and its mate was sold, Sotheby's New York, 15th September 1999, lot 108. It is particularly interesting to note that the back of those smaller cabinets is treated as a continuous painting surface resembling a hanging scroll. This is also evident on the massive present pair, where the sides are treated as one long continuous hanging scroll depicting a riverine landscape without truncation or banding. An example with dragon and lotus decoration with a Wanli mark but missing its hat chest is in the Musee Guimet, illustrated by Garner, Chinese Lacquer, pl. 144 and 145 and another with dragon decoration, smaller than the present pair and with no reign mark is in the collection of J. Pincket in Brussels with its pair in the Musee Guimet, Paris, both illustrated by Beurdeley, op.cit., pls. 173-4, along with a third painted with birds amidst flowers and rocks, no. 175. Yet another is in the collection of the Sackler Museum, Washington D.C. but lacking its hat chest.
The illustration of the Guimet cabinet also shows similar 'continuous hanging scroll' treatment in the landscapes on the side panels. It is interesting to note that by the Kangxi period, later in the 17th century, the decoration at the sides of cabinets tends to be restricted to isolated panels, either circular or fan-shaped enclosing bird-and-flower subjects. This treatment of the side surfaces in a segmented and more restrained fashion appears to be a distinctive trend of the Kangxi period, and is echoed on the painterly handling of the decoration of Kangxi famille-verte and blue and white porcelain. The more lavish, almost over-crowded, gilt decoration on the published cabinets and the present pair appear to retain the style of the earlier half of the 17th century. Furthermore, the slightly crude depictions of dragons and phoenixes, with punched 'fish-roe' ground, of the metalwork and the original locks and keys appears consistent with late Ming metalwork. Compare several basins of characteristic Wanli form, one sold Sotheby's New York, 27th February 1981, lot 276, and another exhibited Roger Keverne Ltd., Summer Exhibition 2000, London, no.25. Needless to say, original Ming dynasty locks and keys are themselves rare.
Gold-painted lacquer decoration is generally rare and according to Garner, no known examples date earlier than the sixteenth century. A pair of drug cabinets with this type of decoration with Wanli marks is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, op. cit., no. 177. But aside from this and the previous examples cited, Garner writes "no other painted lacquerware known belonging to the sixteenth or early seventeenth century (is) as important as these pieces of Imperial furniture". He describes the techniques employed in this type of lacquer decoration. "The gold decoration was applied over a line design in red and this is exposed where the surface has been rubbed. While the decoration has lost some brilliance, there has been a complementary gain in that the method of painting with its skillful brushwork is revealed." It is clear from the present pair of cabinets that multiple draughtsmen were at work even during the final stages of application of gilded decoration. The gilding to the figures is distinctly different from, and applied subsequent to, the gilding and red-lacquer detailing of the mountains and pavilions. The present cabinets display extremely consistent craquelure over the entire exterior surface, and it is noteworthy that since the lacquer has not puckered or exhibited the notorious cracking and lifting evident on lesser pieces, the original lacquer used must have been of extremely consistent quality and purity, built up under repeated applications of thin layers; compare op.cit., nos.175-7, 184 and 186. The present pair are clearly the epitome of late Ming lacquerwork and cabinetry, only attainable by the expense and commission of Imperial desire.
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