One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen
Lot 488
A historically important documentary 'City of Canton' carved lacquer eight-leaf screen Kangxi, circa 1690
HK$ 500,000 - 1 million
US$ 64,000 - 130,000
Auction Details
An important documentary 'City of Canton' carved lacquer eight-leaf screen Kangxi, circa 1690 An important documentary 'City of Canton' carved lacquer eight-leaf screen Kangxi, circa 1690 One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen One eight-leaf carved lacquer screen
Lot Details
The Property of a Gentleman
A historically important documentary 'City of Canton' carved lacquer eight-leaf screen
Kangxi, circa 1690
Carved through a thick dark brown lacquer on one side with an extensive panorama of the walled city, with recognisable buildings easily identifiable, dotted with clusters of pavilions and tiered towers, rising from an extensive riverscape in the foreground, the details also painted in attractive shades of green, blue, red and white, the reverse of the screen painted in red lacquer beneath gold in each panel with large characters, the panels linked together by typical 'ring and pin' hinges found on early carved screens of this type.
Each panel: 193cm high. (8).

Footnotes

  • 清康熙,約1690年 褐漆彩繪「廣州全景」八扇屏風

    Provenance 來源:
    Moira, Countess Rossi de Montelera, Lausanne.
    Christies, London, 21 April 2005, lot 15.

    Literature 文獻:
    Carl L.Crossman, The China Trade, Antique Collectors Club, 1991, colour pl.62, p.182
    A.Jackson and A.Jaffer, Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800, Victoria and Albert Museum Publications, London, 2004, pl.11.11, p.154, for a handscroll, dated circa 1730, in the Swedish Royal Collections, depicting a comparable panorama of the walled Chinese city before the Foreign Factories had established an identifiable architectural style.
    Dr Patrick Conner, The Hongs of Canton, English Art Books, 2009, colour pls.2.19, 2.7 for the painted lacquer panels depicting Canton in the Royal Collections, Stockholm.
    Kee-il Choi, Hong Bowls and the landscape of the China Trade, The Magazine Antiques, October 1999, p.500, for the Drottningholm painted lacquer screen with a Canton panorama, dated to the mid 18th century.

    This remarkable screen is important for two reasons. Firstly, it is unprecedented to find an accurate (but simplified) early view of Canton on a carved lacquer screen. Secondly, the inscriptions make it clear that this screen was originally created not for the Export trade, but as a 'Presentation Screen' commemorating an important Provincial Government official in the province.

    This appears to be the earliest known screen accurately depicting the major Southern Chinese coastal city of Canton, which in a few years would be officially appointed as the principal trading centre in the whole of mainland China for permitting systematic trade with overseas merchants. There appears to be evidence of a foreign ship's mast and rigging, possibly of Portuguese origin, behind a headland in the foreground, on the Honam side of the Pearl River. This panorama of the walled city is clearly based on a simplified drawing or print of the walled city, notable for certain architectural features which became very recognisable to generations of European business managers (supercargoes) arriving annually to complete their commercial trading programmes of Western East India companies.

    The screen includes three particular buildings which would have been immediately recognisable to any Western ship's captain being conducted the thirteen miles upriver to Canton from the downriver anchorage in Whampoa Bay, the nearest point to Canton where East India merchant ships were required to moor during the winter trading season. The three best-known landmarks, safely tucked behind the long curving stone walls of the city, are: the Mohammedan tower (to the left); the Flowery pagoda; and in the background, on the higher ground to the north-west of the city, the five-storied watchtower. These landmarks and that of the small island in the middle of the screen, which became known later as the Dutch Folly Fort, are known from Western topographical prints and paintings, dating from the 18th century and (especially) the 19th century, as Western visitors sought relatively accurate depictions of the Chinese coastal trading cities - Canton, Shanghai, Hong Kong. However, the particular interest of this screen is that the panorama depicts what is still an entirely Chinese city. The relatively common views available in the 19th century invariably focus on the Western trading buildings, outside the city walls, lining the banks of the Pearl river; see for example the series of datable views charting the architectural evolution of the waterfront buildings compiled by Carl L.Crossman, The China Trade, Antique Collectors Club, 1991, pp.423-435. In all these later scenes, the artists completely emphasise the frequently reconstructed residential and storage buildings individually leased by Western trading companies, and often depicted with the company's national flag above its trading base in Asia. There is little interest in the earlier topography of this key trading coastal port, for centuries China's window on the maritime world.

    It is interesting to note that this screen is carved with two short inscriptions on the front. One is placed above the surprisingly small gateway on the waterfront. It reads 'Zhuhai', and almost certainly refers to the historic town, part of Xiangshan county, now a special economic zone.

    The other is not apparently related to a building, and is included towards the left on the edge of a panel. It reads 'Shimen Fanzhao' and may suggest contextual information about the reason for its creation.

    The back of the screen bears a long dedicatory and historical inscription in vertical rows stretching across the screen. this has been deliberately lacquered over and a second, simpler, inscription painted over the top, somewhat obscuring the first, longer, inscription.

    These inscriptions are what make it an apparently unique historical record, one overlaying the other. The first inscription has been photographed under x-ray conditions to help identify many of the more obscure characters, and thus has enabled scholars to recreate the basic text, although this has required a certain amount of reconstruction of illegible or significantly incomplete characters. The final reconstruction of the first inscription, which clearly explains the reasons why this screen was originally created, has been compiled and translated:

    'Lord Reng, of the Dong clan, was born into a great family in Liaodong (modern-day Shenyang, home land of the Manchus). For generations, the family has produced many prominent figures .... they settled in Peking during the Kangxi reign ... His father and grandfather both served the emperor and distinguished themselves with honours. The family also married into the Imperial Court and gained the title of 'guiren' (Imperial concubine). The Dong family is indeed a well-established aristocratic clan.

    In his maturity, the lord had grand ambitions. Already loaded with useful accomplishments, with Imperial blessing he was appointed as the Governor of the Great Liam (modern-day Lianjiang City in Guangdong). Lian was the ancient province of Xiang (under the Qin Dynasty); located close to the ocean and with mountains behind, it is a rather mysterious region of Guangdong. Once I was crossing the mountain peaks, and when I reached Five Goats Hill, I climbed to the top and looked westwards, the mountains and rivers of Lian all in my sight. With the clouds and vapours rising up, it was dark and deep, like a floating land. In the north are the mysterious and secretive bamboo groves of Wuhuang; things disappear in these groves, but then the five Immortals suddenly emerge wearing yellow caps. To the south is the Lingjue monastery at the Bell Gulf, where bells seem to fly down from on high. In the south-east is the great ocean, with its three pools where the pearl-divers go and come back.

    In this region the clean and upright policy exemplified by the ancient Governor Meng is still in practice. I walked around in places that were under the lord's government, and tried to imagine the behaviour and personality of this man. Though I have physical limits of time and space, yet my heart travels to those I admire. For some time, the lord had .... he therefore got rid of treachery and bandits, and brought relief and compensation to the poor and those in hardship. We learn more and more about the different aspects of the lord's charity. He built up learning and produced young scholars, and promoted virtue and morals. In the past, the lord did ... which is known by everyone ... the lord protected ... Imperial Decrees ... on the day. Here, good behaviour and self-discipline comes first; and in the promotion of officials, one should take into account the honest and incorruptible quality of the person. The lord then ...'.

    The text seems to be part of a long commemorative essay, of the type usually commissioned by the family after the death of a prominent figure. It is a valuable piece of information about local history. The description of the local topography clearly relates to the scenery on the front of the screen. The survival of the text was probably due to the re-cycling of the lacquer panels.

    Further information has been discovered which extends our understanding of this family. The Dong clan was one of the most prominent Manchu aristocratic families. It originated in eastern Liaoning, near the Manchon river. There are still some stone stele in the north (for example, Huludao where several stele remain on the ground and have been protected by the local government), which commemorate prominent members of the Dong clan.

    Many members of the Dong clan served in high official positions at the Qing court. Several were appointed as Inspector of Guangdong, and Commissioner of Guangdong and Guangxi. We do not have detailed records of Lord Reng of the Dong clan, but it is clear that he was appointed as the Governor of Lian in Guangdong during the early Qing Dynasty. From the Gazetteer of Lianzhou, Dong Guoshang took up that office in 1680. During his tenure he succeeded in eliminating the pirates that were rampant in surrounding waters. He rose to become Governor General of Jiejiang Province in the latter part of his life. The Dong family were Jurchens, originally from the Yellow River, directly related to Murhachi (1559-1626), the Manchu Ruler, founder of the Later Jin Dynasty (1616-1636) who laid the foundation of the Qing Dynasty.

    The inscription on the screen addressed Ren as Lord. The title was first given to Dong Yangzhen who was honoured as Lord of the First Rank, thus the highest ranking sinicized Jin official in the Manchu Empire. The title was then passed on to his eldest son Dong Guogang (? - 1690), who in turn passed it on to his son Dong Tulai (1606-1658) whose daughter became Empress Zhang and who was the birth mother of Emperor Kangxi (1654 - 1722). Dong Guogang's eldest son Dong Elundai (? - 1735) was evidently the last to inherit the title. When Yongzhang (1678 - 1735) became Emperor, Dong Elundai was summoned back to Beijing as Commander of the Han Regiment of the Blue Banner.

    The inscription is especially important because it is clear that this screen was not a production in any way inspired by the growing Western demand in Canton for Chinese Export crafts. This screen was created as a gift for the family of a highly distinguished senior official in the Province, who had been appointed at the highest level to move to the province. When created, it was a flat screen which predates the mid-Kangxi period in fashion in Europe for large folding screens of the type Westerners believed to be created in India on the Coromandel coast; hence the contemporaneous name 'Coromandel' screen for these straightforwardly Chinese craft products, completely unsuitable for Chinese interiors. The 'Dong clan' screen was first carved as a flat commemorate panel, perhaps in the mid 17th century. It was then cut into vertical panels and the first inscription over-lacquered with new larger characters symmetrically spaced on the new space available. This was still presumably made for a Chinese patron, otherwise there was no point in re-lacquering it with new inscriptions. Being notably smaller than the fashionable 8 or 12 leaf Export market screens, it may well have stayed in China until the 20th century.

    We are grateful to Dr Wang Tao, Senior Lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, for his considerable assistance with the reconstruction of this text, translation and research into the historical Dong family. Equally Dr. Christina Chu and Dr. Joseph Ting, both of Hong Kong, are thanked for their valuable contributions.
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