Monumentality and opulence combined in Imperial Chinese cloisonne for sale at Bonhams

Fine Chinese Art
8 Nov 2012
London, New Bond Street

A magnificent and large pair of Imperial cloisonné enamel cranes from an Italian private collection will be sold by Bonhams on 8 November 2012 for £150,000 to 200,000.

This magnificent pair, measuring over two metres high, would have adorned an Imperial throne hall, flanking the throne. Their majestic graceful form and impressive size would have served to impress upon those present the importance of the stately room as well as reinforcing their auspicious symbolism.

Cloisonné enamel cranes standing on either side of the throne in Imperial halls can be seen in the Forbidden City in the Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony), the largest and most important building in the Forbidden City, popularly known as the 'Throne Hall'; and in the Qianqinggong (Palace of Heavenly Purity), which was another major throne room in the Palace during the 18th century. Similar cloisonné enamel cranes serving as pricket candlesticks holders can be found on either side of the throne in the Forbidden City's Changchungong (Palace of Eternal Spring). Another related example, with pricket candlesticks (146cm high), can be seen in the Shenyang Palace and is illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum: The Enamel Volume, 2007, pp.88-89.

These magnificent cranes are an extravagant reflection of the auspicious beliefs attached to red-capped cranes by the Chinese Court. According to legend, cranes could live for one thousand years or more and thus have become associated with long life. In the context of the Imperial palaces they conveyed the wish for the Emperor to live long. The Chinese word for crane is he, which is a homophone for the word for harmony, and thus cranes represent peace. Their long legs were described as resonating with the harmonies of nature and Heaven. The present cranes are modelled standing on top of undulating mountain peaks strewn with flowers and lingzhi fungus, reinforcing the wish for longevity. These mountains most probably symbolise the mythical mountain on the island of Penglai, said to be in the eastern end of Bohai sea, and home to the Eight Immortals.

Hot on the heels of the cranes, a massive 19th Century censor standing 180cm (70 7/8in) high and 170cm (67in) wide is offered at £150,000 to 250,000.

According to an old photograph illustrating the monumental censer, this lot was the property of the last Vietnamese Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, known as Bảo Đại (1913-1997). As it is 19th century in date, it is possible that it was gifted by the Qing Court to the Vietnamese Emperor in an exchange of presents and tribute.

Probably sold in 1946 by Bao Dai who abdicated in 1945 and was closely associated with the French, to the famous French singer Lucienne Suzanne Dhotelle (1908-1968), known as 'la môme Moineau'. Dhotelle was married to Félix Benítez Rexach (1886-1975) who built the Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the late 1930s-early 40s. The censer most likely adorned their impressive Villa La Bagatelle in Cannes. Rexach remarried and following his death in 1975 it was kept in the Caribbean until it was sold by his second wife to the present owners.

The censer rests on three separately cast curving legs with rounded feet each protruding from the jaws of a grinning mythical lion with rows of teeth and fangs beneath a bulbous nose, bulging eyes and tightly curling eyebrows.

The rounded body of the censer is superbly enamelled with three rows of regular lotus scroll alternating red, yellow, white and blue blossoms on a turquoise ground. The cover is decorated with ruyi-heads filled with lotus scroll on a ground of reticulated gilt cloud scrolls containing an unusual single blossoming lotus, all beneath another band of lotus scroll surmounted by a magnificent finial crafted with astonishing skill as a five-clawed gilt bronze dragon coiling through reticulated cloud scrolls and encircling a flaming pearl above mythical mountains, the head forming the top of the finial with a roaring mouth and bulging eyes between long swirling whiskers.


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