1726-1732 The Badminton cabinet
2004 SOLD 19 M£ including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
In 1726 the 3rd Duke of Beaufort, aged 19, makes his tour of Italy. He is extremely rich and desires to build an art collection. His stay in Florence was very short. It seems likely that a pre-existing project for a monumental piece of furniture was offered to him. He orders this piece, of which he has followed the make by his agents.
The piece of furniture is delivered to him in 1732. It will be known as the Badminton cabinet from the residence where the 3rd Duke installed it and where it stayed until 1990.
It was sold twice by Christie's : on July 5, 1990 for £ 8.6M including premium and on December 9, 2004 for £ 19M including premium, lot 260 (not illustrated online). It was acquired at this latter sale by Prince Hans Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein to become the central piece in the collection of pietra dura works in his private museum.
The Badminton cabinet is a piece of furniture with four superimposed ebony segments over eight pilasters, for a total height of 386 cm including the Beaufort coat of arms in finial. It is 232 cm wide and 94 cm deep.
The assembly of this piece is a tour de force of joinery. It is sumptuously decorated on front and lateral sides in pietra dura and semi-precious stones with floral themes including birds. The upper segment consists of a clock whose dial is later. The allegories of the four seasons in gilt bronze surround the clock.
#ThrowbackThursday The Badminton Cabinet was sold in July 1990 in London. Commissioned in 1726 by Henry Somerset, 3rd Duke of Beaufort, it took 6 years to make & was regarded as the greatest Florentine cabinet of its time. It is on display at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna. pic.twitter.com/fTdEaJAm4e— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 16, 2020
1731 The Eternal Governance of the Yongzheng Emperor
2015 SOLD for HK$ 90M including premium
The appointment by the Yongzheng emperor in the sixth year of his reign of Tang Ying as superintendent of the workshops of Jingdezhen is one of the most outstanding events in art history, paving the way for a total diversification of Chinese porcelain in terms of shapes, themes, colors, sizes, either imitating the antique or bringing some wonderful innovation.
The palette of colors becomes complete with the control of pink, happening around that time. This culmination of falangcai is the yangcai, often referred as famille rose. The yangcai invites the artists to express all the delicate shades of peach blossoms, a symbol of happy longevity, and to improve the velvety look of the ripe fruit.
On April 7 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a pair of peach bowls, lot 112 estimated HK $ 40M. Each piece 13 cm in diameter is decorated with auspicious symbols. This pair with the mark of Yongzheng was probably made for the celebration of a birthday of the emperor himself. The six peaches and five bats on each bowl bring the most pleasant greetings to the emperor.
The branch with fruit, leaves and two shades of flowers begins at the base and extends over the entire inner surface without being interrupted through the rim of the bowl, offering a full size picture whatever the angle at which the piece is held.
This sensational feature meets a specific theme request by the emperor, recorded on the registers of the imperial workshops on the 19th day of the 4th month of the ninth year of Yongzheng, 1731 in our calendar. The long branch is named changzhi which is homophonic to the other meaning of Eternal Governance.
Yongzheng died four years later. The pair of Yongzheng yangcai changzhi bowls for sale by Sotheby's is extremely rare, as only five other pairs and a single bowl are recorded. Two of the five pairs are separated.
1732 The Exquisite Pale on White
2015 SOLD for HK$ 85M including premium
The new emperor is highly demanding in terms of refinement. The best pieces are exclusively executed for his personal use after a severe selection.
The greatest achievement of the porcelain according to the taste of the Yongzheng Emperor is the shuimo falangcai. The enamel is deposited like an ink wash. This new technique provides the same quality of drawing than on paper, plus the brightness of the porcelain.
The shuimo enables to copy the traditional themes of the Song period. When in addition a calligraphed poem is evoking the pleasure of fragrance, art becomes so perfect that only the emperor himself is worthy to deserve it.
The shuimo can offer a very small contrast between the pure pale color of the prunus blossom and the perfect white of the porcelain. This ultimate achievement of the falangcai is developed during the ninth year of Yongzheng and is also identified as sepia enamels. On the fourth month of the tenth year, 1732 in our calendar, the excellence of the shuimo falangcai is recognized by an imperial decree.
Pieces in shuimo falangcai are extremely rare. On December 2 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells a bowl 10 cm in diameter, lot 2888. It is decorated with branches and blossoms of prunus along with bamboos. Both symbolize winter that anticipates the expectations of spring : the blossom of the prunus hatches before the arrival of the leaf and bamboo is unchanged throughout the seasons.
The decoration is complemented by a poem in an antique style of calligraphy that appealed to the emperor and by three enameled seal marks. The bowl carries on its base the imperial four-character mark of the Yongzheng Emperor.
1733 The Grand Canal by Canaletto
2005 SOLD for £ 18.6 M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Around 1723, he paints two very large views, 141 x 204 cm and 144 x 207 cm, certainly as pendants for a single client.
He chooses the panoramic view of the Piazza San Marco with the basilica to illustrate the grandiose architecture, and the view of the Grand Canal between Palazzo Balbi and the Rialto bridge to show the life on the gondolas. The canal rotates at a right angle at that place. It is seen from full front when we look through a window from one of the three floors of the Palazzo Foscari.
On July 7, 2005, Sotheby's sold for £ 18.6M including premium over a lower estimate of £ 6M a view of the Grand Canal between Balbi and Rialto, in excellent condition, lot 47. This oil on canvas 86 x 138 cm is dated around 1733 by considerations of style, and is the very last large size example painted by Canaletto with this specific position. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The provenance of this painting was reconstructed before the sale. It had been listed as early as 1736 in the collection of Robert Walpole, who was the very first British statesman to exercise the function of a prime minister. Walpole belonged to the whig party opposed to royal absolutism and certainly considered Venice, which he had not visited, as a model of a republican regime.
Yongzheng - Perfection of a Cloisonné
2010 SOLD 130 MHK$ including premium
The technique of cloisonné enamel was used to create realistic figures often intended as candle holder or as censer. Our exceptional pair of double imperial Chinese cranes belongs to the latter category.
Both elements show the same scene. As it is often the case, they are inverted with respect to each other. On each one, the larger bird, straight legs, sinuous neck, holds in its raised beak a twig of peach with two fruits. More flexible, the smaller bird has slightly bent legs.
The elegance of the cranes, the fineness of the cloisonné and the large size, 1.45 m, are making this pair to be considered as highly exceptional. The estimate is not published in the catalog, but the press release told that the auction house expects in excess of HK $ 120M.
Of course, this representation is full of symbols. The red-capped crane, valued for its longevity, means harmony and peace. The exceptional presence of a smaller bird beside the main figure shows a filial piety. We would like to see it as a tribute by Prince Hongli, the future Emperor Qianlong, to his father Yongzheng in whose reign this perfect artwork was made.
POST SALE COMMENT
HK $ 130M including premium: the high price, which was expected, rewards a lot which is exceptional in its class.
The image of this lot is shared post sale by The Wall Street Journal.
1735 The Venetian Rosary
2020 SOLD for $ 17.3M including premium
On January 29 in New York, Sotheby's sells a monumental altarpiece painted by Tiepolo in 1735, oil on canvas 246 x 156 cm, lot 61. The article published on December 4 by the auction house announces an estimate in excess of $ 15M.
The theme is a Madonna of the Rosary with Angels. The simple and effective composition, unusual for the artist, and the liveliness of the colors remind Titian, and the attitude is mannerist.
The artist wanted this Madonna to appear with the utmost majesty. She is standing on a stone pedestal, for being worshiped like a statue. Her youth and elegance are enhanced by a hip position. The red cloak is a symbol of royalty.
The fully unfolded rosary is hanging from her outstretched hand like an offering for an out-of-field user. This artefact brings a modernism to the image : its use in Marian prayer was recommended by Pope Benedict XIII, a former Dominican who died in 1730.
The artist has constructed an interesting symmetry between the rosary held by the Mother and the cross held by the Child. The gaze of the Mother is introverted, while that of the Child is directed towards the hand holding the rosary.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1736 The Celadon Dragons
2014 SOLD for HK$ 94M including premium
Several centuries pass. The many workshops in Jingdezhen offer the best of Chinese porcelain, with the protection and soon the enthusiasm of the Qing emperors.
In the sixth year of his reign, Yongzheng appointed Tang Ying as Superintendent of Jingdezhen imperial works. Encouraged cleverly during the two decades of the ministry of Tang Ying, the Chinese porcelain reached its peak, combining the rediscovery of ancient techniques, the experimenting with new cookings, as well as the full range of traditional and new shapes and themes.
A large monochrome celadon jar of 34 cm for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8, lot 3901, meets all these characteristics. This exceptional porcelain is expected beyond HK $ 80 million according to the press release.
The technique optimizing celadon was rediscovered after being lost since the Song. The theme with two dragons flying in a tight pattern of flames and clouds was not so lively before the Qing. Its high relief carving including the emergence of the muzzles is stunning, creating in the round a real three-dimensional scene.
A dragon is in a slightly dominant attitude relative to the other one. Both are imperial in the five fingered variant. They probably represent the emperor and his heir, same as the pairs of cranes in cloisonne from the same time that symbolized Yongzheng and his son Honli, the future Qianlong.
The jar does not bear the imperial mark of Yongzheng but of Qianlong. It was probably made in the period of transition between the two reigns, around 1736 of our calendar, the 14th and final year of Yongzheng.
1737 Falangcai on Glass
2019 SOLD for HK$ 207M including premium
Enamel on glass is the most difficult technique. Each color demands a different baking to be lively, and a little overheating above the enamel melting point damages the glass. The term used is falangcai as for porcelain. The imperial archives do not mention any glass falangcai before 1705. The surviving pieces from the reigns of Kangxi and Yongzheng are incredibly rare.
When he succeeds his father, Qianlong is overflowing with enthusiasm for all forms of art. He expects from his workshops unprecedented technical achievements along with decorations of utmost finesse and originality.
On the 22nd day of the 1st month of the 3rd year of his reign, in 1737 CE, the archives record the presentation to the emperor by three eunuchs of a glass vase shaped like a pouch. This blue vase is immediately returned to the workshops for being copied. It did not survive.
Two glass falangcai with a bright yellow enamel background certainly correspond to this commission. Slightly different in shape and completely different in the decor, they were not scheduled as pendants. All other glass falangcai of this form were failed or broken.
These two pieces are of the largest dimension for this technique, 18 cm high. The pleated ovoid shape imitating the silk is knotted by a ribbon in high relief which very elegantly clasps the upper part of the purse. The imperial mark appears within a flower.
Both objects belonged in the nineteenth century to an imperial prince. They were sold separately by Sotheby's in 1988. One of them, with a dense set of twelve dragons, is now to the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
The other piece is the best achievement. Its colors are brighter. The picture with two phoenix twirling amidst flowers is very pleasant with flamboyant plumages. The rim is crenellated. Nicholas Chow, chairman of Sotheby's Asia, considers that it is the most important Qing artwork in private hands.
This glass pouch was sold for HK $ 24M including premium by Sotheby's on October 29, 2000, worth US $ 3.1M at that time. The post sale press release announced it as the record for both a falangcai and a Chinese glass. It will be sold by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8, lot 1. The press release of August 28 announces an expected price in excess of HK $ 200M. It is narrated by Nicholas Chow in the video shared by The Value.
1730s Everyday Life in front of the Molo
2013 SOLD 8.5 M£ including premium
Carlevarijs transfered to Venice the tradition of the paintings of views already appreciated in Rome by the English tourists. In Venice, the Molo is logically their favorite subject.
Canaletto learned his craft from Carlevarijs. He added very realistic details of monuments with high care brought to the relative position of the buildings and the beauty of light.
Tourists love monuments but also festivals, and precisely the feast of the Bucentaur happens on the sea. In the 1730s, the large format compositions of Bucentaur Day when the basin is covered with boats and gondolas are the masterpieces by Canaletto.
They are supplemented by smaller formats for ordinary days, where the animation is almost similar but more laborious than contemplative. An oil on canvas of this period in middle size format, 69 x 113 cm, is estimated £ 4M, for sale by Christie's in London on July 2.
This view is even a rare opportunity within this theme for showing an anecdotal detail. In the foreground, a boatman makes a desperate attempt to avoid a collision with another boat. Traffic accidents are not exclusive to our automotive civilization!
POST SALE COMMENT
Very good subject, reasonably large and great period for this artist : this interesting Canaletto was sold for £ 8.5 million including premium.
1738-1739 Views and Figures of Venice
2013 SOLD 9.6 M£ including premium
In the late 1730s, his best works are altogether the most realistic topographic views of the monuments of Venice, a sunny atmosphere that appeals to tourists and the summary of all aspects of everyday life in the city. The great skill of this artist is to provide a perfect balance between all these topics.
A pair of canvas painted in 1738 or 1739 in his most usual format, 47 x 77 cm, displays on one of them the Piazza San Marco and for the other the Canal Grande to the Rialto. These two focal points of the Venetian activity are the best excuse to offer a picturesque scenery with unlimited entertainment.
The first customer of this pair has not been identified. The fact that they deal with the two most classic Venetian views may suggest that they were not extracted from a larger set. Their condition is pristine. This lot is estimated £ 8M, for sale by Sotheby's in London on December 4.
This period marks the greater maturity of the art of Canaletto when he teaches his craft to a gifted apprentice, his young nephew Bernardo Bellotto, causing a healthy rivalry between the two artists.
POST SALE COMMENT
This pair of views of Venice painted in one of the best periods of Canaletto was sold for £ 9.6 million including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's, showing many details of these exceptional scenes: