January to February 2002 Editorial

SIGNIFICANTLY, despite the “unimaginable events of September 11th” which “rattled the world” (see Christie’s New York Saleroom News report by Yamini Mehta, page 110) and consequent postponements, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s October auctions in Hong Kong did remarkably well. Sotheby’s generating a total of HK$257,868,300 and Christie’s HK$301,588,000. Particularly noticeable at Sotheby’s sale on October 29th were the prices with buyer’s premium of HK$10,824,750 achieved for Lot 583, a Qianlong carved imitation-lacquer porcelain vase, and Lot 65, HK$3,454,750, for a Yongle carved cinnabar lacquer “dragon” box and cover. Some fantastic prices for period lacquer objects are now being achieved whether in their original form or in rare porcelain interpretations.

It is sufficient to say here that in the saleroom in Hong Kong confidence was surely restored by the end of October-though local dealers I have talked to have told me their businesses were certainly affected economically even before the World Trade Center terrorist disaster.

As a Vietnamese educated first at the Lycee Marie Curie in Saigon and then in Paris under the French system, before university education in America, I am delighted to publish this issue’s cover article by Kerry Nguyen-Long on “Lacquer Artists of Vietnam”. Kerry, one of our two present Contributing Editors, explains that this resurgence of a new school of lacquer painting arose in a sense as a result of French initiative in the mid-1920s in Hanoi. Indeed, French influences are evident in general later Vietnamese art, especially painting.

I myself, in my forecast article, “Peaceful Vietnam-A School of Lacquer Painting”, Arts of Asia, September-October 1971, briefly outlined the history of lacquer in Vietnam since its use as a preservative coating for boats in prehistoric times, and described the workshops of the South Vietnamese lacquer artists, then mainly located in Binh Duong province, north of Saigon.

Our Vietnamese lacquer painting (1) seen from an early cover, in 1971, was a detail of Country Life, by Thanh Le, whose workshop was in Thu Dau Mot, Binh Duong province, South Vietnam. Our latest cover for this issue is a detail of Tram tu, Pensive, by Do Xuan Doan, courtesy of Lotus Gallery, Ho Chi Minh City.

Our second Contributing Editor is Burma-born Noel F. Singer, well-known to our readers as a truly expert artist/illustrator and researcher. Recently returned from visits to Burma, he writes on “Myanmar Lacquer and Gold Leaf” covering the subject from the earliest times to the 18th century backed by his own photographs and precise drawings. Of interest he includes a selected bibliography, plus Myanmar text publications, which contains Sylvia Fraser-Lu’s revised and expanded book, Burmese Lacquerware, which he also reviews for this special lacquer number.

We rarely see Chinese furniture, these days, in their original unrestored condition. This is not the case in John Kwang-ming Ang’s comprehensive article on “Zhajing Wood Furniture”, which apart from a mention or two in a few specialist articles has not been discussed in any depth by others before. John Ang, a personal friend since his student years, has made a specialist study of furniture of other alternative woods used than huanghuali and zitan by Chinese furniture makers, such as zhajing wood, which also is a hardwood that takes a long time to grow. This article, undoubtedly, with its forty-five illustrations and small map is an important record and permanent reference tool.

Julian Thompson appeared in my last Editorial in celebration of his 60th birthday. Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia he now explores extracts published from the archives of the Imperial Household Workshops (Zaobanchu) mainly referring to the ordering of porcelain from the Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen. He discusses the making of three-dimensional wood models in preference to drawings, including an original chrysanthemum petal shape Yixing teapot, also once used as a model for porcelain, which had proved elusive of finding. Just before publication of this article he became aware of the auction sale of an example of this Yixing predecessor. He generously announces it as a late addendum, although it was most recently sold by Christie’s at the Falk Collection I auction in New York on October 16th, where it made, including buyer’s premium, a remarkable US$76,375 (estimate US$6000-8000) (2).

The useful catalogues of the Martyn Gregory Gallery (34 Bury Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 6AU, Tel: 44207-839-3731, Fax: 44207-930-0812) in our library start with Catalogue 18, “An Exhibition of British Artists (together with some Chinese) working in China in the 18th and 19th Centuries”, of November 1977 and continue to Catalogue 77, “Canton to the West: Historical pictures by Chinese and Western artists 1770-1870” of April 2001. It is a fantastic record which certainly deserves the credit I am giving it here. Incidentally, during all these years this leading London company in its category has remained at the same 34 Bury Street, London address. There are pros and cons for and against moving when you are established and well-known internationally, as in our own case. I notice that the format of their catalogues consolidated thereabouts with Catalogue 40, “Dr Thomas Boswall Watson (1815-1860): Physician and Amateur Artist in China”, of April 1985, in a practical and handy size (20.5 x 20.5 cm) suitable for holding and referring to when viewing exhibits.

In this current January-February 2002 issue Dr Patrick Conner, author, scholar, and since many years a stalwart of the Martyn Gregory Gallery, writes on Anthony Hardy’s well-documented collection of China Trade paintings. These paintings particularly specialise on ports and their ancillaries, such as Canton (Guangzhou), Macau, Bocca Tigris, Whampoa (Huangbu), Shanghai, Foochow (Fuzhou), Cumsingmun, Hong Kong, Singapore, Amoy (Xiamen) and Dejima (Japan).

Incidentally one of Martyn Gregory’s early clients, collector Jeremy Taylor (3), a former resident of Hong Kong from 1968 to the mid-1980s, regularly travelled as a trader to China for Burwill & Company which was successfully floated on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Having formed as a China trader a comprehensive collection of paintings he has since retirement established in 1986 an art gallery in the West End of London.

This was closed in 1995 and he can now be contacted at The Taylor Gallery Ltd by appointment (1 Bolney Gate, Ennismore Gardens, London SW7 1QW, Tel: 44207-581-0253, Fax: 44207-589-4495) or at special exhibitions such as his recent “19th and 20th Century Marine and China Trade Paintings” held at Galerie E in Hong Kong from November 26th to December 1st, 2001.

I had the pleasure of attending the private viewing on November 27th, with guests of honour Messrs George Chao of Wah Kwong Shipping, James Hughes Hallet of Swire Group and John Bowe of the American President Line. Notable collectors such as solicitor Robin M. Bridge, R.J.F. Brothers and Anthony Hardy also came to see the interesting ships and ports paintings, dating from the mid-19th century to 1920.

This is certainly the place for me to mention Wattis Fine Art (20 Hollywood Road, 2/F, Central, Hong Kong, Tel: 852-2524-5302, Fax: 852-2840-1723) who for November 2001 presented an exhibition “Early Views of Hong Kong 1846-1928” accompanied by a small illustrated catalogue (4) of period photographs, prints and as The Taylor Gallery Ltd, ship paintings.

Jonathan Wattis, since 1988 at his Hollywood Road gallery, has regularly presented exhibitions focusing on the history and development of the Pearl River Delta through oil paintings, lithographs, engravings and photographs. With Vicky, his charming Filipino wife, he has also been dealing in and collecting antique prints, maps and early photographs relating to Manila and the Philippines.

I would never have believed that my husband and Robin could have worked so hard on the preparation of Irene Finch’s final follow-up Nabeshima article, that we would be able to run it consecutively in this January-February 2002 magazine. The time has come, I now feel, to draw a line under Nabeshima, and return to areas of Japanese ceramics which are more accessible, both inside and outside Japan. I welcome your suggestions for demanded subjects by other knowledgeable authors.

Incidentally, in Australia the Art Gallery of NSW will open a new wing in 2002 devoted to Japan. I am grateful for this information from Lesley Kehoe, BA (Hons), MA, FRAS, Director of Lesley Kehoe Galleries (Locked Bag No. 5, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne 8003, Australia, Tel: 613-9671-4311, Fax: 613-9671-4322) (5,6), a national and international lecturer on Japanese art who regularly exhibits in Paris, New York and San Francisco. A collection of Japanese lacquer she has been curating for a high profile Australian client since the past ten years will form the basis for a private museum scheduled to open in Melbourne this year. She is the sole representative outside Japan for the contemporary lacquer master, Unryuan, whose works will also be exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 2002.

I recently had the pleasure to see the Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition “Magnificent Vision: The Art of Li Keran” held from October 12th to November 25th, 2001. Li Keran (1907-1989) is one of my favourite 20th century Chinese painters whose innovative style could be appreciated through the exhibition’s 120 paintings and calligraphy created between the 1940s and the end of the 1980s, giving a comprehensive view of Li’s career, the development of his style and the artist’s efforts to integrate Chinese and Western art.

For our readers Curator Rose Wing Chong Lee has provided (via the Leisure and Cultural Services Department) a selection of his paintings and the following commentary: “Li Keran is renowned in painting landscape (7), figure and buffalo (8), characterised by his condensed brushstrokes and dark ink that convey a sense of monumentality. He liked to apply ink wash on paper in several layers to create the effect of dense mountains and forest, and left the edges of the mountains painted with light ink, demonstrating his efforts in creating the dazzling effect of light. Li also loved to paint buffaloes. He vividly drew the buffaloes and the buffalo boys in simple style. He not only wanted to show the lovely images of the hardworking buffaloes, but also used them to symbolise good temperaments and spirit of Chinese people.”

I would like to commend the museum’s efforts to educate the public and especially children. They could enjoy the world of Li Keran’s painting in the educational corner and reading room furnished in the gallery, as well as attend lectures and workshops to provide background information of the artist.

Arts of Asia readers can also visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art’s newly renovated Chinese Antiquities Gallery where a total of over five hundred exhibits are displayed, including about three hundred important objects on loan from Hong Kong private collections. An unprecedented display of art works in Hong Kong, it represents the achievements of Chinese potters, carvers and metal workers. Titled “Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong”, exhibits are grouped according to media in four areas: lacquer, bamboo and wood; ceramics; ivory and rhino horn; and bronzes. The bronze section opens in January 2002, followed by jade and gold in the middle of the year.

In view of this lacquer shown is the museum’s three-tier lacquer box with scholars’ visit design in mother-of-pearl inlay, Yuan dynasty (9); and a carved red lacquer dish with rose design, Yongle mark and of the period (10).

The museum is always proud of its huge promotional posters, hung on the outside of the building. For the latest a carved lacquer dragon acts as background for an assemblage of antiquities representing the exhibition (11).

I would like to inform my readers that Robin and I are hosting the Arts of Asia booth at the 6th Annual San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show from February 1st to 3rd, 2002 at the Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion. The Gala Preview benefitting the Education Programs of the Asian Art Museum-Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture will take place on January 31st (Tel: 415-577-6980 for preview information). Approximately seventy-five international antiques and Asian art dealers will be exhibiting for sale furniture, antiques and contemporary art in a museum-like setting.

May we all have a peaceful and successful year of the horse, which commences on February 12th, 2002. For my New Year message I commend the contemporary Vietnamese lacquer artists to you. Their recognition is still developing and their prices are reasonable.

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