September to October 2004 Editorial

AS I STARTED during the second week of July to write my Editorial for this issue, my attention was drawn to a University of Oxford announcement of their new research centre for the exploration of the art and material culture of the Middle East. A £2.25 million benefaction from the Khalili Family Trust is devoted to the creation of this Khalili Research Centre (KRC). 

It is in the spirit of this announcement that I publish for our readers the cover article of this September–October 2004, Volume 34 Number 5 issue, “Herb Containers of Arabia—Syrian Glazed Jars of the Mamlūk Period”, written for us by former Hungarian Ambassador Géza Fehérvári, Professor Emeritus of the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, England (1).

I find the biography of Géza Fehérvári so interesting I give a shortened version of it here for our readers. His birthplace in Hungary in 1926 was a small town called Eger, which he says played a significant role in Ottoman times. In 1552 Sultan Suleyman besieged the fortress of Eger, but after more than forty days the Turks were repelled. Later, in 1596, it was occupied and stayed in Turkish hands until 1687.

The father of Géza Fehérvári was working in an Eger factory that exported in quantity to the Near and Middle East, so his son was encouraged to be an economist with fluency in Turkish and Arabic. Indeed, he had started his studies at the School of Economics in Budapest in 1947, when a year later the factory was nationalised, so he switched to the Faculty of Arts and studied Arabic and Oriental Art (mainly Indian). Graduating in 1952, he was appointed to the Francis Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts as an assistant curator, staying there until late 1956, after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution, when he left Hungary.

At first he entered the University of Vienna, where he started to work for a PhD. Then, with the advice and support of the late Professor Robert Heine-Geldern, he received a scholarship to England where he continued his studies under the direction of Professor David Storm Rice. He was awarded with the degree of PhD in 1961 and soon after was appointed as lecturer, then Professor in Islamic Art and Archaeology, at the University of London (SOAS).

From there Géza Féhervári retired with the title of Professor Emeritus (an honour) in 1991, and in early 1992, after political changes in Hungary, was invited by that country’s first freely elected Prime Minister to join the Hungarian diplomatic service. He was appointed Ambassador to Kuwait and other Gulf States in late 1992 and remained in that post until 1995. Leaving the diplomatic service at his own request, he joined the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait, as its curator for the next three years and is still closely associated.

Among his many achievements have been excavations in Iran (Ghubayra in Kirman province, 1971–1976) (2); Libya (Medinet Sultan in the Bay of Sirte, 1977–1981); and on behalf of the Dar al-Athar ol-Islamiyyah of Kuwait in Egypt (at Oxyrhynchus/Bahnasa, 1985–1987). He has several published books to his credit on Islamic pottery, metalwork, etc., as well as numerous articles, including his first for Arts of Asia, “Islamic Pottery in the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait” (November–December 1994).

Professor Nasser David Khalili (3), who unwittingly has stimulated my Editorial as a result of the generous donations of the Khalili Family Trust to academia, indeed started as an antique dealer. He has since built up a large and very important Islamic collection and established the Nour Foundation (publications, exhibitions, press) on its behalf. His major interest was Iranian lacquer when he began to assemble an historic collection of Islamic art some thirty years ago, and its holdings now include some 500 or more Islamic lacquer examples as well as “miniature paintings and illustrated manuscripts, and the coverage of the decorative arts—ceramics, textiles, glass, metalwork and others…a central place has been given to the art of calligraphy, which plays an essential role in the art of the Islamic world.”

However, perhaps not so generally well known is that he became a postgraduate student at SOAS in 1984 working under the supervision of Professor Géza Fehérvári. He received his PhD in 1988, and in 1989 established the Nasser David Khalili Chair in Islamic Art and Archaeology at SOAS and a lectureship the following year in Oxford. Since then he has also set up scholarships in Oxford and at SOAS and presented a special grant for a new lecture theatre at SOAS which is now called the Nasser David Khalili Lecture Theatre.

Our lead article, “Herb Containers of Arabia”, is followed by “Bright Flowers—An Exhibition of Central Asian Embroidery and Ceramics at the Powerhouse Museum” which has been written for Arts of Asia by Christina Sumner, Curator of International Decorative Arts and Design at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. A textile specialist, her research interests span the Asian region from the Levant to the Himalayas. For her article with detailed illustrations the “Bright Flowers” are the motifs of suzanis, the 19th and 20th century dowry textiles of the settled towns and villages of western Central Asia formerly known as Turkestan. For the ceramic components of the article Christina Sumner draws on the curatorial collaboration of fellow Australian Guy Petherbridge, Chairman of Heritage Central Asia, with mainly glazed earthenware examples shown from the 11th century to near the present day.

Noticeably in this issue seven pages are devoted to Saleroom News reports covered by Suzannah Yip and Julian King of Sotheby’s London. At a more senior level I publish part of a letter I received from Henry Howard-Sneyd, Managing Director of Sotheby’s China, Southeast Asia and Australia, who reports on the “superlative results” of these auctions in London:

“The auctions this time were particularly noteworthy for many reasons not least that this was the single biggest ever sale for the Chinese department in London outside of the unique British Rail sale in 1989.

“Of course we had the single owner collection from the Toguri Museum of Art which made £6 million and the single owner collection of Japanese Prints from the Stoclet Collection which made £1.5 million.

“But also the sales of pieces from various owners were extremely strong—the Chinese sales making £4.5 million and the Japanese making £1.06 million.

“We made a world auction record for a jade animal (the buffalo, Lot 151 which made £532,000) and extremely high prices in all areas of ceramics although Song was particularly strong—from the marvellous Cizhou jar (Lot 62) that sold for £677,600, the carved Dingyao dish (Lot 61) that made £335,600 and the Geyao stemcup (Lot 159) which made £408,800. Also the Ming blue and white and polychrome wares in the Toguri sale did very well, notable was the strength of ‘Japanese’ taste pieces because the Japanese were present in strength and the Chinese buyers now recognise the quality of earlier pieces.

“By my calculations, Sotheby’s held the top 6 lots in the week and sold 27 lots exceeding £100,000! That is truly remarkable.”

Regular readers of Arts of Asia were reminded with photographs not so long ago (March–April 2004 special edition 200th issue, page 77) of the late founder of Ralph M. Chait Galleries and his son Allan Chait. Continuing this record of the New York Chinese antiquities dealers, I follow in this present Editorial with a photograph of Allan Chait with his sons, Andrew on the left of the photograph and Steven on the right, ages 43 and 38 respectively (4). The occasion was the company’s move after forty-two years to 724 Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The Ralph M. Chait Galleries has an illustrious history. It was founded by Ralph M. Chait, who arrived in New York from London, almost one hundred years ago, on July 4th, 1909. Originally working with a family member in the antique trade, Ralph Chait familiarised himself with various aspects and fields of collecting but gravitated towards Chinese art. He opened his first gallery at 19 East 56th Street where he remained until the late 1920s. His next move was to 600 Madison Avenue.

It was during this time that Allan Chait started helping his father Ralph in the gallery, “I learned at the knee of my father”, he says. “He showed me how to pack and handle the delicate pieces, in a very slow and meticulous manner. In latter years, he took me on buying trips and introduced me to a fascinating world of treasures.”

From 1940–1962 the gallery was located at 24 East 58th Street, followed by a fourth move to 12 East 56th Street. While working for his father in the 1950s, Allan took courses at the New York Institute of Fine Arts to study Chinese art. However, during this time, he was drafted into the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. “I was the only one who had Chinese art books in his locker”, he says.

Over the years Chait and his sons, who have gravitated to the business in much the same manner as their father and grandfather, have seen a parade of notables with a keen interest in Chinese art pass through their gallery’s doors, including in the past President Herbert Hoover, Nelson Rockefeller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Percival David, Martha Graham, Adlai Stevenson and Senator Scott. They also have a steady stream of interior designers looking for rare and beautiful objects for the homes of their wealthy clients—such as a beautiful Chinese sang de boeuf baluster vase, Kangxi period, 18th century, height 15 inches, and a Chinese lingbi scholar’s rock, mounted upon a carved wood base, height with base 12.5 inches.

I refer our readers back to the article “Games People Play: Ancient Pastimes of Asia” by Edith and Joel Frankel in the Arts of Asia July–August 1999 issue, pages 117–129. This was lavishly illustrated with examples. In addition to their own years of study, that article was assisted by a number of scholars and translators, and the help of their son James Frankel with his input on classical Chinese writings. From September 23rd to November 21st, 2004, the E&J Frankel Ltd art gallery (1040 Madison Avenue, at 79th Street) is exploring in even greater depth the topic of the Asian games and pastimes subject with a sales exhibition that they have appropriately titled “Play It Again” (5). For further information contact Edith or Joel at their Madison Avenue gallery, or refer to their advertisement indexed at the end of this magazine.

The Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street in New York, since its opening in 1929, has housed many of New York’s leading art dealers and seems equally well-placed today for such attractive purposes.Carlton Rochell Ltd on the 4th floor, have been strong supporters of Arts of Asia since Carlton left Sotheby’s to open his new gallery in October 2002. From September 21st to October 15th, 2004, appropriately coinciding with Asia Week in New York, the gallery will be showing a highly selective collection of more than thirty examples of paintings and sculpture from India, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia.

The group is especially strong with sculptures from Cambodia. A superb example is a Khmer figure of Buddha seated under the seven- headed serpent Muchalinda, Angkor Thom region, Bayon style, circa 1200, bronze, height 24 inches (see page 19). In this vein I have selected from a number of their choices for my Editorial a sandstone image of the goddess Uma from the region of Angkor Wat, 12th century, height 38 inches. This elegant sculpture stands in a frontal pose reminiscent of ancient Egyptian sculpture and is adorned with a delicate, pleated sarong around her waist and a finely incised foliate crown (6).

We have received a series of publications from TK Asian Antiquities, also in the Fuller Building. Of these publications we notice the latest, A Guide to Artifact Testing and Study at TK Asian Antiquities, has been published since their extension move to the Fuller Building (see the adjoining panel for their addresses) (7). Michael Teller, President of TK Asian Antiquities, spends a week or two every month travelling in Asia and is now a resident of China, with a home there. He acquires archaeological works of art throughout Asia and focuses on pieces originating in mainland China.

“A major consideration” he says “has always been how to determine the authenticity.

“What tests are available, and what these tests actually determine is the general purpose of TK’s Guide to Artifact Testing and Study publication. In addition, we hope it will encourage other interested parties to develop, refine and share similar information with the world.”

TK’s special exhibition of ancient “Chinese Offering Vessels” representing Tang and Ming dynasty culture and religion in the Yunnan region will be on view from September 20th through December 31st, 2004.

William Lipton and his managing director, Yvonne Wong, are also happily settled in their new gallery in New York’s Fuller Building on the eighth floor (8), where they have been preparing for the opening of their September Asia Week exhibition entitled “Welcoming the Autumn Breeze”. Prize of the show is a massive ju wood painting table, hua’an, the main surface panel of a thick nan wood more than 10 feet long. This sits in a frame with moulded edge. Large tables such as this one were multifunctional, used not only in scholars’ studios but also in temples where they would be placed in front of an altar for food offerings.

William Lipton’s passion for Chinese art and antiques started at an early age while he was growing up in San Francisco. His parents were collectors and Lipton accompanied them every Saturday evening to the home of a Chinese antiques dealer, whose exotic, incensed-filled rooms transported him to another world. “I remember walking through the noisy, crowded narrow streets of Chinatown” he says, “but the minute we entered his apartment, the serenity overcame me. I never left empty-handed as there was always a little tray or bottle that my parents would purchase for me, which made the trips worthwhile.”

The antique and old Chinese rugs gallery of Sandra Whitman (361 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA 94102) will be displaying an exhibition of Chinese blue and white related carpets and porcelain, which she has titled “Cobalt and Indigo”. It runs from October 8th to November 4th, 2004. The rug exhibits will date from the Kangxi to the Republican period with a focus on 1880–1925. The blue and white porcelain are from the 17th to 19th centuries.

The exhibition will trace the influence of porcelain on rug design. Rug collectors will find the complex photographic detail of Sandra’s blue and white, early 20th century Chinese rug (9), 4 ft × 7 ft 4 in, reminiscent of her explanatory article with Erica Yao in our March-April magazine earlier this year, “Geometric Design on Chinese Rugs”.

Moving to East Asia and closer to our own home ground, Chang Wei-Hwa & Company (2 Fl-1, No. 16 Sec. 1, Shin Sheng S. Road, Taipei, Taiwan) is presenting “Selected Incense Burners and Perfumers of Han, Tang, Liao and Song Dynasties” to be held 9th–11th October. This will coincide with the 2004 annual exhibition of the Taiwan Antique Dealers’ Association. Twenty-three pieces have been selected covering these four dynasties. The works include various types of incense burners and perfumers of bronze, pottery, ceramics and stone.

Unique for its square shape is a bronze incense burner with openwork side panels and cover with decoration of bird motifs (H. 23.5 × W. 13.5 cm) (10). Dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) it is an excellent work for Chinese bronze collectors because of its unusual and fascinating artistry allied to its practical use. This bronze Han dynasty piece can be compared to a circular tiered- form Tang dynasty (618–906) incense burner raised on four legs with four suspended ring handles and a circular pierced lid (H. 19.5 × W. 20 cm) (11). For ourselves we note the unusual nature of the circular form compared to the more formal form of the Han dynasty example. Chang Wei-Hwa says they will be showing as well a refined white porcelain incense burner of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126), which also depicts the aesthetic sense of its own period (H. 12.5 × W. 10.4 cm).

Zee Stone Gallery was one of the first in Hong Kong to promote the works of Wu Guangzhong (born 1919), which was discerning of this gallery’s Director, expatriate lawyer Shaun Kelly. The best of Wu’s paintings can now reach millions of Hong Kong dollars. For their September 17th to October 3rd, 2004 exhibition, “Brave New World”, Zee Stone Gallery reaches ahead with original paintings and silkscreen prints by three younger mainland Chinese artists.

Shanghai artist Xue Song (born 1965) paints in a bold and energetic manner in mixed media on canvas, as in Trackers, 120 × 200 cm, mixing figurative paintings and calligraphy (12). Qin Yifeng (born 1961) is another innovative Shanghai artist who has developed a distinct abstract style. Zhou Jirong (born 1962), is Deputy Director of the Printmaking Department at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts. His silkscreen prints are inspired by the urban landscapes of Beijing.

Before closing my Editorial I would like to inform new collectors with limited budgets there are always reasonable areas of collecting, such as Chinese toggles. This little group of eight I bought individually at Hong Kong Chinese dealer galleries on both sides of the harbour, at the beginning of the 1960s (13). While it is harder these days to collect toggles showing genuine signs of wear, a little search should enable you to find some similar examples at various galleries and Chinese emporiums. After so many years I still enjoy the feel of the natural materials in my hands.

Subscribe to Arts of Asia

For Connoisseurs and Collectors of Asian Art