A set of four Empire ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain baluster vases, the porcelain Jiaqing period (1796-1821), the mounts, circa 1815. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Each with globular bodies surmounted by wide cylindrical necks, densely decorated with the Eight Buddhist and Daoist Emblems (bajixiang and anbaoxian) amidst blue cloud scrolls, bats in flight and 'ball' flowers in raised white slip, with a band of gilded lotus lappets rising from the base, all reserved on a celadon ground, surmounted by an out- scrolled collar cast with acanthus leaves and flowering branches and egg-and-dart rim, the flanking scroll handles issuing from flower heads wrapped in acanthus and terminating in dolphin heads, the stand cast with fruiting laurel wreath above four dolphin feet issuing from scrolling acanthus, on a square plinth base, each vase with paper label inscribed 'Prov Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury K.T. P.C. G.C.V.O' and depository label 'THE PANTECHNICON TURNHAM GREEN, W4 4JH' inscribed '10.10.80' and numbered '99','100','101' and '102' respectively, two vases with label printed 'michael davis' and inscribed 'Bonhams 1/27', one vase with hairline crack to the body; 51 in. (130 cm.) high (4). Estimate £600,000 - £1,000,000 ($961,200 - $1,602,000). Price Realized £7,993,250 ($12,757,227)
Provenance: Almost certainly acquired by either Elizabeth Montagu, 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry (1743 - 1827), or by her grandson, Walter Francis, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry (1806-1884) for Montagu House, London, or Montagu House (later know as Buccleuch House), Richmond, or Dalkeith Palace, Midlothian, Scotland [photographed at Dalkeith in 1911], thence by descent to Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch and 10th Duke of Queensberry (1894-1973), sold, Christie's London, 5 July 1973, lot 20.
Sold anonymously, Bonhams London, 18 September 1980, lot 41.
THE BUCCLEUCH 'DAOIST' VASES
These magnificent 18th Century Chinese porcelain vases mounted in the early 19th Century with sumptuous French ormolu are exceptional in many respects; the superb quality of modelling, cast and ciselure of their lavish gilt-bronze mounts, the delicate polychrome enamel ornamentation forming such striking background for the mounts, and of course the impressive scale of the vases, but also their provenance, linking them to the 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch, or her grandson, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, two of the foremost art collectors of the early 19th century.
The vases are not only notable for their impressive size and skillfully rendered decoration, they also act as a fascinating example of the Chinese taste for auspicious imagery and Daoist symbolism. An ancient indigenous Chinese religion, Daoism stretches back more than two thousand years. Notwithstanding the Manchu emperors' preference for Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism continued to thrive throughout the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). As a popular form of decoration on Qing porcelain, the Eight Daoist Emblems were first adopted as a decorative subject on porcelains during the Yongzheng period (1723-35). The emblems represent the attributes of the Eight Daoist Immortals, including Li Tieguai's iron crutch and gourd, Zhong Liquan's fan, Zhang Guolao's bamboo drum with two rods, Lu Dongbin's sword and flywhisk, He Xiangu's lotus or sieve, Han Xiangzi's flute, Cao Guojiu's castanets, and Lan Caihe's basket containing flowers or peaches. In the famous story of the Eight Daoist Immortals crossing the sea, each immortal used their respective items to demonstrate their powers. As popular figures in Daoism, the immortals are believed to embody the moral and physical ideal that mortals aspire to achieve, and are venerated for their spiritual powers. Moreover they are conceived as mediators between mortals and the Dao, which means 'the Way'. Often depicted with the God of Longevity, Shoulao, the immortals and their emblems are all associated with the theme of longevity. For further information on the legends and history behind each of the Eight Daoist Immortals, refer to Stephen Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, Chicago, 2000, pp. 313-335.
It is important to note that these magnificent vases have not been pierced or cut to accommodate the ormolu mounts but kept intact, suggesting a respect for the integrity and indeed value of the porcelain as far back as the early 19th century.
THE ACQUISITION: ELIZABETH, 3RD DUCHESS OF BUCCLEUCH, OR WALTER, 5TH DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH?
The six magnificent vases offered here (lots 10 and 11) share a remarkable aristocratic provenance: They were either acquired by Elizabeth Montagu, 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry (1743 - 1827), the only daughter and heiress of George Montagu, Duke of Montagu and 4th Earl of Cardigan, for her house at Richmond or at Whitehall and subsequently inherited by her grandson Walter, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry, KG PC (1806-84), or acquired directly by the 5th Duke in the late 1820s when he came of age and, in 1827, inherited the Montagu estates from his grandmother. By then one of the richest landowners in Britain, and with a large number of properties including Montagu House (Whitehall), Boughton, Dalkeith, Drumlanrig and Bowhill to furnish, the 5th Duke commenced a period of considerable expenditure on building, decorating and collecting.
A household inventory for old Montagu House, dated 1820, lists a number of oriental wares, including 'Sea Green China Vases and Covers mounted in Ormolu and with Ormolu Handles', 'Sea Green China pot Pourries and covers mounted in ormolu' and 'enameld China Jars', documenting the duchesses early interest in Chinese porcelain (An Inventory of the Household Furniture Pictures Etc. at Montague House, Whitehall, 1820, Northampton County Record Office, Ms. GB/NNAF/F185176). However, it was her grandson Walter, 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who became the greatest collector in England after the Prince Regent, building not only the largest collections of Boulle furniture and Sèvres porcelain but also of ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain (see T. Murdoch ed., Boughton House The English Versailles, London, 1992).
Whether purchased directly for Montagu House, Whithall, or subsequetly moved there, Montagu House certainly formed a most suitable setting for these superb vases. Described in 1908 as 'One of the most imposing of the private palaces of London', it was built during the zenith of a brilliant and cosmopolitan society which centred on the youthful Queen Victoria and was host to the aristocracy during the London season. Apart from housing the exceptional Buccleuch art collection that included works by Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt and Canaletto, Montagu House held the finest British collection of miniatures outside the Royal Collection, as well as exquisite porcelain, furniture by André-Charles Boulle, Riesener and Carlin and a host of ormolu objets d'art (see E. Beresford Chancellor, The Private Palaces of London Past and Present, p. 303).
MIRRORING THE PRINCE REGENT'S TASTE:
THE ROYAL VASES AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE
Bold in form, scale, magnificence and style, the only known parallels to the Buccleuch vases are those acquired by George, Prince of Wales, later George IV, which are now at Buckingham Palace, London.
The extensive collection of ormolu-mounted oriental porcelain in the royal collection has been built up over many generations, with the earliest acquisitions dating from the reign of Elizabeth I; however, no other monarch had a greater influence on this collection than the Prince Regent, later George IV (1762-1830). The significant collection of ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain found today in the state rooms of Buckingham Palace for example had been transferred there from the Prince Regent's residences, Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion, when he became George IV.
The Buccleuch vases offered here are closely related to four Chinese vases sent in 1814 by the Prince Regent to Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy for mounting with ormolu. Intended for the Blue Velvet Room of Carlton House they were illustrated in Pyne's Royal Residences (see J. Cornforth, 'Fit for a Prince', Country Life, March 28, 1981, p. 69, fig. 8). The commission cost the Prince Regent 1,680 gns. for the bronze mounts alone, and the production of the bronzes together with the conversion work involved thirty-one different firms or craftsmen. The highest standards of quality and craftsmanship were maintained by the monarch as he formed his collection of ormolu and ormolu-mounted objects from the foremost bronziers of the late 18th and early 19th century, including Pierre Gouthière, François Rémond, Pierre-Philippe Thomire, Claude Galle and the Vulliamy family.
The monarch's taste and passion for collecting influenced his circles, with several contemporaries creating remarkable collections of their own. In the Cross Gallery at Buckingham Palace are several pairs of such large Chinese bottle-shaped vases, some of which are embellished with French ormolu mounts, like the vases presented here, and others with mounts supplied by the royal clockmaker and bronzier, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (d. 1854), and in the State Dining Room on pier tables between window recesses are four large Celadon vases with ormolu mounts fashioned as snake handles supplied by Vulliamy in September 1814, that had originally been in the Blue Velvet Room of Carlton House (H. Clifford Smith, Buckingham Palace, its furniture, decoration and history, London, Country Life Limited, 1931, plate 180 and p. 170). On the opposite side of the room there are a further six slightly smaller Celadon vases -again with ormolu mounts- and a further impressive ormolu-mounted Chinese vase, undoubtedly one of a pair, on a plinth on the Grand Staircase (H. Clifford Smith, Buckingham Palace, plate 127). A further pair of Chinese vases with turquoise flambé enamel feature in a watercolour by James Roberts (1800-67), dated 1857, in the Principal Corridor (H. Clifford Smith, Buckingham Palace, plate 268), while a watercolour by Roberts dated 1850 of 'The Pavilion Breakfast Room' includes four from a set of eight Chinese porcelain vases that were originally in the Music Room at Brighton (Royal Collection e-Gallery, RL 19918).
The Prince Regent displayed his vases in the Banqueting Room Gallery at Brighton Pavilion and the Golden Drawing Room at Carlton House, where they were illustrated respectively by John Nash in 1823 and, even a few years earlier, in 1816-19, by W.H. Pyne in The History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James's Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House and Frogmore.
MARCHANDS-MERCIERS AND 'IMPORTERS OF FOREIGN CURIOSITIES'
The trade in antiques was well established in the early decades of the 19th Century in London's fashionable West End and the role of the 'Importer of Foreign Curiosities' or 'Chinaman' increasingly also included the lucrative business of enhancing and embellishing 18th century objects, as has happened here with the already striking Chinese porcelain vases, or indeed fabricating entirely new objects incorporating older elements. Rare, exotic and costly items were sought for wealthy clients, such as the 5th Duke, and finely crafted ormolu mounts, the key to 'improvements' and often significantly more expensive to manufacture than the costs involved in purchasing the porcelain itself, were applied to satisfy a clientele looking to decorate some of the most sumptuous interiors of the time, such as Montagu House or Dalkeith Palace, both Buccleuch houses. The industry was facilitated by the close geographic proximity of a large number of independent bronziers, silversmiths, goldsmiths and cabinet-makers who were employed by dealers to make up an object to a client's requirements.
AN ANGLO-FRENCH COLLABORATION: FOGG AND MAELRÖNDT
In the absence of any firm documentation linking the Buccleuch vases to one specific dealer or bronzier, it is not unreasonable to speculate that they were embellished under the direction of Robert Fogg, the foremost dealer in porcelain in London at the time, who would have probably worked in partnership with the Parisian-based marchand-mercier, Philippe-Claude Maelröndt (d. 1824). Fogg's clientele certainly included the upper echelons of society, with George IV, the Duke of Bedford, the 1st Earl of Harewood and his son, Edward Lascelles and Lord James Murray all buying from him (see G. de Bellaigue, 'Philippe-Claude Maelröndt, supplier to George IV', The Burlington Magazine, June 2004, p. 393). It was through Fogg that George IV made some of his most important purchases of porcelain and French works of art, including for example a pair of twelve foot tall pagodas mounted with Chinese porcelain plaques which he acquired from Fogg in 1822 for Brighton Pavilion. Through Fogg George IV also amassed a large collection of Chinese celadon vases and Fogg's name appears regularly in Jutsham's inventory for supplying porcelain to the King over a number of years. He also sold ormolu-mounted oriental porcelain to the antiquarian collector William Beckford (1760-1844), including in July 1814 'certain sea-green bottles incredibly decorated with bronze', almost certainly describing Chinese celadon vases. The sale catalogue of Joseph Fogg's effects (Joseph inherited the firm upon Robert Fogg's death), the 'valuable and extensive stock of the late Mr. Joseph Fogg, of Regent Street' on 14-19 February 1831, included 'rare beakers of Japan' together with 'a great variety of decorative and useful porcelain, Old Sevres & Dresden, old Buhl & Riesener marquetrie, and a few lots of armour', providing some idea of the diversity of the company's stock (see M. Westgarth, 'A Biographical Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Antique & Curiousity Dealers', The Journal of the Regional Furniture Society, Volume XXIII, 2009, p. 102).
The names of several Parisian bronziers, such as Thomire, Gouthière or Rémond might be associated with the production of the spectacular mounts decorating these vases and - though unlikely on stylistic grounds - also that of another London-based bronzier, Swiss-born Benjamin Vulliamy, with whom Fogg also worked closely. The Vulliamy accounts document such collaborations and include a bill dated December 6, 1808 for 'mounting pair of dragon beekers. Pd. Fogg for the Beakers, 10.10' (PRO Vulliamy, C104/57 pt.3) and Vulliamy's Ornament Book includes an entry for a 'Black china Bottle for Mr Fogg' for which the Vulliamy's supplied gilt-bronze mounts on 27 March 1819. Intriguingly the ledgers of Elizabeth, 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch, record a payment in May 1824 to 'Vulliamy Clockmaker 43.18.6' documenting that she too bought directly from the royal clockmaker. While it remains unknown what this payment was for it is conceivable that this was not for bronzes from Vulliamy's own workshop but for ormolu mounts produced by Parisian bronziers with Vulliamy acting as the marchand.
We are grateful to Rufus Bird, Deputy Surveyor of the Queen's Works of Art for his help and comments.
Not simply a feat of the artist's skill and tenacity, exhibited by the fine quality of painted decoration and massive size, these impressive set of vases express a multitude of auspicious wishes. The presence of numerous bats in flight conveys happiness and prosperity - bats being a homophone in Chinese for a word meaning 'happiness'. Furthermore the Eight Buddhist and Daoist Emblems, which take a central importance on these vases, are believed to bring blessings and harmony. For example, the Lotus (hehua) symbolises purity and harmony; The Vase or Jar (guan) alludes to the elixir of life that stands for victory, the ultimate triumph over the cycle of reincarnation. It also signifies the container of treasures that represent the fulfilment of all wishes; The Twin Fish (shuangyu) expresses the freedom and happiness that true knowledge brings. For further elaboration on the symbolic meanings of each Buddhist and Daoist emblem, refer to Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Singapore, 2008, pp. 240-243.
The combination of images and motifs from the two major Chinese religions, Buddhism and Daoism, is of particular fascination. In China Buddhism and Daoism, despite one being a foreign religion and the other an indigenous tradition, has historically been extremely close and intertwined. The interactions and encounters between the two can often be characterized as syncretic, where one contributed to shaping the other in many ways. Daoism for instance, adopted from Buddhism its iconography. There are for example, several Daoist deities modelled in the likeness of Buddha seated on lotus bases or with hands positioned with mudras, such as the Tang dynasty limestone model of Deified Laozi in the Shanghai Museum and the glazed stoneware model of Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning dated to the Ming dynasty in the Tsui Art Foundation in Hong Kong (both illustrated by Stephen Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, Chicago, 2000, p. 183 no. 39 and p. 232, no. 68). Indeed images of the Buddhist deity Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion are often found in Daoist temples. By the Qing dynasty, the eight Buddhist and Daoist emblems were frequently used and familiar motifs. See for instance an exceptional ivory brush pot carved with bands of Buddhist and Daoist emblems sold at Christie's New York, 25 March 2010, lot 854, and a blue gauze 'Dragon' robe with bats and beribboned Buddhist and Daoist emblems sold Christie's Hong Kong, 3 December 2008, lot 2264. That both sets of emblems were used in conjunction with one another, across all forms of Chinese art including these vases, is a testament and reflection to how interwoven these two religions became.