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{"id":4462286274650,"title":"Antique Chinese Silver Vase, Monumental Size, Wang Hing, Canton - 1885","handle":"antique-chinese-silver-vase-monumental-size-wang-hing-canton-1885","description":"\u003cp\u003eThis spectacular and impressive Chinese silver presentation vase stands over 40 cms tall and weighs an impressive 2.3 kilos. The ornamentation is very fine and shows a range of ornament in a variety of techniques, all exhibiting excellent craftsmanship.   There is no presentation inscription, but we believe the vase was made in the mid-1880s, probably towards the end of 1885\/early 1886 and it undoubtedly celebrates the close relationship between China and Great Britain which existed at this time. The figural scene is believed to show Yuan Shikai, the Chinese Resident, arriving in Korea. Who the vase was commissioned by and to whom it was presented, or whether in fact it was ever presented, is unknown.  Nonetheless, it is an exceptional object and probably the most fascinating and intriguing piece of Chinese silver we have seen.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe fine figural scene to the lower body references current events in Korea, which loomed large on the political agenda of both nations and also that of Japan.  Increasing tensions between Japan and China over Korea eventually led to the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese war in 1894. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThis was the era of what, with the benefit of hindsight and distance, is now termed Sino-Western unequal treaties, but it is important to remember that at the time they were signed, the parties concerned perceived them differently. It was also an era of influential bi-cultural individuals like Harry Parkes and Robert Hart who spent more of their lives overseas than in Britain.  Parkes became Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Peking, the highest ranking British diplomatic post in China and Minister for Korea, dying in office in 1895.  After four months deliberation, Robert Hart turned down the opportunity of replacing him, to continue as Head of the Chinese Maritime Customs, for which he received The Imperial Order of the Double Dragon,\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cem\u003eShuang Lung Pao Hsing\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003efrom the Emperor and The Peacock Feather in 1895.  Li Hung Chang (\u003cem\u003eLi Hongzhang\u003c\/em\u003e), de facto Chinese Foreign Minister, saw much to admire in and learn from the British and other Europeans, often seeking out their company and Marquis Tseng (\u003cem\u003eZeng Jize\u003c\/em\u003e), who was appointed minister to Britain, France and Russia in 1878, lived in Europe for seven years between 1879 and 1885.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eAt this time, possibly more than at any other time in history, Chinese and British interests were enmeshed and often aligned, albeit their end goals were sometimes different and there were occasions when each used their political influence to further the benefit of the other country’s political aims.  Korea, known as the ‘hidden kingdom’, was the focus of much attention and ‘opening up’ to trade. British trade negotiations with Korea were established with the help of the Chinese, culminating in the Parkes Treaty, ratified in Seoul on 28th April 1884.  In turn, Robert Hart’s intervention helped the Chinese conclude the Sino-French war with the signing of the Tientsin Treaty on 9th June 1885.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eFor both countries, 1885 was a year of frenzied diplomacy and the politics of this time are exceedingly complex.  In April 1885 (some sources say 31st May), the Li-Ito Convention, also known as the Convention of Tianjin\/Tientsin, was signed between Li Hung Chang of China and Ito Hirobumi of Japan to halt escalating tensions between the two countries.  Japanese attempts to increase their influence over the Korean Peninsula and the Korean royal family, which had always been a suzerain of China, resulted in the Gapsin Coup erupting in Korea on 4th December 1884, which was suppressed by Chinese troops, under the leadership of Yuan Shikai, three days later.  Yuan Shikai, at that time a subordinate of Li Hung Chang, is an important historical figure. Prior to the Gapsin Coup, he was serving in Korea and in charge of three Chinese troop divisions stationed there.  Later, he became the Chinese Resident in Korea and in 1912 he became the First President of the Chinese Republic.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eOn 18th July 1885, after a delay of nine years, the Chefoo Convention was ratified by the British in London with the signing of the Chefoo Agreement, now known as the Yantai Treaty.  The treaty was signed by Marquis Tseng (\u003cem\u003eZeng Jize\u003c\/em\u003e) for China and the Marquis of Salisbury for Britain.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe shape of this vase follows the European classical revival style, embraced and popularised by English silversmiths such as Stephen Smith.  The form is modelled on ancient amphorae made in Greece around 1,000 BC.  Most elements of the repousse and chased ornamentation are in the Chinese style but the acanthus leaf borders to the top and bottom and the three large oval reserves to the body of the vase are in the European, specifically British, style. Although there are many items of Chinese silver of European form, tankards for example, with dragon handles and Chinese ornamentation, we are not aware of other pieces which have, what can best be described as bi-cultural ornamentation, which is highly unusual, if not unique.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe impressive peacock shaped handles are formed from sheet silver to the back and front with finely reticulated side panels featuring bamboo. These are wholly in the high Chinese style of the late 19\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003ecentury.  A similar, single reticulated handle, featuring a leaf design, adorns the ‘Admiral’s Cup’, which bears the same maker’s mark and is dated 1882. This trophy featured on the cover of the catalogue for the Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s exhibition, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’, held earlier this year.   The peacocks,  symbols of elegance, dignity, and nobility, appear to be bowing to each other.  The design may be intended to represent Marquis Tseng and the Marquis of Salisbury or Yuan Shikai and King Gojong. It could also reference Li Hung Chang, whose popularity was at an all-time high in 1885, and had many peacock feathers showered upon him or the peacock feather awarded to Robert Hart, the first foreigner to receive this high honour; we can only speculate.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe neck of the vase is plain silver. Ornamenting the neck are four oval panels of repousse and chased ornamentation.  The panel to the front contains a pair of birds in plum blossom.  Moving clockwise, the side panel shows a pair of birds in bamboo, the panel to the back depicts a dragon amongst the clouds and the last panel depicts fish, including a carp, crab, crayfish\/lobster and lotus leaves or possibly, mushrooms.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTo the shoulder of the vase, to front and back, is a fine repousse border featuring two opposing dragons flying amongst the clouds in pursuit of the pearl of wisdom.  The design of this border is very similar to the iconography found on the sash and medal of the Imperial Order of the Double Dragon and may derive from it.  The order was founded by Emperor Guangxu on 7\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003eFebruary 1882 and, until 1908, was only awarded to foreigners for outstanding services to the Imperial throne. In 1885 it was awarded to Robert Hart, the Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs and his assistant, Duncan Campbell, based in London, for their assistance with the treaty negotiations ending the Sino-French War and service with the Customs.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe mid-section of the body of the vase has a chased ‘cracked ice’ effect background surrounding three large oval panels worked in repousse and chased techniques, depicting the plant emblems of Britain.  The panel to the front features a spray of roses, those to the back a wreath of shamrocks and a stem from the thistle plant.  The red rose is the national flower of England; the purple thistle is the national flower of Scotland and the green shamrock, the symbol of Ireland.  As in the national flag of Great Britain, the Union Jack, introduced in 1801, there is no separate representation for Wales: as the flag was designed after the invasion of Wales in 1282. It is known that Wang Hing produced other silver presentation vases with a ‘cracked ice’ ground in the 1880s, including a trophy for the Hong Kong races of 1889.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTo the lowest part of the body is a continuous figural scene. It is likely that the representations in the figural scene have been inspired by contemporary printed materials which graphically illustrated important historical events of the time.  We have seen many later prints relating to events and incidents during the First Sino-Japanese War, and there are definite similarities of style. The scene is intended to be read from right to left as one turns the vase, starting at the right-hand side of the front, in the same way as porcelain.  (Close up photos showing the whole figural scene, are available on request.) \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTowering mountain peaks have been used as a device to separate the scenes and probably also to suggest that the emissary had travelled a long way and that the journey had been arduous.  Although mountainous peaks are frequently depicted in the Chinese artistic tradition, the style of these peaks has probably been influenced by the painting on the\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cem\u003eIrworobongdo\u003c\/em\u003e, a Korean folding screen which stood behind the Korean royal throne at Gyongbok Palace during the Joseon Dynasty.  This highly stylised painting of five mountains peaks with the sun, symbolising the king, and the moon, symbolising the queen, denoted a mythical place with the enthroned King as the pivot in a balanced cosmos. The figural scenes show:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 1 - Six soldiers or officials standing nervously outside a couple of fine buildings. Two men are looking left, two are looking right and the two in the centre are holding long rifles. The men are Chinese and seem to be guarding the buildings.   Banana plants can be seen growing in the gardens of the buildings, suggesting they belong to someone of high rank, importance and status. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 2 - A Chinese envoy, dressed in the military field dress of a General, is arriving with his assistant.  The assistant holds a three-tiered umbrella over him, proclaiming his high status and signifying that he is on an Imperial Commission. We believe this Commissioner to be Yuan Shikai, arriving back in Korea to take up the position of Chinese Resident to the Korean Court.  A photograph of Yuan Shikai wearing similar dress is held by Getty Images and can be viewed here\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.gettyimages.co.uk\/detail\/news-photo\/yuan-shih-kai-16-09-1859-general-politiker-china1-pr-news-photo\/545049741\"\u003ehttps:\/\/www.gettyimages.co.uk\/detail\/news-photo\/yuan-shih-kai-16-09-1859-general-politiker-china1-pr-news-photo\/545049741\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e     \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eA low table, possibly bearing food or a warmer, lies on the ground and Yuan holds his foot up near it.  Three Koreans wait to greet the Chinese; their hats signify they are Korean.  The Koreans are bowing respectfully and the central figure holds a warm or fresh robe to offer to the Commissioner. The Korean at the rear of the welcome party holds up a banner with an emblem.  Although only part shows, this is probably the emblem of the House of Yi, the Korean Imperial Household.  Standing behind the greeting party are two Koreans bearing inscribed banners.  Roughly translated, the inscriptions say ‘We parade following the Emperor’s command.  When the Emperor commands us, we act immediately and without hesitation.  Anyone disrespecting the Emperor or his representatives will die!’ \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 3 - Two high ranking Korean officials stand outside a building chatting, waiting for the Chinese visitors to arrive.  One holds a fan. Behind them are two Koreans carrying gongs which hang from rods placed over their shoulders.  They are beating the gongs.  To the other end of the rods are hanging banners with inscriptions.  These say:- ‘We are removing people from the street!  Someone from the Emperor’s Palace is coming!’\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 4 – The Commissioner has reached his destination and settled in, he has changed his clothes, this could be many months later. He is staying in a group of fine buildings surrounded by bamboo.  A long wall stands behind most of the buildings. The atmosphere is relaxed and congenial.  A female servant stands in the background in front of the first building, politely gesturing him onwards.  Another female, dressed in finer clothes (possibly Queen Min), gestures Yuan to take a seat in a high backed chair in front of a table.  On the opposite side of the table, seated in a similar chair, (signifying the men held similar status) is a figure we believe to be King Gojong of Korea.  His hands rest on a zither.  Playing the zither was considered to be one of the four arts of a scholar. The Chinese man holds something in his hand, likely chopsticks.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eKing Gojong and his guest are sitting amongst a group of fine buildings within a walled garden or palace compound.  The wall is covered in a cracked ice design. Behind the wall, plantain\/banana plants are growing, which were popular in scholar’s gardens for the sound the leaves made. A maid is approaching with a tall covered pot containing refreshment.   Nearby, on the terrace, there are other large cooking pots, probably containing food.  The style of the pots seems to be Korean.  A low table with a brazier has been placed near the visitor, to provide warmth or to receive the food.  The emissary is being treated with great courtesy and hospitality.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe ornamentation of the buildings is elaborate and very fine.  There are many bamboo plants, five trailing plants or mosses are growing on a wall; groupings of five are often auspicious.  There is a solitary bird in the bamboo, thought to be a Golden Crow.  Rocks in the garden resemble scholar’s rocks.  In Chinese symbolism, bamboo represents a wish and rocks, longevity; together they represent ‘a wish for longevity’.  A Golden Crow in bamboo represents the sixth moon of the Chinese year.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIt is likely that the venue depicted is the Gyeongbok Palace complex in Seoul, possibly the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion where the Korean King often received foreign dignitaries.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eYuan Shikai was recalled to China in spring 1885 and was appointed Resident by the Chinese Emperor, at the request of Li Hung Chang and King Gojong of Korea, in October 1885. During his time in Korea, twelve years in total, Yuan took three Korean concubines: Lady Lee, Lady Kim and Lady O, with whom he fathered fourteen children.  It has been said that Li sat next to King Gojong for nine and a half years, suggesting that he was his constant companion and able to observe his every move.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThis vase bears the large Wang Hing\/Da Ji (Tai Kut) silver mark. Unusually for Chinese silver marks, which are normally small and applied discreetly if a little haphazardly to the underside of the base, this large mark was struck to be noticed!  It has been very carefully positioned to the exterior of the side of the foot at the centre back, allowing it to be easily seen whenever the object was displayed on a centrally placed table or podium.  In some of the early books on Chinese silver, this mark was thought to signify that the object had been made for Tiffany in New York, but this theory has now been disproved by research into the Tiffany archives carried out by Adrien von Ferscht.  He suggests that Wang Hing, who had numerous suppliers, had probably invested in the Da Ji (Tai Kut) workshop.  All silver bearing this large mark that we have been able to identify, including small objects such as a pair of salts, had either reticulated panels, applied cut silver or cut foliage fronds and we suggest that Da Ji (Tai Kut) probably specialised in this exacting and labour intensive very fine hand piercing and cutting work.  Adjacent to the large silver mark, there is a small Dutch silver mark, signifying that the fineness of the silver has been tested and found to be .835 or above but less than .925, in line with the .900 usual for Chinese silver of this era.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn the third quarter of the nineteenth century, there was a significant increase in demand for silver sporting trophies and presentation pieces in the East.  Wang Hing, a prominent retailer, targeted this lucrative market with great success.  Comparing this vase to other presentation pieces made by Wang Hing, of known date and bearing the same large silver mark, indicates the vase was made during the mid-1880s.  Unfortunately,  Zetland House, Wang Hing’s flagship store at 10 Queen’s Road, Hong Kong, which had only opened in February 1937, was destroyed by bombing in 1941, only days after the Japanese invasion. The explosion destroyed all their stock along with all Wang Hing’s design archive and trading records.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIt is very likely that the vase was made to celebrate the arrival of the new British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Sir John Walsham, in Peking.  (After Parkes unexpected death in early 1885, the post was held by an interim Charge d’Affairs whilst a new permanent appointment was made).   It was offered to Robert Hart, who deliberated for four months and then turned it down, then offered to Walsham who accepted the post, taking up his appointment on 15\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003eJune 1886 in Peking.  The figural scene shows a solitary bird in the bamboo.  If the bird is a Golden Crow, this would signify the 6\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003emoon of the year, which tallies with the date Walsham commenced his residency.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eProvenance:-\u003c\/em\u003e  European art market\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eDimensions:-\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e Height 41cms; Width 23.5cms\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eWeight:–\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e2,300 grammes\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eReferences\u003c\/em\u003e:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHong Kong Maritime Museum, Exhibition catalogue, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’ Edited by Libby Lai-Pik Chan and Nina Lai-Na Wan, 2017-18\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJames Z Gao, Historical Dictionary of Modern China (1800-1949)\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003e(Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras), Scarecrow Press, Maryland USA, 2009\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003ePatricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art, A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, Singapore 2008\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003eAdrien von Ferscht, Chinese Export Silver 1785-1940 The Definitive Collectors’ Guide, 4th Edition @chinese-export-silver.com\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003eDenise Patry Leidy, How to read Chinese Ceramics, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eStanley, Lane-Poole, Sir Harry Parkes in China, Methuen, London 1901\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eB E Foster Hall, Sometime Commissioner of Chinese Maritime Customs Occasional Papers: No. 5, The Chinese Maritime Customs: An International Service, 1854-1950. Re-published by order of the Chinese Maritime Customs Project, University of Bristol  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eYoung Ick Lew, Yüan Shih-k'ai's Residency and the Korean Enlightenment Movement (1885-94), Pages 63 – 107, Journal of Korean Studies, Duke University Press, Volume 5, 1984\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eVolume 31, The Diaries of Sir Robert Hart, Sir Robert Hart Collection, Queen’s University, Belfast\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Cambridge History of China, Volume 11, Late Ch'ing, 1800–1911, Part 2, Edited by John K Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Cambridge University Press 1980\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJ O P Bland, Li Hung Chang, (From Makers of the Nineteenth Century edited by Basil Williams), Constable and Company, London 1917\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eRobert Hart and James Duncan Campbell, The I.G. in Peking, Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907, Edited by John King Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, Elizabeth MacLeod Matheson, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA USA, 1975\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Japan Center for Asian Historical Records and the British Library, A collaborative project resulting in an online exhibition “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: as seen in prints and archives”\u003c\/p\u003e","published_at":"2019-12-13T00:46:20+00:00","created_at":"2019-12-13T01:00:29+00:00","vendor":"Joseph Cohen Antiques","type":"Chinese Silver Vase","tags":["Chinese Export Silver"],"price":2700000,"price_min":2700000,"price_max":2700000,"available":true,"price_varies":false,"compare_at_price":null,"compare_at_price_min":0,"compare_at_price_max":0,"compare_at_price_varies":false,"variants":[{"id":31593110601818,"title":"Default Title","option1":"Default Title","option2":null,"option3":null,"sku":"","requires_shipping":true,"taxable":true,"featured_image":null,"available":true,"name":"Antique Chinese Silver Vase, Monumental Size, Wang Hing, Canton - 1885","public_title":null,"options":["Default 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spectacular and impressive Chinese silver presentation vase stands over 40 cms tall and weighs an impressive 2.3 kilos. The ornamentation is very fine and shows a range of ornament in a variety of techniques, all exhibiting excellent craftsmanship.   There is no presentation inscription, but we believe the vase was made in the mid-1880s, probably towards the end of 1885\/early 1886 and it undoubtedly celebrates the close relationship between China and Great Britain which existed at this time. The figural scene is believed to show Yuan Shikai, the Chinese Resident, arriving in Korea. Who the vase was commissioned by and to whom it was presented, or whether in fact it was ever presented, is unknown.  Nonetheless, it is an exceptional object and probably the most fascinating and intriguing piece of Chinese silver we have seen.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe fine figural scene to the lower body references current events in Korea, which loomed large on the political agenda of both nations and also that of Japan.  Increasing tensions between Japan and China over Korea eventually led to the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese war in 1894. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThis was the era of what, with the benefit of hindsight and distance, is now termed Sino-Western unequal treaties, but it is important to remember that at the time they were signed, the parties concerned perceived them differently. It was also an era of influential bi-cultural individuals like Harry Parkes and Robert Hart who spent more of their lives overseas than in Britain.  Parkes became Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Peking, the highest ranking British diplomatic post in China and Minister for Korea, dying in office in 1895.  After four months deliberation, Robert Hart turned down the opportunity of replacing him, to continue as Head of the Chinese Maritime Customs, for which he received The Imperial Order of the Double Dragon,\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cem\u003eShuang Lung Pao Hsing\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003efrom the Emperor and The Peacock Feather in 1895.  Li Hung Chang (\u003cem\u003eLi Hongzhang\u003c\/em\u003e), de facto Chinese Foreign Minister, saw much to admire in and learn from the British and other Europeans, often seeking out their company and Marquis Tseng (\u003cem\u003eZeng Jize\u003c\/em\u003e), who was appointed minister to Britain, France and Russia in 1878, lived in Europe for seven years between 1879 and 1885.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eAt this time, possibly more than at any other time in history, Chinese and British interests were enmeshed and often aligned, albeit their end goals were sometimes different and there were occasions when each used their political influence to further the benefit of the other country’s political aims.  Korea, known as the ‘hidden kingdom’, was the focus of much attention and ‘opening up’ to trade. British trade negotiations with Korea were established with the help of the Chinese, culminating in the Parkes Treaty, ratified in Seoul on 28th April 1884.  In turn, Robert Hart’s intervention helped the Chinese conclude the Sino-French war with the signing of the Tientsin Treaty on 9th June 1885.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eFor both countries, 1885 was a year of frenzied diplomacy and the politics of this time are exceedingly complex.  In April 1885 (some sources say 31st May), the Li-Ito Convention, also known as the Convention of Tianjin\/Tientsin, was signed between Li Hung Chang of China and Ito Hirobumi of Japan to halt escalating tensions between the two countries.  Japanese attempts to increase their influence over the Korean Peninsula and the Korean royal family, which had always been a suzerain of China, resulted in the Gapsin Coup erupting in Korea on 4th December 1884, which was suppressed by Chinese troops, under the leadership of Yuan Shikai, three days later.  Yuan Shikai, at that time a subordinate of Li Hung Chang, is an important historical figure. Prior to the Gapsin Coup, he was serving in Korea and in charge of three Chinese troop divisions stationed there.  Later, he became the Chinese Resident in Korea and in 1912 he became the First President of the Chinese Republic.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eOn 18th July 1885, after a delay of nine years, the Chefoo Convention was ratified by the British in London with the signing of the Chefoo Agreement, now known as the Yantai Treaty.  The treaty was signed by Marquis Tseng (\u003cem\u003eZeng Jize\u003c\/em\u003e) for China and the Marquis of Salisbury for Britain.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe shape of this vase follows the European classical revival style, embraced and popularised by English silversmiths such as Stephen Smith.  The form is modelled on ancient amphorae made in Greece around 1,000 BC.  Most elements of the repousse and chased ornamentation are in the Chinese style but the acanthus leaf borders to the top and bottom and the three large oval reserves to the body of the vase are in the European, specifically British, style. Although there are many items of Chinese silver of European form, tankards for example, with dragon handles and Chinese ornamentation, we are not aware of other pieces which have, what can best be described as bi-cultural ornamentation, which is highly unusual, if not unique.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe impressive peacock shaped handles are formed from sheet silver to the back and front with finely reticulated side panels featuring bamboo. These are wholly in the high Chinese style of the late 19\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003ecentury.  A similar, single reticulated handle, featuring a leaf design, adorns the ‘Admiral’s Cup’, which bears the same maker’s mark and is dated 1882. This trophy featured on the cover of the catalogue for the Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s exhibition, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’, held earlier this year.   The peacocks,  symbols of elegance, dignity, and nobility, appear to be bowing to each other.  The design may be intended to represent Marquis Tseng and the Marquis of Salisbury or Yuan Shikai and King Gojong. It could also reference Li Hung Chang, whose popularity was at an all-time high in 1885, and had many peacock feathers showered upon him or the peacock feather awarded to Robert Hart, the first foreigner to receive this high honour; we can only speculate.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe neck of the vase is plain silver. Ornamenting the neck are four oval panels of repousse and chased ornamentation.  The panel to the front contains a pair of birds in plum blossom.  Moving clockwise, the side panel shows a pair of birds in bamboo, the panel to the back depicts a dragon amongst the clouds and the last panel depicts fish, including a carp, crab, crayfish\/lobster and lotus leaves or possibly, mushrooms.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTo the shoulder of the vase, to front and back, is a fine repousse border featuring two opposing dragons flying amongst the clouds in pursuit of the pearl of wisdom.  The design of this border is very similar to the iconography found on the sash and medal of the Imperial Order of the Double Dragon and may derive from it.  The order was founded by Emperor Guangxu on 7\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003eFebruary 1882 and, until 1908, was only awarded to foreigners for outstanding services to the Imperial throne. In 1885 it was awarded to Robert Hart, the Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs and his assistant, Duncan Campbell, based in London, for their assistance with the treaty negotiations ending the Sino-French War and service with the Customs.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe mid-section of the body of the vase has a chased ‘cracked ice’ effect background surrounding three large oval panels worked in repousse and chased techniques, depicting the plant emblems of Britain.  The panel to the front features a spray of roses, those to the back a wreath of shamrocks and a stem from the thistle plant.  The red rose is the national flower of England; the purple thistle is the national flower of Scotland and the green shamrock, the symbol of Ireland.  As in the national flag of Great Britain, the Union Jack, introduced in 1801, there is no separate representation for Wales: as the flag was designed after the invasion of Wales in 1282. It is known that Wang Hing produced other silver presentation vases with a ‘cracked ice’ ground in the 1880s, including a trophy for the Hong Kong races of 1889.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTo the lowest part of the body is a continuous figural scene. It is likely that the representations in the figural scene have been inspired by contemporary printed materials which graphically illustrated important historical events of the time.  We have seen many later prints relating to events and incidents during the First Sino-Japanese War, and there are definite similarities of style. The scene is intended to be read from right to left as one turns the vase, starting at the right-hand side of the front, in the same way as porcelain.  (Close up photos showing the whole figural scene, are available on request.) \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eTowering mountain peaks have been used as a device to separate the scenes and probably also to suggest that the emissary had travelled a long way and that the journey had been arduous.  Although mountainous peaks are frequently depicted in the Chinese artistic tradition, the style of these peaks has probably been influenced by the painting on the\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cem\u003eIrworobongdo\u003c\/em\u003e, a Korean folding screen which stood behind the Korean royal throne at Gyongbok Palace during the Joseon Dynasty.  This highly stylised painting of five mountains peaks with the sun, symbolising the king, and the moon, symbolising the queen, denoted a mythical place with the enthroned King as the pivot in a balanced cosmos. The figural scenes show:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 1 - Six soldiers or officials standing nervously outside a couple of fine buildings. Two men are looking left, two are looking right and the two in the centre are holding long rifles. The men are Chinese and seem to be guarding the buildings.   Banana plants can be seen growing in the gardens of the buildings, suggesting they belong to someone of high rank, importance and status. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 2 - A Chinese envoy, dressed in the military field dress of a General, is arriving with his assistant.  The assistant holds a three-tiered umbrella over him, proclaiming his high status and signifying that he is on an Imperial Commission. We believe this Commissioner to be Yuan Shikai, arriving back in Korea to take up the position of Chinese Resident to the Korean Court.  A photograph of Yuan Shikai wearing similar dress is held by Getty Images and can be viewed here\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.gettyimages.co.uk\/detail\/news-photo\/yuan-shih-kai-16-09-1859-general-politiker-china1-pr-news-photo\/545049741\"\u003ehttps:\/\/www.gettyimages.co.uk\/detail\/news-photo\/yuan-shih-kai-16-09-1859-general-politiker-china1-pr-news-photo\/545049741\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e     \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eA low table, possibly bearing food or a warmer, lies on the ground and Yuan holds his foot up near it.  Three Koreans wait to greet the Chinese; their hats signify they are Korean.  The Koreans are bowing respectfully and the central figure holds a warm or fresh robe to offer to the Commissioner. The Korean at the rear of the welcome party holds up a banner with an emblem.  Although only part shows, this is probably the emblem of the House of Yi, the Korean Imperial Household.  Standing behind the greeting party are two Koreans bearing inscribed banners.  Roughly translated, the inscriptions say ‘We parade following the Emperor’s command.  When the Emperor commands us, we act immediately and without hesitation.  Anyone disrespecting the Emperor or his representatives will die!’ \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 3 - Two high ranking Korean officials stand outside a building chatting, waiting for the Chinese visitors to arrive.  One holds a fan. Behind them are two Koreans carrying gongs which hang from rods placed over their shoulders.  They are beating the gongs.  To the other end of the rods are hanging banners with inscriptions.  These say:- ‘We are removing people from the street!  Someone from the Emperor’s Palace is coming!’\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 4 – The Commissioner has reached his destination and settled in, he has changed his clothes, this could be many months later. He is staying in a group of fine buildings surrounded by bamboo.  A long wall stands behind most of the buildings. The atmosphere is relaxed and congenial.  A female servant stands in the background in front of the first building, politely gesturing him onwards.  Another female, dressed in finer clothes (possibly Queen Min), gestures Yuan to take a seat in a high backed chair in front of a table.  On the opposite side of the table, seated in a similar chair, (signifying the men held similar status) is a figure we believe to be King Gojong of Korea.  His hands rest on a zither.  Playing the zither was considered to be one of the four arts of a scholar. The Chinese man holds something in his hand, likely chopsticks.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eKing Gojong and his guest are sitting amongst a group of fine buildings within a walled garden or palace compound.  The wall is covered in a cracked ice design. Behind the wall, plantain\/banana plants are growing, which were popular in scholar’s gardens for the sound the leaves made. A maid is approaching with a tall covered pot containing refreshment.   Nearby, on the terrace, there are other large cooking pots, probably containing food.  The style of the pots seems to be Korean.  A low table with a brazier has been placed near the visitor, to provide warmth or to receive the food.  The emissary is being treated with great courtesy and hospitality.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe ornamentation of the buildings is elaborate and very fine.  There are many bamboo plants, five trailing plants or mosses are growing on a wall; groupings of five are often auspicious.  There is a solitary bird in the bamboo, thought to be a Golden Crow.  Rocks in the garden resemble scholar’s rocks.  In Chinese symbolism, bamboo represents a wish and rocks, longevity; together they represent ‘a wish for longevity’.  A Golden Crow in bamboo represents the sixth moon of the Chinese year.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIt is likely that the venue depicted is the Gyeongbok Palace complex in Seoul, possibly the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion where the Korean King often received foreign dignitaries.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eYuan Shikai was recalled to China in spring 1885 and was appointed Resident by the Chinese Emperor, at the request of Li Hung Chang and King Gojong of Korea, in October 1885. During his time in Korea, twelve years in total, Yuan took three Korean concubines: Lady Lee, Lady Kim and Lady O, with whom he fathered fourteen children.  It has been said that Li sat next to King Gojong for nine and a half years, suggesting that he was his constant companion and able to observe his every move.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThis vase bears the large Wang Hing\/Da Ji (Tai Kut) silver mark. Unusually for Chinese silver marks, which are normally small and applied discreetly if a little haphazardly to the underside of the base, this large mark was struck to be noticed!  It has been very carefully positioned to the exterior of the side of the foot at the centre back, allowing it to be easily seen whenever the object was displayed on a centrally placed table or podium.  In some of the early books on Chinese silver, this mark was thought to signify that the object had been made for Tiffany in New York, but this theory has now been disproved by research into the Tiffany archives carried out by Adrien von Ferscht.  He suggests that Wang Hing, who had numerous suppliers, had probably invested in the Da Ji (Tai Kut) workshop.  All silver bearing this large mark that we have been able to identify, including small objects such as a pair of salts, had either reticulated panels, applied cut silver or cut foliage fronds and we suggest that Da Ji (Tai Kut) probably specialised in this exacting and labour intensive very fine hand piercing and cutting work.  Adjacent to the large silver mark, there is a small Dutch silver mark, signifying that the fineness of the silver has been tested and found to be .835 or above but less than .925, in line with the .900 usual for Chinese silver of this era.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn the third quarter of the nineteenth century, there was a significant increase in demand for silver sporting trophies and presentation pieces in the East.  Wang Hing, a prominent retailer, targeted this lucrative market with great success.  Comparing this vase to other presentation pieces made by Wang Hing, of known date and bearing the same large silver mark, indicates the vase was made during the mid-1880s.  Unfortunately,  Zetland House, Wang Hing’s flagship store at 10 Queen’s Road, Hong Kong, which had only opened in February 1937, was destroyed by bombing in 1941, only days after the Japanese invasion. The explosion destroyed all their stock along with all Wang Hing’s design archive and trading records.  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIt is very likely that the vase was made to celebrate the arrival of the new British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Sir John Walsham, in Peking.  (After Parkes unexpected death in early 1885, the post was held by an interim Charge d’Affairs whilst a new permanent appointment was made).   It was offered to Robert Hart, who deliberated for four months and then turned it down, then offered to Walsham who accepted the post, taking up his appointment on 15\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003eJune 1886 in Peking.  The figural scene shows a solitary bird in the bamboo.  If the bird is a Golden Crow, this would signify the 6\u003csup\u003eth\u003c\/sup\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003emoon of the year, which tallies with the date Walsham commenced his residency.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eProvenance:-\u003c\/em\u003e  European art market\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eDimensions:-\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e Height 41cms; Width 23.5cms\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eWeight:–\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e2,300 grammes\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003eReferences\u003c\/em\u003e:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHong Kong Maritime Museum, Exhibition catalogue, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’ Edited by Libby Lai-Pik Chan and Nina Lai-Na Wan, 2017-18\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJames Z Gao, Historical Dictionary of Modern China (1800-1949)\u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003e(Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras), Scarecrow Press, Maryland USA, 2009\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003ePatricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art, A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, Singapore 2008\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003eAdrien von Ferscht, Chinese Export Silver 1785-1940 The Definitive Collectors’ Guide, 4th Edition @chinese-export-silver.com\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.amazon.co.uk\/Historical-Dictionary-1800-1949-Dictionaries-Civilizations\/dp\/0810849305\/ref=sr_1_1?s=books\u0026amp;ie=UTF8\u0026amp;qid=1540913458\u0026amp;sr=1-1\u0026amp;keywords=9780810849303\"\u003eDenise Patry Leidy, How to read Chinese Ceramics, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015\u003c\/a\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eStanley, Lane-Poole, Sir Harry Parkes in China, Methuen, London 1901\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eB E Foster Hall, Sometime Commissioner of Chinese Maritime Customs Occasional Papers: No. 5, The Chinese Maritime Customs: An International Service, 1854-1950. Re-published by order of the Chinese Maritime Customs Project, University of Bristol  \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eYoung Ick Lew, Yüan Shih-k'ai's Residency and the Korean Enlightenment Movement (1885-94), Pages 63 – 107, Journal of Korean Studies, Duke University Press, Volume 5, 1984\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eVolume 31, The Diaries of Sir Robert Hart, Sir Robert Hart Collection, Queen’s University, Belfast\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Cambridge History of China, Volume 11, Late Ch'ing, 1800–1911, Part 2, Edited by John K Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Cambridge University Press 1980\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJ O P Bland, Li Hung Chang, (From Makers of the Nineteenth Century edited by Basil Williams), Constable and Company, London 1917\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eRobert Hart and James Duncan Campbell, The I.G. in Peking, Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907, Edited by John King Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, Elizabeth MacLeod Matheson, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA USA, 1975\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Japan Center for Asian Historical Records and the British Library, A collaborative project resulting in an online exhibition “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: as seen in prints and archives”\u003c\/p\u003e"}

Antique Chinese Silver Vase, Monumental Size, Wang Hing, Canton - 1885

Product Description

This spectacular and impressive Chinese silver presentation vase stands over 40 cms tall and weighs an impressive 2.3 kilos. The ornamentation is very fine and shows a range of ornament in a variety of techniques, all exhibiting excellent craftsmanship.   There is no presentation inscription, but we believe the vase was made in the mid-1880s, probably towards the end of 1885/early 1886 and it undoubtedly celebrates the close relationship between China and Great Britain which existed at this time. The figural scene is believed to show Yuan Shikai, the Chinese Resident, arriving in Korea. Who the vase was commissioned by and to whom it was presented, or whether in fact it was ever presented, is unknown.  Nonetheless, it is an exceptional object and probably the most fascinating and intriguing piece of Chinese silver we have seen.

The fine figural scene to the lower body references current events in Korea, which loomed large on the political agenda of both nations and also that of Japan.  Increasing tensions between Japan and China over Korea eventually led to the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese war in 1894. 

This was the era of what, with the benefit of hindsight and distance, is now termed Sino-Western unequal treaties, but it is important to remember that at the time they were signed, the parties concerned perceived them differently. It was also an era of influential bi-cultural individuals like Harry Parkes and Robert Hart who spent more of their lives overseas than in Britain.  Parkes became Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Peking, the highest ranking British diplomatic post in China and Minister for Korea, dying in office in 1895.  After four months deliberation, Robert Hart turned down the opportunity of replacing him, to continue as Head of the Chinese Maritime Customs, for which he received The Imperial Order of the Double Dragon, Shuang Lung Pao Hsing from the Emperor and The Peacock Feather in 1895.  Li Hung Chang (Li Hongzhang), de facto Chinese Foreign Minister, saw much to admire in and learn from the British and other Europeans, often seeking out their company and Marquis Tseng (Zeng Jize), who was appointed minister to Britain, France and Russia in 1878, lived in Europe for seven years between 1879 and 1885.

At this time, possibly more than at any other time in history, Chinese and British interests were enmeshed and often aligned, albeit their end goals were sometimes different and there were occasions when each used their political influence to further the benefit of the other country’s political aims.  Korea, known as the ‘hidden kingdom’, was the focus of much attention and ‘opening up’ to trade. British trade negotiations with Korea were established with the help of the Chinese, culminating in the Parkes Treaty, ratified in Seoul on 28th April 1884.  In turn, Robert Hart’s intervention helped the Chinese conclude the Sino-French war with the signing of the Tientsin Treaty on 9th June 1885.

For both countries, 1885 was a year of frenzied diplomacy and the politics of this time are exceedingly complex.  In April 1885 (some sources say 31st May), the Li-Ito Convention, also known as the Convention of Tianjin/Tientsin, was signed between Li Hung Chang of China and Ito Hirobumi of Japan to halt escalating tensions between the two countries.  Japanese attempts to increase their influence over the Korean Peninsula and the Korean royal family, which had always been a suzerain of China, resulted in the Gapsin Coup erupting in Korea on 4th December 1884, which was suppressed by Chinese troops, under the leadership of Yuan Shikai, three days later.  Yuan Shikai, at that time a subordinate of Li Hung Chang, is an important historical figure. Prior to the Gapsin Coup, he was serving in Korea and in charge of three Chinese troop divisions stationed there.  Later, he became the Chinese Resident in Korea and in 1912 he became the First President of the Chinese Republic.  

On 18th July 1885, after a delay of nine years, the Chefoo Convention was ratified by the British in London with the signing of the Chefoo Agreement, now known as the Yantai Treaty.  The treaty was signed by Marquis Tseng (Zeng Jize) for China and the Marquis of Salisbury for Britain.

The shape of this vase follows the European classical revival style, embraced and popularised by English silversmiths such as Stephen Smith.  The form is modelled on ancient amphorae made in Greece around 1,000 BC.  Most elements of the repousse and chased ornamentation are in the Chinese style but the acanthus leaf borders to the top and bottom and the three large oval reserves to the body of the vase are in the European, specifically British, style. Although there are many items of Chinese silver of European form, tankards for example, with dragon handles and Chinese ornamentation, we are not aware of other pieces which have, what can best be described as bi-cultural ornamentation, which is highly unusual, if not unique.

The impressive peacock shaped handles are formed from sheet silver to the back and front with finely reticulated side panels featuring bamboo. These are wholly in the high Chinese style of the late 19th century.  A similar, single reticulated handle, featuring a leaf design, adorns the ‘Admiral’s Cup’, which bears the same maker’s mark and is dated 1882. This trophy featured on the cover of the catalogue for the Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s exhibition, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’, held earlier this year.   The peacocks,  symbols of elegance, dignity, and nobility, appear to be bowing to each other.  The design may be intended to represent Marquis Tseng and the Marquis of Salisbury or Yuan Shikai and King Gojong. It could also reference Li Hung Chang, whose popularity was at an all-time high in 1885, and had many peacock feathers showered upon him or the peacock feather awarded to Robert Hart, the first foreigner to receive this high honour; we can only speculate.

The neck of the vase is plain silver. Ornamenting the neck are four oval panels of repousse and chased ornamentation.  The panel to the front contains a pair of birds in plum blossom.  Moving clockwise, the side panel shows a pair of birds in bamboo, the panel to the back depicts a dragon amongst the clouds and the last panel depicts fish, including a carp, crab, crayfish/lobster and lotus leaves or possibly, mushrooms.

To the shoulder of the vase, to front and back, is a fine repousse border featuring two opposing dragons flying amongst the clouds in pursuit of the pearl of wisdom.  The design of this border is very similar to the iconography found on the sash and medal of the Imperial Order of the Double Dragon and may derive from it.  The order was founded by Emperor Guangxu on 7th February 1882 and, until 1908, was only awarded to foreigners for outstanding services to the Imperial throne. In 1885 it was awarded to Robert Hart, the Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs and his assistant, Duncan Campbell, based in London, for their assistance with the treaty negotiations ending the Sino-French War and service with the Customs.

The mid-section of the body of the vase has a chased ‘cracked ice’ effect background surrounding three large oval panels worked in repousse and chased techniques, depicting the plant emblems of Britain.  The panel to the front features a spray of roses, those to the back a wreath of shamrocks and a stem from the thistle plant.  The red rose is the national flower of England; the purple thistle is the national flower of Scotland and the green shamrock, the symbol of Ireland.  As in the national flag of Great Britain, the Union Jack, introduced in 1801, there is no separate representation for Wales: as the flag was designed after the invasion of Wales in 1282. It is known that Wang Hing produced other silver presentation vases with a ‘cracked ice’ ground in the 1880s, including a trophy for the Hong Kong races of 1889.

To the lowest part of the body is a continuous figural scene. It is likely that the representations in the figural scene have been inspired by contemporary printed materials which graphically illustrated important historical events of the time.  We have seen many later prints relating to events and incidents during the First Sino-Japanese War, and there are definite similarities of style. The scene is intended to be read from right to left as one turns the vase, starting at the right-hand side of the front, in the same way as porcelain.  (Close up photos showing the whole figural scene, are available on request.) 

Towering mountain peaks have been used as a device to separate the scenes and probably also to suggest that the emissary had travelled a long way and that the journey had been arduous.  Although mountainous peaks are frequently depicted in the Chinese artistic tradition, the style of these peaks has probably been influenced by the painting on the Irworobongdo, a Korean folding screen which stood behind the Korean royal throne at Gyongbok Palace during the Joseon Dynasty.  This highly stylised painting of five mountains peaks with the sun, symbolising the king, and the moon, symbolising the queen, denoted a mythical place with the enthroned King as the pivot in a balanced cosmos. The figural scenes show:-

Scene 1 - Six soldiers or officials standing nervously outside a couple of fine buildings. Two men are looking left, two are looking right and the two in the centre are holding long rifles. The men are Chinese and seem to be guarding the buildings.   Banana plants can be seen growing in the gardens of the buildings, suggesting they belong to someone of high rank, importance and status. 

Scene 2 - A Chinese envoy, dressed in the military field dress of a General, is arriving with his assistant.  The assistant holds a three-tiered umbrella over him, proclaiming his high status and signifying that he is on an Imperial Commission. We believe this Commissioner to be Yuan Shikai, arriving back in Korea to take up the position of Chinese Resident to the Korean Court.  A photograph of Yuan Shikai wearing similar dress is held by Getty Images and can be viewed here https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/yuan-shih-kai-16-09-1859-general-politiker-china1-pr-news-photo/545049741      

A low table, possibly bearing food or a warmer, lies on the ground and Yuan holds his foot up near it.  Three Koreans wait to greet the Chinese; their hats signify they are Korean.  The Koreans are bowing respectfully and the central figure holds a warm or fresh robe to offer to the Commissioner. The Korean at the rear of the welcome party holds up a banner with an emblem.  Although only part shows, this is probably the emblem of the House of Yi, the Korean Imperial Household.  Standing behind the greeting party are two Koreans bearing inscribed banners.  Roughly translated, the inscriptions say ‘We parade following the Emperor’s command.  When the Emperor commands us, we act immediately and without hesitation.  Anyone disrespecting the Emperor or his representatives will die!’ 

Scene 3 - Two high ranking Korean officials stand outside a building chatting, waiting for the Chinese visitors to arrive.  One holds a fan. Behind them are two Koreans carrying gongs which hang from rods placed over their shoulders.  They are beating the gongs.  To the other end of the rods are hanging banners with inscriptions.  These say:- ‘We are removing people from the street!  Someone from the Emperor’s Palace is coming!’

Scene 4 – The Commissioner has reached his destination and settled in, he has changed his clothes, this could be many months later. He is staying in a group of fine buildings surrounded by bamboo.  A long wall stands behind most of the buildings. The atmosphere is relaxed and congenial.  A female servant stands in the background in front of the first building, politely gesturing him onwards.  Another female, dressed in finer clothes (possibly Queen Min), gestures Yuan to take a seat in a high backed chair in front of a table.  On the opposite side of the table, seated in a similar chair, (signifying the men held similar status) is a figure we believe to be King Gojong of Korea.  His hands rest on a zither.  Playing the zither was considered to be one of the four arts of a scholar. The Chinese man holds something in his hand, likely chopsticks.  

King Gojong and his guest are sitting amongst a group of fine buildings within a walled garden or palace compound.  The wall is covered in a cracked ice design. Behind the wall, plantain/banana plants are growing, which were popular in scholar’s gardens for the sound the leaves made. A maid is approaching with a tall covered pot containing refreshment.   Nearby, on the terrace, there are other large cooking pots, probably containing food.  The style of the pots seems to be Korean.  A low table with a brazier has been placed near the visitor, to provide warmth or to receive the food.  The emissary is being treated with great courtesy and hospitality.

The ornamentation of the buildings is elaborate and very fine.  There are many bamboo plants, five trailing plants or mosses are growing on a wall; groupings of five are often auspicious.  There is a solitary bird in the bamboo, thought to be a Golden Crow.  Rocks in the garden resemble scholar’s rocks.  In Chinese symbolism, bamboo represents a wish and rocks, longevity; together they represent ‘a wish for longevity’.  A Golden Crow in bamboo represents the sixth moon of the Chinese year.

It is likely that the venue depicted is the Gyeongbok Palace complex in Seoul, possibly the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion where the Korean King often received foreign dignitaries.

Yuan Shikai was recalled to China in spring 1885 and was appointed Resident by the Chinese Emperor, at the request of Li Hung Chang and King Gojong of Korea, in October 1885. During his time in Korea, twelve years in total, Yuan took three Korean concubines: Lady Lee, Lady Kim and Lady O, with whom he fathered fourteen children.  It has been said that Li sat next to King Gojong for nine and a half years, suggesting that he was his constant companion and able to observe his every move.

This vase bears the large Wang Hing/Da Ji (Tai Kut) silver mark. Unusually for Chinese silver marks, which are normally small and applied discreetly if a little haphazardly to the underside of the base, this large mark was struck to be noticed!  It has been very carefully positioned to the exterior of the side of the foot at the centre back, allowing it to be easily seen whenever the object was displayed on a centrally placed table or podium.  In some of the early books on Chinese silver, this mark was thought to signify that the object had been made for Tiffany in New York, but this theory has now been disproved by research into the Tiffany archives carried out by Adrien von Ferscht.  He suggests that Wang Hing, who had numerous suppliers, had probably invested in the Da Ji (Tai Kut) workshop.  All silver bearing this large mark that we have been able to identify, including small objects such as a pair of salts, had either reticulated panels, applied cut silver or cut foliage fronds and we suggest that Da Ji (Tai Kut) probably specialised in this exacting and labour intensive very fine hand piercing and cutting work.  Adjacent to the large silver mark, there is a small Dutch silver mark, signifying that the fineness of the silver has been tested and found to be .835 or above but less than .925, in line with the .900 usual for Chinese silver of this era.

In the third quarter of the nineteenth century, there was a significant increase in demand for silver sporting trophies and presentation pieces in the East.  Wang Hing, a prominent retailer, targeted this lucrative market with great success.  Comparing this vase to other presentation pieces made by Wang Hing, of known date and bearing the same large silver mark, indicates the vase was made during the mid-1880s.  Unfortunately,  Zetland House, Wang Hing’s flagship store at 10 Queen’s Road, Hong Kong, which had only opened in February 1937, was destroyed by bombing in 1941, only days after the Japanese invasion. The explosion destroyed all their stock along with all Wang Hing’s design archive and trading records.  

It is very likely that the vase was made to celebrate the arrival of the new British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Sir John Walsham, in Peking.  (After Parkes unexpected death in early 1885, the post was held by an interim Charge d’Affairs whilst a new permanent appointment was made).   It was offered to Robert Hart, who deliberated for four months and then turned it down, then offered to Walsham who accepted the post, taking up his appointment on 15th June 1886 in Peking.  The figural scene shows a solitary bird in the bamboo.  If the bird is a Golden Crow, this would signify the 6th moon of the year, which tallies with the date Walsham commenced his residency.

Provenance:-  European art market

Dimensions:-  Height 41cms; Width 23.5cms

Weight:– 2,300 grammes

References:-

Hong Kong Maritime Museum, Exhibition catalogue, ‘The Silver Age, Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver’ Edited by Libby Lai-Pik Chan and Nina Lai-Na Wan, 2017-18

James Z Gao, Historical Dictionary of Modern China (1800-1949) (Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras), Scarecrow Press, Maryland USA, 2009

Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art, A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, Singapore 2008

Adrien von Ferscht, Chinese Export Silver 1785-1940 The Definitive Collectors’ Guide, 4th Edition @chinese-export-silver.com

Denise Patry Leidy, How to read Chinese Ceramics, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015

Stanley, Lane-Poole, Sir Harry Parkes in China, Methuen, London 1901

B E Foster Hall, Sometime Commissioner of Chinese Maritime Customs Occasional Papers: No. 5, The Chinese Maritime Customs: An International Service, 1854-1950. Re-published by order of the Chinese Maritime Customs Project, University of Bristol  

Young Ick Lew, Yüan Shih-k'ai's Residency and the Korean Enlightenment Movement (1885-94), Pages 63 – 107, Journal of Korean Studies, Duke University Press, Volume 5, 1984

Volume 31, The Diaries of Sir Robert Hart, Sir Robert Hart Collection, Queen’s University, Belfast

The Cambridge History of China, Volume 11, Late Ch'ing, 1800–1911, Part 2, Edited by John K Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Cambridge University Press 1980

J O P Bland, Li Hung Chang, (From Makers of the Nineteenth Century edited by Basil Williams), Constable and Company, London 1917

Robert Hart and James Duncan Campbell, The I.G. in Peking, Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907, Edited by John King Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, Elizabeth MacLeod Matheson, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA USA, 1975

The Japan Center for Asian Historical Records and the British Library, A collaborative project resulting in an online exhibition “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: as seen in prints and archives”

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