A nother great artist was Maung Myat San and a small bowl by him is contrasted on Plate VII with the work of a present day prizeman. The photograph does not do justice to the modern bowl because much of the detail is lost in glitter but after making all allowances, it cannot compare with work of the old master, which for clearness and charm of design, accuracy of workmanship and restraint, has not yet been beaten. This bowl was probably made about the year 1860.
It is interesting to compare the larger Shan betel-box cover shown in Plate VIII, which is thought to date from the eighteenth century, with the Burmese work of the same period, figures 1 and 2, Plate II. The value of plain polished dividing lines is seen in both but in the Shan work they are in higher relief, while in all other respects the Burmese work is better. The smaller Shan betel-box in Plate VIII shows a greater advance in design while that in Plate IX, which is supposed to have been made in about the year 1850, is better still. The silver pipe with an ivory stem in Plate VIII is a quaint piece of work in which the ornamentation of twisted wire and small beads is very effective; this pipe and the dagger above probably belonged to a Sawbwa or Shan Prince; lotus bud at the end of the handle of the dagger is in excellent taste.
The buckle in Plate IX is given to show how good Burmese silversmith can adapt an old design to modern needs. Shan silverwork is brought to Burma by peddlers and can be purchased without difficulty at the rate of twenty rupees for fourteen tolas weight, but it can sometimes be obtained for its own weight in rupees. In Plate X is shown a bowl made in about the year 1884 by Maung Ba, now deceased. It is a modern example of a bowl without “houses” of which the earliest known is that numbered four in Plate I. The upper scroll in this bowl is a combination of kyu and tazin ngwe foliage which is twisted over. The ornamentation of the base is composed of kalla ban set within a skeleton of lotus leaves arranged the Shan custom. The story is that of Wethandiya, one of the ten holy legends of Gaudama in a previous existence, and the prince is represented as making an offering of the white elephant of the Kingdom to the Brahmins of the Palace who, it will be noticed, wear a peculiar head dress. For this act of generosity Wethandiya is banished by his father and may be seen setting off in his chariot with his wife and two children. It would take too long to recount the further pathetic adventures of the family but the story is beautiful and is the favourite of all Burma.
The sugar basin shown in Plate XI was made by Maung Pauk Tun, since deceased, and is a good example of modern work in very high relief; the bowl in the same plate is placed in the middle of the last century and was made in Arakan, probably for a Musalman, being without figures. The borders are of Shan flower work with leaves after the Siamese fashion. This interesting piece of work was rescued from the melting pot.
The bowl shown in Plate XII is by Maung Yin Maung who has taken the first prize two years running at Handicraft Competition held in Rangoon. The figure work is very good and the foliage skilfully designed and well executed. The bowl was made in 1900 and the artist has much improved in designing since then. The scene represents King in consultation with his ministers.
In Plate XIII is given the photograph of a Swun ok made by Maung Po Thet is 1885 or thereabouts. It is in the shape of the Pagoda and is an excellent piece of work though not of the most graceful shape.
The Pagoda Trophy presented for Association football by the Burma Athletic Association is given in Plate XIV and is carefully finished though not a good model of the Sule Pagoda which it is supposed to represent. Burmans are rather fond of models of Pagodas in gold or silver.
Plate XV shows the statuette of a belu or ogre with which Maung Yin Maung of Pegu won the prize for work in the round, at Handicraft Competition of 1900. It is of brass but is made by cire perdue process by a silversmith and is remarkable for the pose and action. Burmese connoisseurs object to this belu wearing flowers in his ears, his accoutrements also are of Siamese fashion which is incorrect in a Palace ogre.
In the last plate the pupils of a silversmith are shown at work, the figures at the extreme right and left being in usual attitudes.
These notes on the silverwork of Burma have come to an end. They do not treat of the successes achieved in this new century; but deal chiefly with artists now dead and gone, the best of whom died in poverty, having advanced a few steps along the path which leads to perfection and have the admiration of the living artists, who, like them, are eager, painstaking and independent, full of the anticipation of the attainment of a higher ideal, even at a pecuniary loss.
To the leading silversmiths of Burma, Scattered through the Province, may be fitly applied the words of Tennyson: –
Men, my brothers, men the workers ever reaping something new.
That which they have done but earnest of the things they shall do.