Important lost works from the Chinese Imperial collection rediscovered and up for...

Important lost works from the Chinese Imperial collection rediscovered and up for auction

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Chiswick Auctions is offering six of the most important Chinese paintings ever to come on to the market. From the Imperial collection, the paintings were believed to be lost until now, when they were identified by Lazarus Halstead, Head of Asian Art at Chiswick Auctions, as the original works.

The set of six ‘chicken’ paintings were in the private collection of the most powerful Chinese Emperor to ever have lived. The Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) was the fourth Emperor of the Qing dynasty and the second Qing emperor to rule over China. His reign spanned 61 years, making him the longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history and one of the longest-reigning rulers in the world.

The Emperor commissioned the esteemed court artist Jiang Tingxi (1669–1732), to create the works, which were missing from the Imperial Collection, until now.

Speaking about the discovery, Asian art specialist Lazarus Halstead, said: “This is a really exciting discovery and a true treasure, which transports the viewer one step closer to the Kangxi emperor himself, who together with his grandson, the Qianlong emperor, held these works in the highest esteem.”

The Emperor’s interest spanned mathematics, sciences, astronomy, music, geometry, physics, botany and zoology, as well as art in China and the West. It is this, combined interest in science and art that led him to commission a Compendium of Birds from the leading court artist, depicting 360 different species, including the six chicken paintings in the upcoming sale.

The chicken is considered a symbol of fidelity and punctuality in Chinese culture and is one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals. The chickens depicted in this set are therefore painted as part of an encyclopaedic natural history project, rather than for purely decorative purposes, making the paintings historically important and completely unique.

The project was considered so important at the time that Kangxi’s grandson, the Qianlong Emperor, commissioned a detailed copy of the album to be made, by the Imperial Court artists Zhang Weibang (張維邦, 1725 – 1775) and Yu Sheng (余省, 1692 – 1767). This later version is considered one of the great treasures of the Palace Museum in Beijing and the complete album was lavishly reproduced in hardback and published as ‘Classics of the Forbidden City: Catalog of Birds Collected in the Qing Palace’ in 2014.

The original Jiang Tingxi set had been missing from the Imperial Collection, with its whereabouts unknown, until now. A careful comparison of the present versions with those in the Palace collection reveals that the Palace copies are derivative and the current works are vastly superior in quality, brushwork and details.

Only a limited number of album leaves from the original set have ever come on to the market and a set of six works is exceptionally rare. Another album by the Imperial artist Jiang Tingxi (1669 – 1732) sold for 173 million RMB ($25 million USD) in 2016, to legendary collector Liu Yiqian and has since been exhibited at the Long Museum in Shanghai. The works were formerly in the collection of Charles Blair, a tea planter in Ceylon.

They are estimated to fetch £20,000 – £30,000 when they are offered in the Fine Chinese Paintings sale at Chiswick Auctions Asian Art sale on November 11, 2019.

Lot 20. Jiang Tingxi (1669 – 1732), Chickens, ink and colour on silk, six album leaves framed. 40 x 41cm.
Provenance: from the collection of Charles Blair (1856-after 1943), tea planter in Ceylon. Estimate: £20,000 – 30,000

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