BLOG POSTS

January 22, 2021

Is My Chinese Pottery Horse Authentic?

HOW TO EXAMINE A CHINESE TANG DYNASTY POTTERY HORSE

 

Ceramic objects differ by the type of clay and the firing temperature. This guide is for low-fired, earthenware models made from the Han through Tang Dynasty in China, roughly the early 2nd Century BC through around 900 AD.Models made of horses, people, and other forms were intended to accompany the deceased into the next world and were not intended to be regularly handled nor have any other utilitarian use. Professionals in the museum and art business look for these  clues to determine condition and authenticity based on the history of the pieces as well as years of examining these types of wares. 

 

Large Chinese Pottery Prancing Horse, Sichuan Provence, Han Dynasty
Large Chinese Pottery Prancing Horse, Sichuan Provence, Han Dynasty, available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021

HISTORY OF CHINESE TOMB POTTERY

 Chinese tomb pottery models were made over many thousands of years and models of horses were primarily created during the Han through the Tang dynasty. These models come in a variety of styles and sizes. The largest were from the Sichuan region and can be glazed or unglazed and the finest examples usually are in a Sancai glaze (three color) that usually is in tones described as chestnut, straw, or green. More unusual are those with blue. These glazes were lead-based and have a very fine crackled appearance under a loupe.

Chinese Sancai Glazed Figure of a Horse, Tang Dynasty
Chinese Sancai Glazed Figure of a Horse, Tang Dynasty, Sold on iGavel Auctions for $16,888

 

Painted pottery horses were modeled in clay, usually in molds which were then painted after removal from the kiln. Some of these models were covered with a cream to white colored ‘slip’ which is a finer clay surface that provides a more finished appearance for the horse and highlights the painted pigments. 

Many horses were equipped in the tomb with fabric, horsehair, or other materials to augment the pottery model. These organic materials rarely survive and are almost always missing. Han horses often have large ceramic bodies with separately modeled heads, tails, and legs made of clay or wood, which if wood, are usually missing due to rot.  

 

Large Chinese Pottery Walking Horse, Sichuan Province, Han Dynasty
Large Chinese Pottery Walking Horse, Sichuan Province, Han Dynasty, Available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021

Horses have heavy clay bodies with slender legs that either are free standing or attached to a rectangular base. If glazed, the glaze will help stabilize the pottery because it provides a protective surface over the ow-fired clay model, repelling moisture. If painted, moisture will wear away the painted decorative elements and even the clay slip. When viewing a pottery horse, do so with an appreciation of the condition of the tomb. 

Buried underground, tombs were supported with wood beams and clay-tiled roofs and walls. Over time oxidation could cause heat buildup and fires that would burn through the wood supports. Water seepage would also cause instability to the underground structure. When the structure collapsed or partially collapsed, the fragile pottery objects in the tomb would not withstand contact with a hard surface but would survive a gradual seepage of wet or moist soil slowly entering in and around the objects.    

DAMAGE TO TOMB POTTERY

 Damage also occurred during the removal of the items from the tomb. Some items came from direct excavations where the earth was removed, and the objects slowly revealed. Others were deep underground and tunnels dug down into the tomb, which in many instances still remained intact. The narrow ‘well’ dug to the tomb would usually be in a small dimension and large pottery objects might have to be purposely and carefully cut to remove in sections. Damages from natural patterns of contact with water and burial are different from those broken out of the tomb which could be purposeful or by accident. In both cases, most tomb pottery models were restored or repaired, and the surface sometimes has a fine random series of minute dark particle pigments that the restorer airbrushed over the damaged areas. 

Typical areas of damage are the neck, which is often broken through at the base, the legs usually at the lower part of the leg, ears, and sometimes through the main body. Occasionally elements were missing and in the mix of broken parts in the tomb these were gathered together and then pieced onto the damaged horse. Sometimes these augmentations are very obvious because the proportions are odd. Other times the replacements are not clear, and these can be very difficult to discern from a broken and repaired area using the original material.

Broken and damaged pottery horses are not unusual and most earlyChinese pottery figures are damaged and repaired or restored. The degree of damage is what is important and the location of the damage. Damage in a prominent and very noticeable location is detrimental to the appeal of the object because it changes the way the object is viewed. Damage in areas that are easily concealed is less problematic.

TL Report for Large Chinese Pottery Prancing Horse, Sichuan Provence, Han Dynasty
Thermoluminescent report from Oxford Authentication in England indicating the scientific testing results from clay samples of a Sichuan Province Han horse, iGavel Auctions

DATING TOMB POTTERY

One of the ways that dating is confirmed is through a thermoluminescent test or TL test, and the premier testing organization for art and antiques is Oxford Laboratories in England. Small samples are drilled into the clay body in several locations to verify that that the overall figure is of the same date and origin. Samples are then sent to England, tested and a report issued for the tested object. 

Detail showing the side of a large Sichuan Han dynasty pottery horse showing the remnants of the white clay slip that once covered the body, note the reddish brown clay body and the circular discolored area on the rump which may be pitting that was filled-in with a slightly different colored clay, this will likely appear as a different color under a black light

A separate pottery tail often found on Sichuan Han dynasty pottery horses, note that the color of the clay is gray, typical of this particular type of horse

Detail of a pottery horse foreleg showing showing a slight discoloration of the material used to cover the break at the upper leg and above the knee and immediately below the knee, a break of the leg in the background is also visible beneath the knee, these will appear as a different color under a black light

Detail of nose of horse showing finely crackled lead glaze and straw and chestnut colors common on Tang ceramic pottery models

Underside of base showing repaired breaks, visible by slightly different tone of clay
January 22, 2021

Lokapala, The Heavenly Tomb Protectors

Chinese tomb pottery includes figural and other objects that were made to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Among the most striking of these figures are Lokapala, protectors of the Buddhistic religion, guardians of the four directions.

Pair of Chinese Painted Pottery Lokapala, Tang Dynasty
Pair of Chinese Painted Pottery Lokapala, Tang Dynasty, Available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021


Among the most striking of these figural models are those in clay made during the Tang Dynasty in China (618-906 ad) for inclusion in tombs. These figures have a variety of different poses, modeling, painted or glazed surfaces and other features based on their regional location and the individual workshops that supplied the figures for the funerary event.

Lokapala Guardian King, one of a pair, late 7th-early 8th century
Lokapala Guardian King, one of a pair, late 7th-early 8th century, Minneapolis Institute of Art


Usually the figures appear in a confident, militant stance standing on rock work or animals and wearing armor, with grimacing expressions. They project power and control. The models come in a variety of sizes and many were unglazed and painted and sometimes heightened with gilding.

Part of a group of 'sancai' tomb figures comprising two earth spirits, two 'lokopala' and two civil officials. Figure of a 'lokapala' (Buddhist guardian), standing on a bull. Made of green, brown glazed earthenware, Tang Dynasty, The British Museum



Those without a glaze often have very little painted decorative elements remaining because of degradation from burial with accompanying water damage. Figures with a protective surface, called a glaze are usually better preserved and the glazes often incorporate three colors, called sancai.

Read more about the Tang Dynasty here.

The immense wealth of the ruling and merchant classes of Tang society enabled vast expenditures for tombs and burial ceremonies and with the ending of the Tang Dynasty the models became much less elaborate. Indications of age include the finely crackled glaze surfaces resulting from the cooling of the lead-based glazes over the pottery body, burial dirt adhesion, and loss of painted details from water and burial.


Read Chinese Ceramics in the Late Tang Dynasty by Regina Krahl here.


The pigments used to paint are a type of tempera and were not intended to be touched and are easily damaged. Care must be taken in handling the painted pottery lokapala and the flame-like projections, swirled heavenly scarves, horns, and other features are often fragile and easily broken. Repairs of breaks are not difficult but require a skilled and practiced restorer who has worked with similar archaeological material. Generally, damaged elements are common on these pottery figures and as long as the majority of the model is intact, the value of the figure will usually be maintained. When large areas are missing and those elements must be reconstructed from new material, then the value will be less than compared to a more complete version.

January 20, 2021

Secrets of Versaille

Image: The Hall of Mirrors, courtesy of Cháteau de Versailles
Image: The Hall of Mirrors, courtesy of Cháteau de Versailles

The interior scenes filmed during the BBC series 'Versailles' included architectural period details, vases, paintings, and furniture. Some of these were not authentic and reappear in different parts of the palace when the prop manager needed a dash of color or a particular shape, but others were authentic antiques that roughly approximated the style of the items that would have been in the royal palace during the late 17th and early 18th century.

The production designer of the BBC production Katia Wyszkop described work for the series in an interview with Architectural Digest in 2016. Click here to view the article > https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/go-inside-the-set-design-of-versailles

Many locations were used in the filming and some did incorporate authentic antiques but most of the room settings were imagined by Katia Wyszkop. Among the noticeable images are the large tapestries and opulent gilded furniture and the stunning scenes filmed in the Hall of Mirrors, so called for the many mirrors and other reflective surfaces in the room and tall windows designed to magnify and reflect light.

We don’t think about the importance of light in today’s electrified world. We flip a switch and the lights come on regardless of the time. But in the pre-industrial age furniture was gilded and inlaid in bright colors, becoming canvases for creative artisans as a way to magnify limited light which was especially limited outside of Versailles public rooms. Thousands of members of the court lived in Versailles and many apartments were crowded, cold, dirty, and except for the very few nobles who ranked high enough to enjoy a suite of rooms, unpleasant.


Pair Louis XVI Tulipwood Marquetry and Puddingstone
Marble Corner Cabinets, P. Roussel, 18th C, available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021

In these small rooms furniture had to be practical.  Walls typically held doorways or windows or fireplaces and there were no closets. Furniture served as storage and as surfaces for holding objects, often candlesticks.

A space-saving form that was particularly well-suited to a small room is the encoignure, a curved front triangular cabinet often with a marble top, that fit into the corner of a room. The marble top protected against fire hazards from dripping candles and wet surfaces that might damage the wood or cabinet contents. This type certainly would have been in the royal palace or in similar residences throughout France.


Pair Louis XVI Tulipwood Marquetry and Puddingstone
Marble Corner Cabinets, P. Roussel, 18th C, available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021

Most encoignure are small with a single rounded door that opens to an interior with shelves. With storage and a protective marble top, the encoignure was an efficient form located in a room without much space to spare.  The cabinetmaker Pierre Roussel created this pair of encoignure, which like his other furniture uses colorful stained woods depicting landscape and other scenes. The inlaid wood surface must have been a welcome respite to the lack of scenery for most of the rooms in Versailles. Many apartments were described as being ‘closets’ with no windows, no heat, and low ceilings, particularly those located in the upper attic rooms.

Fanciful classical buildings decorate this pair of encoignure by Roussel and the corners of the rounded front are embellished with ormolu mounts simulating fabric swags and oak garlands. The gilding reflected the limited light in the room just enough so the occupant would have been able to avoid bumping into the furniture in the dim light.

Pair Louis XVI Tulipwood Marquetry and Puddingstone
Marble Corner Cabinets, P. Roussel, 18th C, available on iGavel Auctions until January 26, 2021



While most of the colors on this pair of cabinets have faded, the green sky and other elements remain as vestiges of bright stains of reds, golds, yellows, blues and other colors. Sunlight fades these colors and it is likely that once the cabinets were removed from their original location, both artificial and natural light began the process of lightening the colors that were the most transitory. The primary carcass material of these encoignure is oak, a strong, durable wood that would sustain years of regular door openings and closing and bear the weight of the marble top. The exotic woods came from French colonial centers in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Cabinetmakers in France went through a rigorous process to become a maitre ebeniste, a master cabinetmaker, and Pierre Roussel, the maker of these cabinets achieved his maitre ebeniste in 1745. Little is known about Roussel who was described in 1769 in the ALmanach du gray Merite as one of the most significant cabinetmakers in Paris. Much of his work was for the German market and incorporated elaborate inlays of exotic woods. Roussel died in 1783 and the firm continued under his two sons.

Though this pair of Encoignure cannot be connected to Versailles, this type certainly would have been in the royal palace or in similar residences throughout France. One of the last owners was the noted Cleveland philanthropist, Elisabeth Severance Prentiss, who gave this pair of Encoignure to the Cleveland Museum.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Severance_Prentiss

January 19, 2021

The Perfect Piano – Steinway's Model B

Steinway & Sons started producing Model B pianos in the 1870s with 85 keys, or seven octaves.  It was not until 1891 that the 88 key, 7 1/3 octave, Model B grand was introduced (1) - purportedly by Henry Ziegler, son of Doretta Steinway Ziegler, granddaughter of the Steinway founder. (2)

Today, this particular model grand piano has been touted as“The Perfect Piano” for two reasons – size and sound.  But, another quality less often mentioned in the Model B is style.

Looking at other models, S, M, O, and L all come in under six feet in length, and the model A is just over, at six feet four and one-half inches maximum. Model C then jumps to over seven feet in length and Model Dover eight.

The Model B Grand, measuring at six feet ten or eleven inches, as demonstrated by this example, is a direct predecessor of Steinway’s “Monitor Grand.” The “Monitor Grand” is slightly smaller at around six feet eight inches and is defined by its distinctive case.

While large enough to produce a decent sound, the Model B Grand fits in the parlor room of your flat, and still allows space for guests to sit, drink, and listen.

The Front Parlor, a 1909 painting by Walter Gay via Wikimedia Commons

Size, in turn, directly informs sound. When a key is pressed, the strings are hammered from below, and the vibrations sent through the soundboard and into the air. The soundboard, and truly the whole piano, will vibrate to produce music. While the large Model C and D Steinways are seen in concert halls, with massive soundboards made to project though the entire audience, the Model B is large enough to bring that concert sound into the comfort of your home.

This particular example illustrates that dual functionality perfectly.

iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano

The serial number, 150252, indicates that this piano was made in 1911.  According to “Steinway& Sons” by R.K. Lieberman, “Steinway & Sons sold more than six thousand pianos in 1911, more than twice the number it sold twelve years earlier”. (2)

The Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century saw jazz and ragtime truly flourish and become internationally popular musical forms. Composers like Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin led the way with scores that are still popular today. The piano made its way from Hollywood to Broadway to the homes of wealthy Americans who hosted elaborate parties with in- house entertainment.

The piano became more than just a musical instrument. It was an integral component of the upper and upper middle class home and needed to match decor.  

iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano
iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano

This elaborate Jacobean/Tutor case is carved with cherubs, acanthus leaves, fish scales, and double Ionic column supports, an echo of classical architecture. It was intended to match the other pieces one might have in the room.

The Model B is the perfect piano for the professional performer, the at home teacher, the practicing student, even the in vogue socialite. It is large enough to produce that rich tone that fills a space, while small enough to not physically fill the room itself. This piano brought the concert home, provided entertainment for high class parties, and completed the “look” of an early 20th century parlor. Today, this iconic brand and their beautiful pianos command the same respect as they did 100 years ago.

Bibliography/References
1. Chupp, Dennis. Quick Facts about the SteinwayModel B: Infographic - Chupp's Pianos. (2018, June 15). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.chuppspianos.com/quick-facts-about-the-steinway-model-b-grand-piano-infographic/#:~:text=Foundedby Henry E.,-foot' Steinway Model B. 
2. Lieberman, R. K. (1997). Steinway and Sons. United Kingdom: Yale University Press.
3. Kehl, R. F., Kirkland, D. R. (2011). TheOfficial Guide to Steinway Pianos. United States: Amadeus Press.

January 15, 2021

Is My Jade Carving Real? A Brief Introduction to Identifying Jade

10 Steps to help determine if your jade is authentic

1. Examine the shape to see if it matches known examples in museums. Most museums have open databases to do research such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
2. Look for evidence of age such as small chips, scratches around the foot and areas where the object might have come into contact with a hard surface, and possibly burial dirt or other materials adhering to the surface if it is an ancient jade object.
3. See if there is a label or tag or bill of sale attached to the item that shows if a knowledgeable person or reputable company sold it, and if so, how they identified it.
4. Check with databases of companies that sell jade items to see if a similar item has come up for sale, free options are Sothebys.comChristies.comBonhams.com, and iGavelauctions.com.
5. See if the stone can be scratched by steel. True jade is extremely hard and will not scratch with a pointed metal tip.
6. Glass has bubbles captured in the ‘metal’ as it cools, look with a magnifying glass for bubbles and soft edges of designs.
7. Jade is cool to the touch and takes a longer time to warm up than glass.
8. If there is a chip, it will be ’scalloped shaped’.
9. Many old jade objects have accession numbers showing that they were once part of a Museum collection, these are usually painted numbers on the underside.
10. Check the size. Very large sized items are usually modern and most often will have multiple pieces glued together. Look for joined segments.

HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?

For additional or item-specific questions, reach out to us and be connected with one of our specialists.
+1 (212) 289-5588 or office@igavelauctions.com

More about Jade

 

Chinese artisans have used jade for thousands of years for ritual objects and works of art. The earliest jade carvings were made for inclusion in burial sites to accompany the deceased to the next world. 
 
Chinese Small Archaic Style Jade Cong, 20th Century, Sold for $37,500 on iGavelAuctions.com
Ceremonial Blade, 2nd millennium B.C., On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 207
Belt hook, 4th–3rd century B.C., On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 207
 
Over time, the use of jade expanded beyond ritual burial purposes to embellishing bronze vessels, weapons, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and other works of art. 
The association of Jade with restorative and protective properties, the beautiful range of colors, and scarcity made objects of jade desirable. Jade is a very hard stone, registering between 6-7 on the Mohs hardness scale so it can only be carved by abrasion. In pre-industrial times foot treadles powered a spinning cutting edge with sand affixed by sticky substance.
China has relatively few supplies of jade so jade and other hard stones were imported from foreign sources.  Prior to the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911) jade was scarce. In the Qing Dynasty China expanded their borders in the North West and South West, opening up trade along the ‘Silk Trade Route’ that gave access to supplies of jade and other hard stones. 

Trade Routes between Europe and Asia during Antiquity

During the Qing Dynasty jade and hard stone carving reached its zenith in China, with imperial patronage making works of art made from jade popular among the aristocracy and wealthy merchant class.  Centers of jade carving flourished in China during the Qing Dynasty in Guangdong province and also in the capital city, Beijing. 

Chinese Zitan, Hardstone, Gilt-Bronze, Silver,
Other Materials Miniature Mountain 19th C, Sold for $258,000 on iGavelAuctions.com

With the popularity of jade, there were many imitations. Glass was introduced into China over the Silk Trade Route from the Middle East during the3rd -5th centuries BC and glass objects were made in imitation of the same forms in jade.

A Glass Cicada, Han Dynasty, Sold for 56,250 HKD on Sothebys.com

Though beautiful, ancient burial jades have a limited appeal to a relatively small group of scholars and dedicated collectors who are knowledgeable about their subject and purchase examples through auction and from specialized galleries. 
Most glass copies of jade vessels are modern and are loosely based on Qing Dynasty designs.  Many of these fakes are white and transparent, providing few clues to determine the material. 

Chinese Glass Simulated Jade Vase and Cover, iGavelAuctions.com

Jade has a tightly interlocking fibrous crystalline structure which chips in a conchoidal  shape (scallop-shape).

Chinese Celadon Jade Finger Citron Box, 18th c., Sold on iGavelAuctions.com

Molded glass objects based on Qing originals are differentiated from jade by the rough edges of the molded elements that lack crisp details and may have a ‘frosted’ or ‘sugary’ appearance. 

Chinese Glass Simulated Jade Wine Pot and Cover, iGavelAuctions.com

There is a greater demand for jade-like stone carvings based on Qing prototypes because the original works are scarce and realizing higher and higher prices at auction. Qing jade vessels are usually based upon ancient bronze vessels, and other popular subjects are figures, plants and animals, landscapes and natural formations.  
 
Chinese Pale Celadon Jade Guanyin on Green Jade Base, 20th Century, Sold for $198,000 on iGavelAuctions.com
Chinese Dark Green Jade Covered Censer, 18th Century, Sold for $150,000 on iGavelAuctions.com
Chinese Yellow and Russet Jade Hanging Vase and Cover, 20th c., Sold for $131,000 on iGavelAuctions.com
Small Chinese Yellow Jade Vessel with Carved Ivory
Stand, Vessel: 17th/18th Century, Sold for $36,000 on iGavelAuctions.com

Most modern carvings originate from workshops in Asia, primarily in the People’s Republic of China and often these objects are in forms that are obviously new.

 
Chinese White Hardstone Censer, Sold for $1000 on iGavelAuctions.com

Fine quality copies based on early Qing designs almost always are carved from actual jade material, because the costs involved in the production is not the material, but the workmanship. These copies can be difficult to identify and in general are often extremely well-designed and carved. When considering a purchase of a jade carving, it is important to know the provenance, to see if associated items such as storage boxes or stands are original to the object and have age, and that the object is in a form and style of carving that favorably compares to other similar examples. It is also important to work with a knowledgeable and trusted expert.
Stones similar to jade are used for modern carvings that are usually inferior or have some sort of labor-saving aspect to the carving, typically a repetitive pierced latticework design or elements that are glued together to create a larger object from smaller pieces.  One of the most common stones used to imitate jade is onyx which is as hard as jade and to the novice collector may appear very similar.  White onyx and other stones that imitate jade usually have odd inclusions or cloudy areas in the material and if glass, will have bubbles that are visible with a loupe.  In general, objects made of stones that imitate jade are modern, mostly created inAsian workshops roughly from 2000 up to the present. There are many sources to learn about jade and one of the most comprehensive books was edited by Roger Keverne, titled Jade. 
 
Jade: With over 600 photographs of jades from every continent, Keverne, Roger, available on abebooks.com

Auction catalogs from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams are an excellent source of information as are exhibition catalogs. And the best sources for viewing are museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum inNew York and other regional museums and periodic auction sale exhibitions held during Asia Week New York each March. Asia Week provides a unique opportunity to see jade carvings offered by the top international experts and meet specialists and other collectors. 
http://www.asiaweekny.com