• The Collection of Benjamin F.  auction at Christies

    Sale 2388

    The Collection of Benjamin F. Edwards III

    26 January 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 19

    A SET OF FIVE "SOUTH SEA BUBBLE" PLATES

    CIRCA 1720

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A SET OF FIVE "SOUTH SEA BUBBLE" PLATES
    CIRCA 1720
    Each showing Harlequin in verte colors on a tiled floor before a Chinese style wall, most wearing delicately patterned costume, including one with tuning forks on his pantaloons, no doubt a reference to one of the satirical sayings that often accompanied these cartoons: De Actie-mars op de tang (The march of the share values played on the tuning fork)
    8 in. (20.3 cm.) diameter (5)


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    As discussed in the footnote to lot 12, the South Sea Bubble was a rampant, widespread 1720s financial speculation that led to financial ruin and even imprisonment in both Holland and England. Spoofs of the foolish and greedy investors were published in many media, often using the popular Commedia dell'Arte Harlequin to mock investor buffoonery. One influential satirical work published in Amsterdam in 1720 was titled This great Theatre of Folly, representing the origin, progress and downfall of the South Sea Bubble in France, England and Holland. Engravings of this type eventually made their way to China, to be copied onto porcelain.

    The best-known series of export "Bubble" plates show Commedia figures in doucai enamels alongside Dutch inscriptions lampooning both swindlers and speculators. Another variant in verte enamels is seen in lot 12. This version, with its exaggerated poses of Harlequin, whose features have become almost Asian, was found in the Dreesman Collection, no. J-83, sold Christie's, Amsterdam, 16 April 2002, lot 1309 (a set of five plus one repeat). Others are illustrated by Hervouët and Bruneau (op. cit., pp. 216-217), who note that this series is more rare than the doucai, and "very rare to find in the salerooms or antique dealers'".

    Provenance

    With Cohen & Pearce, London.