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Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s F… Read more THE AUGUSTUS THE STRONG WALL PANELS

CIRCA 1720

CIRCA 1720
Painted with a continuous scene depicting courtiers listening to music behind an elaborate balustrade under canopies hung with bells and surrounded by blue and white porcelain, with printed and inscribed Ann and Gordon Getty Collection inventory label
134 in. (340.5 cm.) high, 29 3/4 in. (75.5 cm.) wide
By repute, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland (1694-1733).
The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Worch, New York.
The Collection of Mrs. Estelle Doheny, Beverly Hills, California.
The Collection of Kenny Rogers, Beverly Hills, California.
The Property of a Private Collector; Christie's, New York, 1 November 1990, lot 116.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
"The China Trade and Its Influences," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, April, 1941, Vol. 36, No. 4, p. 89 (illustrated).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The China Trade and Its Influences, 23 April - 21 September, 1941.
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, A Curious Affair: The Fascination Between East and West?, June 17 - September 3, 2006.
Special notice
Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) at 5pm on the last day of the sale. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services. Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information. This sheet is available from the Bidder Registration staff, Purchaser Payments or the Packing Desk and will be sent with your invoice.

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Lot Essay

Considered by tradition to hail from Schloss Pillnitz, one of Augustus the Strong’s most lavish palaces, this spectacular set of painted panels epitomizes the passion for Chinoiserie in the German kingdoms in the eighteenth century. Chinoiserie dates back to the seventeenth century, when European travelers brought back tales and engravings of the exotic sights they had seen in the 'Orient'. Contemporary images of Asia engraved and published by emissaries of the Dutch East Indies Company, as well as the presence of Jesuit missionaries in China, provided abundant documentation for European artists. Due to religious and economic ties, the popularity of Asian goods introduced by English and Dutch sources was particularly strong in the predominantly protestant north German cities such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Brunswick as well as the courts of Saxony and Brandenburg. In Dresden, an important source of inspiration for Chinoiserie designs were the engravings of Petrus Schenk (1660-1718), who became court-engraver to Augustus the Strong. Schenk’s work greatly influenced the decoration of Meissen porcelain as well as lacquerwork produced by Martin Schnell, official lacquer-worker of the Saxon court during the reign of Augustus the Strong. To display the immense collection of Asian porcelain and other artefacts, special interiors within palace were created, often incorporating mirror panels, Chinoiserie stuccowork, authentic Asian lacquer panels, or European japanning. Japanned furniture often accented not only these specific treasure troves of Asian goods, but also more conventional western interiors.
The Chinese figures standing behind the trompe l’oeil railings evoke the essential feature of eighteenth-century court life and etiquette of theatricality, where one is not only an observer but is being constantly observed by others. The most famous example of this concept was the L'escalier des Ambassadeurs at Versailles where those ascending the staircase were “observed” by imaginary courtiers looking down from a painted balcony. However, as the Chinese figures on this lot are mostly engaged with each other and are not depicted as an active audience, these panels were most likely used in a more intimate and less ceremonial space. The amusing anthropomorphic faces in the center of each section of railing also reinforce the idea of these panels were destined for a more informal interior. Furthermore, the leisurely activities in which the characters are engaged, such as playing music or chatting, suggests that the panels were intended for an interior with fewer courtly constraints, such as a Lustschloss; an informal residence of smaller scale built to serve the private leisure and entertainment of the ruler. Such a building, and of suitably grand scale, was Schloss Pillnitz, which was constructed in the early 1720s according to the plans of Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann (1662-1736) as a summer residence for Augustus the Strong. The complex was built for the King to retire from his courts in Dresden and at Moritzburg and spend his time gambling, entertaining, and throwing masquerades. It has been suggested that these panels were removed from either the Wasser- or the Bergpalais at Schloss Pillnitz. Both buildings are prime examples of Far Eastern, or Indianische, influenced secular architecture that was an amalgam of various non-western styles, including Turkish, Chinese, Persian, and Japanese. Thus, it is possible that this lot adorned one of these palaces, or even the Chinese pavilion in the garden. In fact, the 1734 inventory lists “laquirten Tapeten” wall hangings or paneling in the Wasserpalais, among which some are described as “rot und bunt mit Japanischen Figuren.” These specific panels were removed in 1799 as they were considered too damaged, and were replaced by wall paintings a year later, see G. Haase, “The Eighteenth-Century Interior Decorations of the Pillnitz Wasser- and Bergpalais,” Furniture History, Vol. 21, 1985, p. 93. As the Getty panels do not show earlier signs of excessive damage, it is highly unlikely that these panels are the ones listed in the above inventory. As for the interiors of the Bergpalais section of the complex, they were not decorated with painted or japanned panels but were instead hung with taffeta, which was removed throughout in the late 1770s.
The exact type of room, from which the present panels were removed, is not known. It could have been a museum-like space designed to exhibit a collection of Asian works of art, but it is more likely that they were used as decoration for an interior designated for every-day activities and entertainment. The size of the panels, the trompe l’oeil railings, windows and gilt white decoration suggest that these panels might have been incorporated into an interior with similar architectural features. The rhythm at which the panels follow one another with windows and various lacquered panels alternating in a specific order suggests that these panels may have been installed in a gallery, possibly mirroring actual windows and japanned or lacquer panels on the opposite side. Regardless the type of interior or intended use of the panels, their painter or painters must have had hands-on opportunity inspecting, studying and copying Asian textiles. Whereas the porcelain pieces included on these panels are painted somewhat generically, the robes of the Chinese figures are depicted with foremost accuracy and in great detail. This suggests that these panels were commissioned by an extremely wealthy patron who could provide his craftsmen access to such rare and luxurious Asian goods. And while the porcelain vessels at the top of the panel are depicted without much precision, the figures and some of the decorative elements echo the painted decoration of contemporaneous Meissen porcelain; the figures are similar to those in the Schulz-Codex, the famous template book used by painters at Meissen, and the gilt strapwork border is closely related to Laub- und Bandelwerk patterns used as edging on Meissen porcelain during the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
Edgar Worch was born in Kassel, Germany. His uncle had already been a prominent dealer in Chinese art in Paris, where he resided until the outbreak of World War I, when all of his property was confiscated by the French. Edgar Worch subsequently moved to Germany, and following the end of the war, set up his own business in Chinese art in Berlin and soon became one of the world's leading dealers and connoisseurs in this field. He had already made several trips to China, Japan and the United States, where he met many of the world's leading collectors, museum directors and curators. Important works of Chinese art which he sold soon found their way into the foremost museums and private collections in both Europe and the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Musée Guimet, Paris, and the collections of Charles L. Freer, Mrs. Eugene Meyer and John D. Rockefeller III, to mention but a few.
Probably the most well-known bibliophiles of the twentieth century, Edward and Estelle Doheny were also consummate collectors. An oil tycoon known for drilling the first successful oil well in Los Angeles, Edward Laurence Doheny (1856-1935) made his wealth developing the Pan American Petrolium & Transport Company that had operations in California, Mexico and Venezuela. When he died in 1935, he left his wife Estelle (1875-1958) a considerable fortune. She extended his philanthropic activities and especially made seminaries, hospitals and other Catholic charities the beneficiaries of her generosity. In recognition of her work, Pope Pius XII created her countess in 1939, the first such papal title granted in Southern California. The late 1940s saw the zenith of countess Doheny’s incunable book collecting, when she acquired some of the most important volumes in history, such as the Gosford-Toovey-Amherst-Dyson Perrins copy of volume I of the Gutenberg Bible. Her famed collection of important books and manuscripts was sold in two dedicated sales in these rooms: the first auction taking place 22 October 1987, the second 17 December 2001.

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