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AN EXCEPTIONAL PAIR OF REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS
AN EXCEPTIONAL PAIR OF REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS
AN EXCEPTIONAL PAIR OF REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS
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AN EXCEPTIONAL PAIR OF REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS
14 More
VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buy… Read more
A PAIR OF CHINESE EXPORT REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS

CIRCA 1780, THE FRAMES ATTRIBUTED TO PEHR LJUNG, STOCKHOLM, CIRCA 1785

Details
A PAIR OF CHINESE EXPORT REVERSE GLASS MIRROR PAINTINGS
CIRCA 1780, THE FRAMES ATTRIBUTED TO PEHR LJUNG, STOCKHOLM, CIRCA 1785
One depicting a ceremonial scene with a high-ranking civil official and his wife receiving an audience, seated in an ornate pavilion before a pair of banners hung with an auspicious couplet, officials, musicians and servants in attendance; the other depicting a lady of high-rank, seated by a lotus pond within the sumptuous grounds of a palace, attended by elegantly dressed ladies carrying a variety of lavish objects including a teapot inset with a clock, in giltwood leaf-carved frames, handwritten labels to the reverse of both with wax seals
22 x 28 in. (55 x 73cm.)
Provenance
Collection of Joan Kroc (d.2003)
Sold Christie's, New York, 2 June 1989, lot 397 where acquired by the present owner
Special notice

VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buyer's premium
Sale room notice
The dimensions of the glass are 21 ¾ x 29 in. (55 x 74 cm.), the overall dimensions including frame are 28 ¼ x 35 ½ in (72 x 90 cm.)

Lot Essay

Both the practice of painting on glass and the flat glass itself were introduced to China in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. China had a long history of producing utensils and decorative objects in glass. The glass workshop in the Forbidden City was established in 1696, but no flat glass was produced and when it was attempted it was reported that the manufacturers ‘do not know how to do manufacture it with the proper materials’ (Breton de la Martinière, China, its costume, art etc, translated 1813). However, visiting dignitaries had brought mirrors as gifts for the Emperor, such as a Dutch mission which in 1686 presented the Emperor K’ang-Hsi with a pair of large European mirrors, the quality of which was a revelation to the Chinese.
The practice of painting on mirrors developed in China after 1715 when the Jesuit missionary Father Castiglione arrived in Peking. He found favour with the Emperors Yang Cheng and Ch’ien Lung and was entrusted with the decoration of the Imperial Garden in Peking. He learnt to paint in oil on glass, a technique that was already practiced in Europe but which was unknown in China in the 17th century. Chinese artists, who were already expert in painting and calligraphy, took up the practice, tracing the outlines of their designs on the back of the mirror plate and, using a special steel implement, scraping away the mirror backing to reveal the glass that could then be painted. Common designs included still lives, birds and groups of figures, usually depicted against backgrounds of rivers or pavilions.
Many mirrors were brought back to Europe by the companies who routinely plied their trade in the Far East, with some carried as ‘private trade’ by crew members (Graham Child, World Mirrors, London, 1990, pp. 361–386). The demand for such painting was fuelled by the mania in Europe for Chinese fashions, promoted by the likes of Sir William Chambers, whose Designs for Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils was issued in 1757, and which found expression in the homes of the fashionable cognoscenti, such as the Chinese Bedroom at Badminton House, Gloucestershire, fitted up for the 4th Duke of Beaufort by William Linnell in 1752-54.

The framing of 18th and early 19th century glass paintings is a fascinating study in itself being a conscious part of the finished product.
The frames are attributed to Pehr Ljung of Stockholm, circa 1785 and are fine examples of the Swedish technique of applying independently-carved detail, in this case laurels, to the body of the frame reflecting the neoclassical fashion prevalent in the late 18th century throughout Europe; in Sweden Pehr Ljung was one prominent craftsman working in this idiom and worked at almost all the Royal residences but particularly at the Royal Palace in Stockholm from 1792, when new decorations were being carried out for Duke Charles to the designs of Louis Masreliez (H. Groth, 'Neoclassicism in the North', London 1990, pp. 28-29). The mirrors and frames represent a fascinating juxtaposition of east and west; the Swedish East India Company was founded in Gothenburg in 1731 to exploit the demand in Europe for Chinese goods, notably tea, textiles, porcelain, wallpaper and other 'exotics'. A Royal charter stated in eighteen precise paragraphs how trade should be conducted. However by the end of the 18th century the trade had declined, no more expeditions were launched after 1804 and the company was wound-up in 1813.
The frames bear a label inscribed Wilhelm Schvirin Husby and dated 1st September 1828, with an accompanying seal impressed with a coat of arms identifying the beneficiaries of the pictures upon the signatory's death.

It is unusual to find depictions of Chinese society on reverse glass mirror paintings such as the present lot. Thierry Audric in Chinese reverse glass painting 1720-1820 An artistic meeting between China and the West, published by Peter Lang, 2020, pp.81 - 83, identifies a group of reverse glass paintings that illustrate domestic scenes of ceremonies and feasts. The auspicious couplet on the pair of banners depicted on one of the mirrors in the present lot suggests that this may be a wedding scene. The banners proclaim: “Yun zhong gu yue zhi”, and “Yue Qian kun ding yi” that may be translated as “The bell and drum play together” and “The marriage of the man and the woman has been decided”.” A fine example depicting the Emperor Jiaqing (1796 - 1820) giving an audience in snowy winter weather is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, also illustrated in M. Jourdain and R. Soame Jenyns, Chinese Export Art, Middlesex, 1967, p.107, fig.66. The large painting, measuring some 3 ft. by 6 ft., and its companion piece depicting a summer scene with court ladies, were brought back to England by the 'supercargo' or senior officer of the East India Company, Richard Hall (d.1834) who lived in China from 1785-1813. He also brought back a comparable painting on linen again showing an Imperial scene, now in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton (illustrated in Jourdain and Soame Jenyns, op. cit., p.99, fig.50.

A pair of Chinese export mirror paintings depicting seated figures was sold from the collection of the late Doris Merrill Magowan, Christie's, New York, 22 May 2002, lot 25 ($361,500 including premium), and another pair was sold from the Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, Christie's, New York, 20 March 2019, lot 820 ($250,000 including premium). A George III overmantel mirror fitted with Chinese export reverse-painted mirrors was sold anonymously, Christie's, London, 7 July 2016, lot 322 (£194,500 including premium).

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