The Taste of First Class Collectors - Xu Hanqing
There are three qualities that characterize a first-class collector: a discerning eye, the wherewithal to collect and decisiveness. Among these three abilities, a keen eye is the most essential and indispensable. There have been many collectors who had both financial power and were resolute; however their collections were sometimes of varied quality. Therefore, a good eye is the basic and most important quality for a first-class art collector. Certainly many collectors were able to acquire rarities through the advice of others; but owning works of art is only the first part of being a true collector. It is also important to know and understand the objects, to study them, and finally to deeply enjoy and appreciate them. This is what makes an exceptional art collector.
There are three classes of collectors: the top-tier collectors "know the hows and whys" of their collection. They know what makes their collection good, and they know the history, background, and stories behind their art works. Collectors in the second tier "know how, but don't know why." They understand that their collections are good, but they might not know the details about what makes them good, and they do not conduct further study of their collection. Third-tier collectors "don't know how, and don't know why". They collect because other people collect and do not have a clear understanding of their works.?
The collector who formed the collection offered here for sale is of the top-grade, according to the above criteria. Based on the research he conducted, one knows that he not only had a deep and comprehensive knowledge of the art works, but he also had his own special opinions about them. For example:
Comments on Jiang Chunbo's Turtle (lot 901): "The turtle carved by Jiang Chunbo is vividly rendered as if it is coming alive, and it is particularly good that it bears his signature.Chunbo lived in the Ming dynasty and was very close to Liuru, Zhishan, the Wen Family father and son pair of Zhengming and Peng . He was a famous sculptor, see Zhuo quan zhi "
Comments on Jiang Qianli's Gold and Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Boxes (lot 919): "These are two gold and mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes made by Jiang Qianli. The artistry of Jiang was already on record by the early Qing, and was repeatedly praised. Only after I obtained these boxes was I able to experience the exquisite essence of Chinese art, which cannot even be dreamed of by people today."
The two examples mentioned above are to the point and valuable, representing the copious research and inscriptions found in this collection. This catalogue includes paintings and works of art, and a few highlights are listed as follows.
Works of Art
Bronze: Sword of Duke Chu (lot 877), Wan Ren crossbow (lot 881)
Porcelain: An iron-red, yellow and turquoise-decorated blue and white dish made for the appreciation of Tang Ying (lot 939)
Jade: jade bead from the Three Dynasties (lot 876) , yellow jade hen (lot 922), jade carving of a melon (933), jade openwork circular ornament (lot 884) signed Jiang Gui;
Seals: Seals signed He Zhen (lot 889), Ding Jing (lot 892), etc.
Seal Stone: Tianhuang (lots 893 and 932), chicken blood (lots 920, 926 and 930) and other seal stones
Scholar's objects: Jiang Qianli Gold and Mother of Pearl Inlaid Boxes (lot 919), carved bamboo scholar's objects carved and used by Tang Yin (lot 905), with seals of Zhu Zhizheng and Zheng Banqiao (lot 911), etc.
Paintings and Calligraphy
The calligraphy handscroll by Zhu Xi of the Southern Song dynasty (lot 817) is written in large characters. The calligraphy was written "in memory of my brothers and friends on a gloomy day in a dry autumn" and includes colophons by Yu Zhuo, Ye Heng, and Cheng Yangquan of the Yuan dynasty. This calligraphy was at one point in the collection of one of Zhu Xi's students, Ye Weidao, whose seventh-generation descendant Ye Gonghui also wrote a colophon and described how the handscroll was passed down in his family through the generations.
Wang Meng (Yuan dynasty): Painting of Tan House (lot 820)
The Qianlong Emperor commissioned a set of the Chunhua Ge Tie rubbings (lot 824). In the thirty-fourth year of his reign, Qianlong employed specially elected artisans to re-ingrave the Chunhua Ge Tie, a work of the Song Dynasty. The stelae were stored in a specially built pavill ion called the Chunhua Xuan and were later destroyed. This special set of rubbings from the original carved stones was made using the best peachwood paper and Qianlong-period ink. The books were formerly housed in the Jingji Shanzhuang (Peace Villa) in the Forbidden City and still retain their original zitan boxes and packaging.
o introduce the man responsible for this collection, Xu Fubing, artistic name Hanqing, was born in 1882, to a family originating in Yancheng, Jiangsu province and died in the 1961. In 1899, at the early age of seventeen, he was appointed as chief of the Department of Justice. In 1912 he was appointed as the director of the Nanjing Mint by the Ministry of Finance of the interim Nanjing government. In 1917, he was named the head of the Bank of China, Nanjing Branch, and later became general manager of Continental Bank in 1933. Xu's lifetime collection covers a broad spectrum of bronze, jade, calligraphy, porcelain, scholar's articles, and miscellaneous items. He was also an expert in textual research, inscriptions and was an outstanding collector among his peers.
The sale of his collection is a great opportunity that any collector with insight and vision should not miss.
April 2011, New York City
Xu Hanqing: the Scholar-Collector
Xu Hanqing, originally named Fubing and a native of Yancheng in Jiangsu, was born in Shandong province in 1882. Xu was an official in the Ministry of Justice and the Inspection Committee of the Qing Central Bank's Jinan Branch in the last years of the Qing dynasty. After the establishment of the Republic of China, he served as Deputy Director of Bank of China's Nanjing Branch and participated in founding the Continental Bank. He became Director of the Shanghai Association of Banks after the Sino-Japanese War, and achieved great success in finance, textile manufacturing, warehouse trade and various other sectors. He was not only a successful national banker of great means, but also a renowned collector in early 20th-century China. His collection is particularly rich in Chinese paintings, rubbings of Chinese calligraphy, coins and currency, many of which have been passed down through generations.
At the turn of the 19th century, the cultural history of China saw five great discoveries, namely the oracle bones from the Shang dynasty capital, bamboo slips from Xinjiang, manuscripts from Dunhuang, documents from the Imperial Qing Archives and original historical records of ethnic minorities. These discoveries have not only changed the course of modern Chinese culture, but also promoted enthusiasm in collecting antiquities and in particular the development of connoisseurship. Collectors of the late Qing period comprised mainly scholar-officials belonging to the literati class. Origin and provenance were decisive factors in making an acquisition. Authenticity was often established through such methodologies as studying inscriptions or seal marks. Discriminating tastes, combined with expert knowledge, gave this artistic pursuit a higher definition and a literati flavor greatly enjoyed by high scholars.
Recently I came across a group of objects acquired by Xu Hanqing. Apart from paintings, calligraphies, coins and currency, there are also seals and jades. Most of these objects are accompanied by labels and short notes written by Xu himself, and stamped with his personal seal. As one handles these objects from a century-old collection and ponders the words vigorously written in ink and brush, one feels the joy of spiritually communicating with the collector and his time.
Among the stone seals from this collection are one oval seal (lot 932) and one square seal (lot 903) carved from Shoushan stones yielded respectively from Gaoshan and Duchengkeng. Both are signed Shangjun. The knobs feature the unusual motif of a boy reclining on the back of an elephant rather than the standard version of taipingyouxiang (literally, 'big vase on elephant'), although both are meant to denote universal peace. The carving was executed with remarkable precision and vigor, displaying the excellent proficiency of the carver. The image is imbued with fullness and vivacity. The treatment of the folds of the garment and the elegant way in which they flow are reminiscent of the statues recovered from ancient tombs.
Shangjun was the style name of Zhou Bin, a native of Zhangzhou in Fujian. He was active in the Kangxi era and was deemed "the foremost knob-carver of early Qing". His works were known for their distinctive character, exaggerated representation and unique shape, and were often mentioned in the notes of Qing scholars. For instance, an oval-shaped red Shoushan seal box and the ivory box imitating bamboo wickerwork among Shangjun's carvings were described by Li Baoxun in his memoir Jiuxue'an Biji as "smooth, glossy and flawless to the utmost degree, demonstrating superlative craftsmanship". Shangjun's works embody the highest carving artistry of the Kangxi period.
The face of the oval seal is carved with two characters denoting piqin (obsession with the qin-zither); its side bears the inscription Kugongshu; Kutie. Kutie is the hao (alias or pseudonym) of the eminent scholar Wu Changshuo, exponent of the Post-Shanghai Painting School of the late Qing period and founding president of the Xiling Seal Carving Society of Hangzhou, as well as a great poet, painter, calligrapher and seal carver. The style of his seal carving was initially influenced by the Zhejiang School and later by ancient Han seals. The 19th-century master seal carvers Deng Shiru, Wu Rangzhi and Zhao Zhiqian also had influence over him. Wu Changshuo's seals bespeak vigor within refinement and gravity through spontaneity. According to Xu Hanqing, the word Ku in Kugongshu is a variant of Tao, which refers to Taozhai, hao of the renowned epigraphist and prominent provincial official Duan Fang of the late Qing period. Duan Fang, styled as Wuqiao and posthumously as Zhongmin, obtained the Juren title in the provincial examination in the eighth year of the Guangxu era (1882). He successively served as the Governor-General of Huguang (Hubei and Hunan), of Liangjiang (Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi) and of Minzhe (Fujian and Zhejiang). In the first year of the Xuantong era (1909), he was appointed Governor-General of Zhili (Hebei) and Administrator of the Chengdu-Hankou and Guangzhou-Hankou Railways, but was assassinated by revolutionists when he was in Sichuan to suppress the "Railway Defending Movement". He was an ardent lover of epigraphy, painting and calligraphy, and a well-known art collector. Some bronzes from Duan's collection are now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Carved from Shoushan stone of the most exceptional quality, surmounted by the work of the foremost early Qing knob-carver (Shangjun), bearing a seal mark executed by the most influential seal carver in the late Qing period (Wu Changshuo), once belonging to a prominent provincial official who died for the imperial court in the early 20th-century (Duan Fang), and now among the collection of a renowned 20th-century collector (Xu Hanqing)-this seal carries a value that would be quite impossible to estimate.
Since the revival of interest in seal carving in the 14th century, seals carved from very fine stones by master carvers and surmounted by exquisite seal knobs have won universal acclaim. Seal stones are mainly obtained from Shoushan in Fujian, and Qingtian and Changhua in Zhejiang. Shoushan yields the greatest varieties of specimens, among which Tianhuang, Gaoshan, Furong, Taohua and Huandong are of superb quality. Gingko-white Qingtian stone and Chicken-blood Changhua stone are excellent materials but are extremely difficult to come by. Seals combining superb material and distinguished craftsmanship are even comparable to gold in value. From the Xu Hanqing Collection are some truly exquisite seal stones, such as the rectangular seal of Aiyelu Shoushan stone (lot 921), the unmarked seal with an animal knob of Dengguangdong stone (from Qingtian) (lot 909), the rectangular seal with a qilin knob of Tianhuang stone (lot 893), the unmarked seal of Liangjianghuang stone (from Shoushan) carved with subtle landscape motif (lot 910), and several Chicken-blood Changhua stones (lot 920, 926, 930) and Qingtian stones (lot 889).
Archaic jades have been especially prized by collectors over the years. Collecting archaic jades requires a sound financial position, discerning eyes and expert knowledge. Jades, long considered indispensable as scholar's objects, are also present in Xu's collection. For instance, the greenish-yellow jade paper-weight in the shape of a bixie (chimera) (lot 888) was carved from a single piece of longish jade stone with a roughly triangular cross-section, while retaining as much as possible the original shape of the material. The design is simple yet the lines are fluid and precise. The sharp claws, spreading wings and plump face of the mythical animal bespeak both vigour and refinement. The vivid though slightly exaggerated expression is characteristic of early Ming jades, adopted from Song examples. The mellowness of the diffusion stain on the jade surface suggests its being frequently rubbed by the owner's hands. It is indeed an extremely rare example of extant works of art.
The Chinese idiom wenji qiwu (To rise at cockcrow to practice martial arts) is a well-known expression alluding to self-discipline and diligence. Also from the Collection is a palm-size jade hen (lot 922) carved from "sugar" (greenish-brown) color Hetian (Khotan) jade. This fine example of late Ming carving is noted for its simple form, elegantly shaped crest, meticulously represented feathers and composed expression. The jade hilt (lot 931) with archaistic chifeng (stylised dragon and phoenix) motif is carved from extremely pure white jade from Hetian. The design is lively, the carving vigorous and the overall craftsmanship very refined. The white jade vine melon (lot 933) carved from Hetian yuzi (jade stones discovered in a riverbed) is a typical example of jades of the Qing period. Vine melon as an allusion to prosperous posterity is first found in the ancient classic Shijing (Book of Songs). The whiteness and translucence of the white melon are ingeniously accentuated by the darkish leaves and butterfly fashioned from the jade skin, creating a magnificent contrast with the green baby melon. This jade melon is placed in a custom-made wooden case carved with begonia and butterfly motif on the surface.
Works of master craftsmen embody the unique artistic expressions and wisdom of a culture. Also from this collection is a tortoise carved from rhinoceros horn (lot 901) and signed by Jiang Chunbo, renowned carver of the Jiangnan region. Rhinoceros horn is not only used as a medicinal ingredient, but also a precious material for carving. Jiang Chunbo is the alias of Jiang Fusheng, styled Desheng. His birth and death years are unknown but he was active from the Hongzhi period (1488-1505) to the Jiajing period (1522-1566) of the Ming dynasty. Jiang Chunbo, Bao Tiancheng, Wu Si, Yuan Youzhu were known as the "Four Master Craftsmen of Suzhou". Jiang lived an impoverished childhood. A craftsman from Suzhou later adopted him and taught him the skill of carving. Jiang was so intelligent that it took him only several years to learn all the skills from his foster father. Before long, his remarkable artistry and craftsmanship won him great fame. According to the notes of Ming scholars, Jiang's works were much acclaimed by Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming and Zhu Yuming, eminent scholars of that period. The Palace Museum in Beijing houses an aloeswood brush pot carved by Jiang. The tortoise in Xu's collection is noted for its lively shape, fine carving and the mellowness of its patina and diffusion stain. The front edge of the tortoise shell is carved with the four characters Jiajing bingwu (bingwu year of the Jiajing era, 1546) on the left and another four characters Jiang Chunbo zao (made by Jiang Chunbo) in seal script (zhuanshu) on the right.
Collecting ink stones was one of the scholarly pursuits of the literati. The compilation of the imperial ink stone catalogue Xiqing Yanpu by the Qing court cast considerable influence on the lasting tradition of this literati pursuit. The hexagonal shaped imperial ink stone with orchid motif (lot 912) from Xu's collection is carved from rare Green Duan stone of yellowish-green color and very fine and smooth texture. The ink stone is almost the size of a palm. The sides and the foliated rim are respectively carved with orchid and wave motif. The base is carved with the four-character square seal mark Qianlong yuzhi (Made by imperial order of Qianlong Emperor). The sides of the reddish-brown lacquer case of matching shape are also painted with orchid motif. Inscribed on the top of the cover is a penta-syllabic poem composed by Emperor Qianlong, titled Lanhua (Orchid):
The orchids grown in spring in the garden of Qu Yuan (332-296 BC, Warring States Period scholar and minister)
Send forth their noble fragrance to the home of Tao Yuanming (365-427, Jin dynasty poet).
Why care for chrysanthemums of autumn?
Orchids will suffice for eternity.
This is a typical imperial ink stone made for the emperor's pleasure. Ink stones of this size were also carried in scholars' travel cases for convenient use.
These objects provide us with a glimpse of the collection of scholarly objects in recent centuries. Documentary records, notes, inscriptions, colophons, signatures and seal marks all provide important clues pertaining to tracing the provenance of a collected item and play a decisive role in determining its value. The majority of the above-mentioned items from the Xu Hanqing Collection are accompanied by labels, research notes and records of acquisition date and place, prepared by the collector himself. They provide important textual references pertaining to the authenticity and provenance of the objects. For example, Xu put down the following on the label of the archaic jade bead called yulezi (lot 876) in his collection:
"The replicas made by some Beijing merchants appear almost as real as genuine archaic jades. More than a few people have been fooled. By just looking at this piece of jade, one can instantly tell it belonged to the Three Dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou), and can therefore be kept as a treasure. Written by Chunzhai (Xu's style name)."
"Ancient jade le. Jade in the Chunzhai Collection. The jade appears lucid and the cutting powerful. It truly belonged to the Three Dynastiesacquired in Beijing on an autumn day in the guiyou year (1933). Sun Lu'an identified it as a yazhang (ceremonial tablet), but I remain uncertain and therefore still call it le." (The label is stamped with Xu's seal Xushi Hanqing zhencang in cinnabar red.)
These inscriptions are invaluable documentation of when and where the jades in Xu's collection were acquired, as well as the dilemma he faced with identifying certain items.
Xu's inscription for the rhinoceros tortoise (lot 901) reads: "[Tortoise] is a symbol of longevity. Tortoise carved by Jiang Chunbo; lively and animate; bears excellent inscription. Chunbo lived in the Ming dynasty and was well acquainted with Liuru (Tang Yin), Zhishan (Zhu Yuming) and Zhengming (Wen Zhengming). He was a master carver. See Zhuoquanzhi (Notes on Loyalty and Integrity, by Huang Ang, Qianlong period)."
The inside of the case containing the white jade vine melon (lot 933) is written in ink with: "Collected as treasure by Chunweng (Xu referring to himself) in the first lunar month of the xinwei year (1931)." The seal mark reads "Xu Fubing hao Hanqing biezi Chunzha zhencang" (Collected as treasure by Xu Fubing, styled Hanqing and Chunzhai).
Some other inscriptions written by Xu were stamped with the oval seal mark Xu Zi. These signatures and seal marks provide absolute references for studying other items in his collection.
We always say that the collection of a major collector is of equal value with the objects themselves. An art object that was once included in an important collection or documented in textual records often fetches higher prices in auctions. The collections and writings of scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries should not be underestimated, because they add substantial value to the collected objects. The many notes and inscriptions written by Xu Hanqing for his collection might not always be entirely accurate but they inspire connoisseurship and add considerable enjoyment to this artistic pursuit. Furthermore, such informative and important hand-written inscriptions, signatures and collectors' seal marks would at least double the price of an item. Since works of art supplied with such added literary value are rare in the current market, these objects from the Xu Hanqing Collection will certainly be sought-after by discernible collectors.
June 2011, Beijing