Mrs. Holmes was one of the foremost collectors of Chinese art in the twentieth century. Mrs. Holmes (1875-1941), née Bettie Fleischmann, was the daughter of Charles Fleischmann, of Fleischmann's Yeast, Gin, and Margarine. In 1896 she married Dr. Christian Rasmus Holmes, a Danish immigrant to the U.S. in 1872, who graduated from Miami Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and later founded the Cincinnati General Hospital in 1903. Much of Mrs. Holmes' collection of Chinese bronzes eventually entered the collection of Avery Brundage, which today represents a third of the bronze holdings of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Mrs. Holmes' collection is now represented in major museum collections worldwide.
A similar pillow in the collection of Mr. H. Whitaker, illustrated in the Burlington Fine Arts Club, Catalogue of a Collection of Objects of Chinese Art, London, 1915, pl. XIII (top), may be the same pillow in the collection of Lady Louis Montbatten, London, that was included in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-6, no. 2873. The Whitaker pillow appears to be the same one illustrated by G. Wills, Jade, A Collector's Guide, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1964, pl. 18. A similar pair of pillows was sold Sotheby Parke Bernet, Hong Kong, 2 December 1976, lot 726 and again from the T.Y. Chao Private and Family Trust Collections, 18 November 1986, lot 193. A related emerald-green jadeite pillow of a kneeling boy with his hands crossed below his head and wearing an apron, from the Imperial Summer Palace, was presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Heber R. Bishop in 1902. Previously dated as Kangxi, it has recently been redated to the 19th century.
In their book, The Stone of Heaven, New York, 2001, the authors, A. Levy and C. Scott-Clark, mention the removal and plunder of two large green jade pillows in the form of kneeling boys from the Imperial chambers used by Cixi, the Empress Dowager, in the Imperial Summer Palace, by Allied soldiers in 1860.
It is possible that this unusual and charming subject in jadeite may have had its origins in other mediums. A white-glazed biscuit pillow (37 cm. long) modelled as a kneeling boy very similar to the jadeite examples, and dated to the Ming dynasty, was sold at Christie's, London, 22 July 1981, lot 285.
The theme of a boy holding a lotus is very popular in Chinese art. One of the names for lotus is lian, a homonym of the word 'continuous', and the musicial instrument sheng is a homonym for sheng (birth), and so a boy holding a lotus is a pun for the continuous birth of sons. Therefore, this particular imagery of a boy holding both a lotus and a sheng would be extremely auspicious.