Rare Screens Believed to be From Chinese Imperial Palaces for Auction at Bonhams

When the British Expeditionary Force of 1901 was sent to lift the siege of the British Legation in Beijing and quell the Boxer Rebellion it is known that they entered the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

As a result of this military initiative Chinese works of art including two monumental screens were brought to Britain and are now for sale at Bonhams Chinese Art Sale on May 13 in London. The screens are estimated to sell for £50,000 to £80,000 and £12,000 to £18,000. The monumental hardwood screens are said to have returned to Britain with Major General Sir Ivor Philipps.

Lot 408, is a large and imposing rare zitan and hardwood screen and stand dating from the 18th/19th century. It is estimated to sell for £50,000-80,000. The present screen is very similar in construction and design to Imperial hardwood screens and is likely that originally it would have been embellished with an inlaid decoration, possibly of hardstone, ivory, kingfisher feather, jade or enamel.

The screen is adorned with crisp carving of acanthus leaves on the apron at the lower section of the stand and at the terminals flanking the screen. This design is comparable to acanthus carving on Imperial screens from the Palace Museum, Beijing, and is related to the European influence on Chinese architecture and works of art, best exemplified in the Yuanming Yuan and the artefacts made to adorn it, produced under special commission or by the Imperial ateliers.

Lot 409 is a large and imposing rare hardwood screen and stand from the 19th century. Estimate £12,000-18,000. The inset silk embroidery decorated with two large roundels flanking a smaller one, enclosing butterflies amidst sprays of lotus, peony, chrysanthemum and pink, framed by borders enclosing the attributes of the Eight immortals floating amidst waves crashing against the legendary island of Peng Lai.

Documenting this momentous period is a fascinating photograph album which shows troops in the Imperial heart of China’s capital city and is an extremely rare illustrative documentation of the foreign intervention in China during the late Qing Dynasty period. The album, estimated to sell for £3,000-5,000, was compiled by Sir Ivor Philipps, K.C.B., D.S.O. (1861-1940), who served as an officer with the British Forces on the ‘China Expeditionary Force’.

The rare documentary album includes numerous photographs of British Forces in the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the British Legation, British and Sikh forces, the Taku forts, Shanghai, Coal Hill in Beijing, Japanese Cavalry, Australian forces, German Cavalry, cloisonné enamel craftsmen, police officials and prisoners.

In 1900 Boxer fighters, belonging to the anti-imperialist, anti-Christian movement of the ‘Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’, attacked missionary compounds and laid siege to the foreign legation quarter in Beijing. This was done with the encouragement of the Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled in the Guangxu Emperor’s name. In response, the Eight-Nation-Alliance was formed, including Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. In order to avoid the invasion forces, the Dowager Empress Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor left to Xian. The Forbidden City and Summer Palace were captured by the international forces, as illustrated in the album’s photographs showing foreign troops within the Imperial Palaces.

A breathtaking collection of jades is due to be sold as part of Bonhams fine Chinese Art Sale on May 13 in New Bond Street.

Asaph Hyman, Senior Chinese Art Specialist at Bonhams says: “It is very unusual to have such a large collection of the highest quality all at one time for sale. These are pieces which which are comparable or identical similar to pieces that are housed in the Palace museum Beijing. They represent a once in a lifetime opportunity for jade enthusiasts to buy the very best of their kind.”

Prices for the 66 items range from £2,000 to £35,000. Two of the top items are:

Lot 17, a fine and rare large white jade ‘lotus’ vessel, Qianlong/Jiaqing. Estimate £20,000-30,000. The white stone worked in the form of a large lotus leaf with undulating petals forming the deep vessel, its stem intertwining with further stems issuing lotus leaves and blooms to form the base of the vessel and rising up one of the sides to form a handle, the stems suspending loose-ring handles on either side, with an egret perched on a lotus leaf carved in high relief to one side.

This compares to a related large white jade lotus receptacle from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Jadeware (II), Beijing, 2008, pl.39.

Lot 26, estimated to sell for £25,000 to £35,000 is a rare yellow jade vase group and cover Qianlong.The yellow stone is deftly worked in the form of a flattened baluster vase. It compares well to a very similar vase carved as part of a ‘three ram and other mythical beasts’ yellow jade group, Qianlong mark and period, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum.