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Tea and Opium

 

 

A fine Regency three compartment Penwork Tea caddy decorated all over with exotic penwork scenes on a sycamore ground . Circa 1815. 

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Reference: TC146

Description:
TC146:  A fine Regency penwork  three compartment tea chest of complex classical shape decorated  all over with fantastical scenes of exotic Cathay, 
inspired by tales of Royal gardens and  the gardens of the Hong merchants which British traders and diplomats were allowed to visit whilst in Canton. Inside there are two lift out tea canisters and a bowl with cut and engraved decoration

Origin UK: Circa: 1815 Materials: sycamore 

Size:  It measures 12.5 inches wide  by 6 inches deep and it is 7.75 inches  tall including feet: 32 cm  wide  by 15 cm deep and it is 20 cm  tall including feet

Condition: good overall,  working lock and key,  see images.
As each person has different criteria and antiques by their very nature have wear  please enlarge the images and ask for extra information as needed. 

 

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there are further pictures of this tea chest at: 
http://www.hygra.com/penwork/

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 This Chest is featured in our book  Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies, and Society, 1700--1880 
Antigone Clarke & Joseph O'Kelly,
ISBN: 0764316885

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These Chinoiserie scenes were inspired by tales of the Royal gardens and the water activities which British traders and diplomats were allowed to visit whilst in China.  Such scenes found their way into prints and books as well as diaries and letters of the period.

Sir John Barrow, Lord Macartney's private secretary, wrote of his impressions of the royal garden of Jehol, the Paradise of ten thousand trees, of the "extensive lake", of islands "one marked by a pagoda,....some smooth and level; some steep and uneven; and others frowning with wood, or smiling with culture."

This caddy is a visual interpretation of the exotic and varied islands which dazzled the Europeans with their exotic plants, animals and structures.

Penwork and painted caddies of this quality and originality of design are very rare.

The inside is as decorated as the outside. It contains two lift out canisters which are decorated with further scenes and which retain some of the original lead lining.

 The central compartment is painted to match the colour of the rest of the caddy. 

The inside of the lid has yet another exotic scene. The bowl well is lined in original red paper.

 

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The figures and landscapes have a light element, which was introduced in the second part of the 18th century, but which did not find true expression in England until the advent of penwork. Much of the design is inspired by Mathias Darly's and George Edwards' A New Book of Chinese Designs. For example, the book gives illustrations of "Indian" islands, bits of land somehow floating in the universe. Such islands were earthly manifestations of the "Islands of the Blessed".

 

The pyramided shape is inspired by the images  and knowledge which were inspired by the recent excavations in  Egypt and the near east.

It is extremely rare to find a pyramid form in penwork. This is because  designs are easier to execute on simpler forms. By using depictions of plants drawn boldly, the artist has provided an ingenious structured classical counterbalance, as a contrast to the whimsy chinoiserie of the lower caddy. The two styles work excellently together mutually emphasising their distinct qualities. Whoever decorated this caddy was obviously well versed in the cultural influences of the period. It is a tour-de-force of erudition and artistic virtuosity.  

The top is decorated in designs of neoclassical derivation. The center features a pattera pattern slightly suggestive of a flower. The lower surround and the wide triangular panels feature acanthus leaves. The narrower sides have leaves enclosing either a stylized pinecone (ancient symbol of fertility) or a pineapple (a fruit of the East). Pineapples if they could be bought were real status items. They were sometimes rented out for parties! 

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 Exquisite drawings of island activities, featuring fantastical bridges, bells and dragons cover every available surface.

The huge flower, the tiny houses the enormous serpent echo Barrow's perception that a Chinese gardener "is totally ignorant of perspective" but nevertheless "produces the happiest effects".

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An insect, a bird and a flower dwarfing the men in the boats, a European interpretation of Cathay. 

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Fishing, an usual activity described in reports of China. A rather large duck.

 

Specific designs for buildings were also illustrated in this book and were repeated in The Ladies Amusement. For example the building on the left of the back with the large bells may be a Royal Garden Seat.

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Meeting on a bridge.

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 Huge plants;  sea serpent  or monster in the  the river below. The land of chinoiserie is a truly fantastical place.

 

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The sea serpent seems to have a keeper! The relative proportions have their own rules or lack of them.

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End view:

People carrying or transporting things in eccentric, picturesque and effortless ways. 

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Men in boat with a pennant followed by large exotic bird..

 

Carrying tea? Illustrations of tea carrying in this manner are found on Chinese lacquer caddies of the period. It is interesting to see the same illustration by this time, an English hand.

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Details of carrying and huge plant.

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The back of the caddy is decorated with buildings figures and boats all with fluent disregard for the restrictions of perspective.

The islands are well defined with buildings in distinctive styles and lay outs, obviously used for different activities.  

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There is a wealth of images: giant insects compete with giant birds!

 

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Feeding the fowl?

 

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A lady conveyed in a rather fine boat.

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The pet dog cannot wait to leap on the island.

 

Fishing on a small island.

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A reference to opium smoking, a habit encouraged by the British.

The addict is sitting on a ceramic garden seat. 

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End view: 

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A reference to bells and instruments played in the gardens.

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 Playing a tambourine. 

 

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The rich interior. The sugar loaf which would have been in the bowl has oxidized and discolored the varnish.

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The dragon headed boat

Dragon boats are used in South China in festivities during the 5th day of the 5th month. Such boat races were  witnessed by the Europeans who were stationed in Canton.

These races were culturally significant and featured in the work of   Mathias Darly.

 

A sedan chair shaped almost organically. This method of transport definitely beats the bus.

Barrow describes the Emperor's conveyance as "a high open palanquin"

Darly included exotic conveyances in his work.

This is an interpretation  of descriptions and illustrations of Chinese sedan chairs.  

For the most part this caddy retains its original varnish; there is a loss in the center of the top probably caused by someone closing the caddy with sugar in the bowl. Note the shading.

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 The people in the peculiar conveyance carried by two bearers could have also been inspired by designs showing fantastical vehicles with rococo curves and cusps. 

 

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Detail of the penwork scenes on the lids of the two canisters

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The complexity of the caddy construction can be seen here. The compartment for the canister is lined with charcoal colored felt, which has helped to protect the the penwork on the sides of the canisters. 

The facings are a dark brown colour.

 

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 It seems that the bowl was too large for the chest!  The well has an extension to accommodate it. The paper used to line the well and cover the bottom is contempory with the chest.

 

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 The same paper covers the bottom

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This bowl is the original heavy hand  blown and cut crystal.

It  is larger than usual. and is decorated with both flute  cutting and engraving.

 

The caddy stands on ball feet which are also decorated with penwork. These are in very good condition. 

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The narrower sides have leaves enclosing either a stylized pinecone (ancient symbol of fertility) or a pineapple (a fruit of the East). Pineapples if they could be bought were real status items. They were sometimes rented out for parties! 

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The caddy is framed in a basket weave pattern which is echoed on the side of the canisters. This is perhaps inspired by the extensive use of woven baskets in the East.

 

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All text and images and linked images are 1999-2011 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly. If you require any further information on permitted use, or a licence to republish any material, email us at copyright@hygra.com