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Chinese Snuff Bottle Discussion Forum 中國鼻煙壺討論論壇
June 25, 2018, 10:44:27 am
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Masterpieces of Chinese SB in the NPM

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Author Topic: Masterpieces of Chinese SB in the NPM  (Read 185 times)
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« on: May 14, 2014, 10:36:14 am »

Dear all,
I bought the 1974 edition of "Masterpieces of Chinese Snuff Bottles in the National Palace Museum". I must say that I have been really deceptioned by this book. In my opinion, a lot of average quality bottles in the collection. I was expecting a general very high level of bottles in such important museum. Am I missing something? I would like to hear the opinion of others that have the same book.
Giovanni
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George
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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2014, 08:07:56 pm »

I do not have a copy, but the one thing that kept me from purchasing one is the lack of images per bottle... I am told there is only one picture for each bottle..

So combined with your information, this will not be a book I will consider purchasing at any price..
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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2014, 08:36:10 pm »

Dear all,
I bought the 1974 edition of "Masterpieces of Chinese Snuff Bottles in the National Palace Museum". I must say that I have been really deceptioned by this book. In my opinion, a lot of average quality bottles in the collection. I was expecting a general very high level of bottles in such important museum. Am I missing something? I would like to hear the opinion of others that have the same book.
Giovanni


Hi Giovanni,

I don't have a 1974 copy,, but I do have a chinese version one, I have to agree with you that lot of average quality bottles there, some ones only worth a couple of hundred $ in my opinion, I would guess that some good ones were shipped to Taiwan during 1949, but that is my guess.

Steven
« Last Edit: May 14, 2014, 08:44:34 pm by Steven » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2014, 09:13:24 pm »

Steven is right.  I am guessing the nicer ones are in Taipei.  Also let's not forget the looting and pillaging that went on during the fall of the Empire.  I am told and have read it was not a pretty sight. 
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2014, 09:45:39 pm »

Dear Giovanni,

There are two books with very similar titles:

"Masterpieces of Snuff Bottles in the Palace Museum."  Forbidden City Publishing House. Beijing, 1995. Edited by Gengqi Xia.

"Snuff Bottles in the Collection of the National Palace Museum." National Palace Museum. Taipei, 1992. Edited by Zhang Linsheng.


The first book covers the collection held in Beijing, and the second is the collection in Taiwan (which is where all the best snuff bottles which didn't get looted were taken in 1949). Your book appears to combine parts from both the above titles.  Which one are you referring to?

Both books have poor photographs by today's standards. But I think you are missing the interesting aspect of the book (whichever one it is). Both these museum collections consist of what were considered to be the last emperor's favourite bottles from his personal collection. They are not necessarily the same ones the Qianlong emperor liked, or even what the Palace Workshops produced.

What constituted the last emperor's "favourite" snuff bottles may be very similar to what we today consider to be the favourites in our own collections. We all have a few favourite bottle in our collections - ones that appeal to us in a special way. The reason why some stand out from the rest is often very personal.  It may have to do with the circumstances under which they were acquired, they could be associated with some particular event or person, or they may simply feel good to use and hold in one's hand.

The ones you see in the book are largely such bottles. They reflect the personal tastes of a Chinese emperor at the very end of the Qing dynasty.  

Tom
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« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2014, 11:51:54 pm »

Dear Tom,
    A very well written posting, Tom.
Joey
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« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2014, 11:57:39 pm »

Thanks Joey,

I recall you had once mentioned in a post how the Taipei museum collection got there. I'm not quite sure I remembered the year right. Was it 1949 or during the earlier Japanese invasion?

No need to respond right away. I'll let you get back to being zonked in Seattle...  Smiley

Tom

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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2014, 03:17:17 am »

Dear all,
here below you can see which is the book and some of the bottles.
I was disappointed because the National Palace Museum of Taipei is known for having the best of the best of Chinese Art, i.e. the collections of the Imperial Court.
Dear Tom, is it right what you said, that the pieces there are the preferred ones from the Last Emperor? For what I know it is not that, it is the collection of the treasures amassed by the many Chinese emperors. Am I wrong?
Anyway, most of us have much better bottles than the examples that I am posting below.
Kind regards
Giovanni


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* IMG_6.jpg (38.76 KB, 759x900 - viewed 10 times.)
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2014, 04:03:15 am »

Dear Giovanni,
     My apologies. I do not have this 1974 edition, and had assumed the titles remained the same on all later editions. On the 2 books I have the word "masterpieces" appears only on the Beijing museum collection, and the word "national" is only on the Taipei collection. That is why I was confused by the title of your book.
     Anyway, now I know you are referring to the Taipei collection!  But from your pictures I can see the format of your book is quite different from my 1992 edition. In my book the photography has been improved, and there are usually 6-8 bottles featured on every 2-page spread. The downside (by today's standards) is that there is generally only one photograph of each bottle. And the descriptions are VERY brief.
     To answer your question, I repeat what I mentioned before. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that these snuff bottles are the "treasures" only of the last emperor. Certainly, he would have kept some bottles which once belonged to his grandfather and earlier ancestors. But the collection is essentially a collection of his personal favourites.
     It is interesting to note the taste in stoppers on some bottles. Owners have always felt free to change them to suit their own preferences. You can observe stoppers quite different from our own aesthetic tastes today, but very similar to stoppers seen in Helen White's book, "Snuff Bottles of China: the V&A Museum Collection". I think this is a book you already have. As we know from the V&A Collection, most of these bottles were collected in the 1890-1910 period. I assume the stoppers reflect the current taste at that time, which is approximately the same as that of the last Qing emperor.

Tom 
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« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2014, 05:03:15 am »

Dear Tom,
thank you for further explain your notes. Well, in my personal view, even if those bottles was the preferred ones by the last Emperor, to call them "masterpieces" is at least a bit too much presumptous. I do not know the collection, but if I have to base my impression on the book alone, and considering that only 50 bottles are shown,  which logically should be the best ones, the conclusion is that it is a poor collection, no? I don't think that those bottles are deserving the title of "masterpieces". The collection must have much better bottles I suppose.
Giovanni
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« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2014, 05:27:51 am »

Dear Giovanni,

Only 50 bottles? The 1992 edition shows several hundred bottles. I have to check how many when I get home tonight, but from memory there are maybe 200-300 bottles in the book. And some are definitely of high quality.

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Tom
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« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2014, 10:51:04 am »

That is just what I meant, dear Tom. If they show 50 bottles claiming them as masterpieces and most bottles are in the range that I have shown, one can only figure out that the whole collection is very poor!
Giovanni
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« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2014, 11:12:45 am »

Dear Tom and Giovanni,
           I am vastly improved, after a good night's sleep.
Thank G-D I'm not 'Sleepless in Seattle'!
   The treasures of the Qing Dynasty, and presumably previous dynasties, and not just the treasures of the last Emperor (Tom, where did you get that tidbit of info?), were removed from the Forbidden City by the mid-1930s, to keep them out of the hands of the Japanese, who'd conquered Manchuria and placed Puyi on the throne of 'Manchukuo', their puppet state there. It was obviously only a matter of time before they invaded China, and the leaders of the Republic of China were no idiots.
    The stuff was moved via the Yangtze gorges, and supposedly up to 10% fell down and was lost(I would love to invent a time machine, and save all those treasures; right after we go and bomb the shite out of the nazis, and save the almost 7 million Jews, etc...), and the collection was moved to Nanjing. When the Japanese advanced, it was all moved to Zhongqing in Sechuan , which never fell into the hands of the Imperial Japanese forces.
   After the end of the Japanese occupation, when the 'Chicoms' were beating the Guomintang
(Should say Kuomintang, but I use Pinyin), the treasure was transported downriver to Shanghai, and then to Taipei harbour, where it was kept on the ships which brought it, from 1949 to 1955. The ships were set with explosive charges, and the ROC crowd threatened the PRC crowd in Beijing that if they invaded Taiwan, the ships would be destroyed with their priceless cargo.
    It is interesting that the ROC felt their personal fates were more important than this priceless  collection of treasure which is really the birthright of Mankind.
   I have the 1974 book, which I bought in 1978 on my first  visit to the ROC. I understood from a curator, who personally showed me around after I brought them a copy of my 1987 catalogue and the 1989 addendum for their library, that some curator without a lot of taste chose those bottles. I have personally seen superb holdings in the storerooms of the museum.

Best,
Joey
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« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2014, 11:15:19 am »

Dear Giovanni,
     I have my book in front of me. It is a heavy book, slip-cased, consisting of 380 pages, and 415 bottles, mostly three bottles to a page. Bottles with a reign mark include a close up photo of the base also. Most of the bottles illustrated are of very high quality. There are also photos of snuff dishes and custom fitted boxes for special bottles. The book is in Chinese and English.
     I recommend you get yourself a copy of this 1992 edition!  It costs HK$320.00 new in Hong Kong (around 32 euros).

Tom

PS: Dear Joey,
     You posted your message as I was writing mine. Thank you for expanding on the story of how, when and where the bottles were moved. I knew there was more to it!

Tom
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« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2014, 11:29:28 am »

Dear Tom,
   Not only the snuff bottles were moved.mmillions of objects were brought. Literally the whole Imperial collection of Chinese art. They left the European clocks, and stuff like that. All the stuff in the Gegong (Beijing's Forbidden City museum) today, was confiscated from the original owners between 1949 and 1977.
  I need to get that 'new' book too.
Joey
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« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2014, 12:09:26 pm »

Dear Tom and Joey, all,
to be precise, I think that it is clear that my critics was addressed to whom choose the bottles to be published in my book, and of course not to the collection which I imagine must be impressive as the rest.
Dear Joey you spoke about the european clocks of the collection: among them there was the one brought to the Court by Father Matteo Ricci, I know that it still was on the list of the treasures during the last Emperor reign.
Kind regards
Giovanni
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« Reply #16 on: May 15, 2014, 02:24:21 pm »

Dear Giovanni,
    All the European tribute given to the Qing Emperors was left behind in Beijing, when the republic of China evacuated its art treasures in the 1930s. They considered that stuff as foreign stuff not worth shlepping. It is still in Beijing at the Forbidden city museum.
Best Wishes,
Joey
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