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photographer E-Yaji.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1831 

1831
A BAMBOO-VENEER STATIONARY CABINET
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
of rectangular form carved in low-relief and veneered in two shades of light brown bamboo, consisting of a pair of square-form double-door cabinets, one with pine trees and lingzhi on the doors and the other with orchids and rocks, the doors set with jade pulls, above three rows of drawers with the top and bottom row drawers arranged as pairs and the middle as a single drawer, each decorated with lotus flowers on a feathery leaf scroll, each drawer centred with a begonia flower-shaped jade pull with a baitong knop, all enclosed behind double-doors with four square open panels with rounded corners and beaded frames, mounted with finely incised baitong hinges and centred on a baiting medallion with a hinged latch in the form of a bat, the narrow side panels with formalized floral designs in a darker brown veneer, all below two tectiform tops with similar floral designs and mounted with an upright baitong scroll handle, and supported on four low bracket feet (fitted box)
33 CM.

PROVENANCE
A & J Speelman, London, 1988.

Cabinets of this type were used as stationery cases, where the first tier was made to store books and albums of paintings and calligraphy, the second and fourth tier housed writing brushes, and the two drawers in the third tier were made to contain ink slabs and seals. A slightly larger bamboo veneer cabinet of very similar construction, with the same number of drawers, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in The Imperial Packing Art of the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2000, pl. 59 (fig. 1).
 
See another bamboo veneer stationery cabinet of different structure included in The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carvings, Beijing, 2002, pl. 46; and one offered at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 2004, lot 928, with five drawers surmounted with a box and another drawer in the form of stacked books. Compare also a display cabinet made to house precious artefacts, in situ, illustrated in Life in the Forbidden City, Beijing, 1985, pl. 219.

The technique of zhuhuang or 'bamboo-veneer' was invented during the Qianlong period and became fashionable after the emperor began his Imperial Processions to the South in 1751. Zhuhuang is a veneer taken from the inner wall of the bamboo stem which is of light yellow colouration. It is applied over a wood core which is then carved in shallow relief to achieve an elaborate decoration, often, in two-colour effect. As the colour of the bamboo skin is lighter than wood, the design was left in reserve against the darker background, resulting in an elegant and attractive finish.

For examples of Imperial zhuhuang objects see a treasure box published in The Imperial Packing Art of the Qing Dynasty, op.cit., pl. 60, from the Palace Museum; and a four-tiered box, from the collection of Dr. Grice Bognor Regis, included in R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts, London, 1963, p. 440, pl. 204, where it is noted that the 'carving is precise and delicate, and the finished result is so elegant that one imagines it must have come out of the Palace and have been made in the Ch'ien-lung period'.



Fig. 1 A bamboo-veneer stationary cabinet Qing dynasty, Qianlong period courtesy of the palace museum, Beijing

 

 

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