An art deco laque burgauté and coral box, by Cartier, circa 1925. photo Bonhams
Of square form with rounded corners, each side set with a black lacquer panel with an inlaid design employing shaped iridescent mother-of-pearl and engraved silver sections, the obverse depicting a rural scene with Chinese man and donkey, the reverse depicting a Chinese fisherman casting his line from his sampan, each corner highlighted by a cabochon coral, the pushpiece inset with a cabochon coral 'bamboo' baton, the sides of the box engraved with dragon motifs, opening to reveal a tortoiseshell interior, mounted in yellow gold, signed Cartier, Paris, Londres, New York, numbered, maker's mark JC, French workshop mark, French assay mark, UK import marks, dimensions 7.8 x 7.8cm. Estimate: £6,000 - 8,000, US$ 9,600 - 13,000
Footnote: Laque burgauté refers to the exquisite East Asian technique of decorating lacquer with intricate inlays of tinted mother-of-pearl, often engraved and combined with gold and silver foil. The technique probably originated in China as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was very popular during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911/12) and spread to the Ryukyu Islands between China and Japan and thence to Japan itself. In China the technique is called 'lo tien' and in Japan, 'aogai'. The Western name is derived from the French - sea-ear or mussel (burgau) and lacquer (laque or lac). Most of the lacquer used by Cartier in their art deco objects is likely to have been made in Ryukyu or in Japan.
Provenance : Princess Marthe Bibesco (1886-1973)
Direct descent to the current owner
Princess Marthe Bibesco (1886-1973) was a celebrated figure moving in European elite and artistic circles during the first part of the 20th century. A great beauty (Boldini twice painted her portrait) and an intellectual, her prodigious literary talent initially provided an escape from a turbulent marriage and later, after exile from her native Romania, became her livelihood.
Born in Bucharest, she grew up speaking French, as was common among high-ranking members of the Romanian nobility and she spent her childhood in Paris, Biarritz and the family estate in Romania. Not only was she schooled in European literature and history, she was also well-versed in Romanian folk tales and traditions.
In 1902 she married a distant cousin, Prince Georges-Valentin Bibesco, who served as ambassador to France and was a noted civilian aviator. Their only child, Valentine, was born when Princess Bibesco was 17.
Her early fictional works are based upon her own life and experiences and her works of non-fiction include books and articles about the illustrious writers, politicians, diplomats, monarchs and aristocrats she knew. She was also a prolific letter writer and her artistic endeavours also included screenplays, theatrical pieces and several historical novels.
Her circle of close friends included King Alfonso XII of Spain, the Kronprinz Wilhelm of Germany, King Ferdinand I of Romania and the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Other powerful figures she knew well were Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill and the Commanding General of French Forces during World War I, Prince Charles-Louis de Beauvau-Craön. She befriended Edith Wharton, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Anatole France, Rainer Maria Rilke, Enid Bagnold, Paul Valéry and Paul Claudel.
Marcel Proust wrote in praise of her travel memoirs, Les Huits Paradis, "You are not only a splendid writer, Princess, but a sculptor of words, a musician, a purveyor of scents, a poet".
The years post World War II brought financial hardship. In 1947 she was forced to flee Romania after the Communist takeover and would never return to her native land. Her daughter and son-in-law did not manage to escape and were detained for nearly nine years by the Communist government. Princess Bibesco, who was in her 60s, was responsible for her two grandsons while their parents were in captivity. Her estates in Romania had been confiscated and she supported herself by her writing and by selling the family heirlooms she had managed to escape with.
Princess Bibesco died in 1973 at her home in Paris. She was accorded many literary accolades during her lifetime and her papers are now held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Bonhams.Fine Jewellery, 25 Apr 2012. London, New Bond Street www.bonhams.com