A Chinese export 'Masonic-Scottish Parliament' armorial punch bowl, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period


Lot 7. A Chinese export 'Masonic/Scottish Parliament' armorial punch bowl, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period (1736-1795), 30.7 cm, 12 1/8  inEstimate 2 000 £GB - 3 000 £GB. Lot sold 16,250 £GB. Photo: Sotheby's.

the interior painted in blue and gilt with a floral sprig and interlaced border, the exterior decorated en grisaille with a facade of a building, an equestrian statue, a pair of dividers, with sunburst and a set square, and two sovereign gilt medallions George III 1775, haircracks, rim chipped

ProvenanceProbably Sir William Forbes, 6th Bt. (1739-1806)

LiteraturePossibly that supplied by Mills &[?] Thomas, Chessels Court, Canongate, Edinburgh on 15 November 1774; '1 very fine enamelled painted punch bowl, £1-10-6' NLS (Acc.4796/216)

NoteThe building depicted on this bowl is the old Scottish Parliament building in Parliament Close (now Parliament Square), Edinburgh. The lead equestrian statue before this 17th century building depicts King Charles II. It was erected in 1685 at the expense of the Edinburgh Town Council as a tribute to the King and was to be "in the Roman manner, like one of the Caesars".

The vignette of Edinburgh’s old Parliament Close on this bowl is fascinating when considering Scottish subjects on Chinese Export porcelain and the supply of source material to Chinese painters. This view, also presented in an oval, was used by Sir William Forbes, James Hunter & Co. as a decorative device on the bank notes that their company issued. The view, after an engraving by Bell, and the equestrian statue seem to have been appropriated by the Bank as symbols. Their business was based in Parliament close, Edinburgh so this adoption makes sense. There is one of the company banknotes, dating from 1808, preserved in the collection of the Bank of Scotland, which is displayed in their museum on the Mound in Edinburgh which features the same view also in an oval. The use of gold painted ‘coins’ on the bowl also suggests a connection with Sir William’s bank. The company began issuing banknotes in 1782.

Interestingly there is another punch bowl which relates closely. This was sold by Sotheby’s in November 1987. It features an oval vignette, depicting a golfer, and has a similar blue border also heightened with gold stars and is roughly 1cm. smaller than the present lot. The image of the golfer was taken from a drawing by David Allen which figured on Edinburgh’s Royal Society of Golfers’ letterhead. The similarities are striking and the use of Scottish printed material as a source for Chinese artists is once again evidenced. Perhaps it may well be proved after further research that Mills & Thomas were responsible for this trade.

Sotheby's. Two Great Scottish Collections: Property from the Forbeses of Pitsligo and the Marquesses of Lothian, London, 28 Mar 2017