Lot 82. A rare carved cinnabar lacquer boat-shaped incense box, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 53.5 cm., 21 in. Estimate 40,000 — 60,000 GBP. Lot sold 225,000 GBP (290,723 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.
carved in the form of a large elaborate boat, the curved bough carved on each side with four 'Buddhist Emblems', together comprising the bajixiang, admist lotus flowers and dense lotus scroll, the flat upper section mounted with two sections, one in the form of a room with sixteen doors skilfully carved in openwork treatment with fretwork-design, a double door on each side able to slide open, the back room of curved form following the shape of the boat, with a higher ceiling, a tall post fitted near the top with a guard post decorated with shou characters, and a gilt-bronze dragon headed 'pin', carved wood stand.
Provenance: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27th April 2003, lot 289.
Lacquer boxes in the shape of boats are unusual, although a very similar example, but with a roofed structure at the front, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Gugong Bowuyuan cang diao qi [Carved lacquer in the collection of the Palace Museum], Beijing, 1985, pl. 362. See also a boat with an upper deck but no openwork sliding doors or mast, in the collection of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou, illustrated in Yang Zhishui, ‘Qi he de zaoxing, wenshi yu shiyong’ [The shape, décor and use of lacquer boxes], Wang Chunfa ed., Zhongguo Guojia Bowuguan guancang wenwu yanjiu congshu. Za xiang juan [Studies of the collections of the National Museum of China. Miscellaneous], Shanghai, 2018, pl. 19-2; a larger pair of boats sold in our New York rooms, 19th September 2001, lot 43; and another, carved with multiple drawers, sold in these rooms, 19th December 1980, lot 242.
The form of this boat recalls the magnificent touring boats used by the Qianlong Emperor during his inspection tours of southern China. The scroll painting The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, painted by the court artist Xu Yang (active ca. 1750- after 1776) and dated in accordance with 1770, depicts the Emperor arriving in Suzhou on such a boat, see the Museum’s website, accession no. 1988.350a–d.
Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, London, 15 may 2019, 10:30 AM