Lot 3653. An important and exceedingly rare pair of cloisonne and champleve enamel gilt-bronze circular 'Chun' boxes and covers, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 9in. (23 cm.) high. Estimate HKD 15,000,000 - HKD 20,000,000Price Realized HKD 51,060,000. © Christie's Images Ltd. 2011

The top of each cover is decorated with Shoulao holding a peach, seated under a pine tree beside a deer and crane, within a roundel set against a large Chun, 'Spring', character flanked by a pair of five-clawed descending dragons amidst colourful clouds, above a lobed bowl filled with the Eight Treasures, Babao, all bordered by three concentric bands formed in turn by keyfrets, bats and lappets; the sides of the boxes are divided evenly by panels of dragons admist clouds and panels of bats, alternating with the Eight Auspicious Buddhism Emblems, Bajixiang, enamelled in vibrant colours of iron-red, green, lapis-blue, yellow and turquoise.

Provenance: Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868) Collection, Chateau de Ferrieres, Seine et Marne, France and thence by descent.

Note: The present cloisonne enamel boxes have been in Rothschild family collection since the late 19th century.

In l853, James de Rothschild (1792-1868) employed Joseph Paxton, the famous architect of the Crystal Palace - where the 1850s Great Exhibition took place - and Alfred Stokes, his son-in-law, to build the Chateau de Ferrieres, 25 km east from Paris. It appeared that no expense was spared in the design, and even the swagged and fringed velvet curtains were famed as 'le style Rothschild', which combined styles that ranged from the Renaissance to Louis XIV. For its interior design, a judicious mix of l8th century French and Italian furniture was shown with Boulle, ebony, ormolu, Old Masters, fine porcelains from Europe and China, arabesque carpets and painted furniture. Rare works of art and exquisitely crafted objects were drawn from the whole span of human creative endeavour.

It is understandable, therefore, to find the present pair of boxes which were originally sourced to furnish the Chateau to be the best that were produced for the Qing imperial court. The workmanship of the current boxes is extremely fine. Athough a number of related 'Spring' boxes are known, to date the present boxes are unique of their type in the combined use of cloisonne enamel and champleve enamel.

The overall imagery conveyed is one that would suggest these boxes were made to commemorate a special birthday celebration, either commissioned by or for the Emperor. The main character Chun, 'Spring', on the cover is a metaphor for youth, and this is auspiciously combined with the roundel of Shoulao, the God of Longevity. The themes represented here follow very closely those executed in cinnabar lacquer also dated the Qianlong period, such as the box from the Manno Art Museum, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28 October 2002, lot 568; and another from the Avery Brundage Collection, illustrated by Sir Harry Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, p. 148, fig. 90.

Comparable cloisonne enamel boxes are known such as the pair of smaller gilt-bronze and cloisonne enamel boxes sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28 October 2002, lot 772, and sold again at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 9 October 2007, lot 1323.

Christie's. The Imperial Sale,  Hong Kong, 1 June 2011