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Throne

  • Place of origin:

    China (made)

  • Date:

    1736-1795 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved polychrome lacquer on wood core

  • Museum number:

    W.399:1, 2-1922

  • Gallery location:

    China, room 44, case 36

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Physical description

Chinese Imperial throne of carved polychrome lacquer on wood core.
Additional note: The 'Nan-Haidze' of the Spink's advertisement is to be identified with the 'nan yuan' (southern park), an area of 210 km², situated 10km outside the 'Yongding' Gate, 10 km south of Beijing. The colloquial name 'nan hai zi' (southern lakes) is attested by 'chen yuan zhi lue' of 1788 (p.216), where it may refer to the whole complex, or simply to its southern part around the 'Nan hong men' (Southern Red Gate). The park is referred to as 'Nan yuan hai zi' on the 1907 German Staff map of Beijing, issued by the War Office, 1908 (V&A FED Library Box 2.2A).
The park was used in the Qing period principally for troop reviews, but also for some hunting. It contained four major travelling palaces ('xing gong'), in 1777. The site was occupied and seriously damaged by foreign troops during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
There is no firm evidence as to which of the Nan Yuan 'travelling palaces' the throne and its attendant screen were taken from. It can be assumed that some form of 'throne' was present in the main halls of all four. If it was taken from the Tuan He Travelling Palace, as being the most desirable object of looting, then that would suggest a date of 1775-1780, which is acceptable stylistically.
The companion screen is 71.233 in the Museum Fur Volkerkunde, Vienna. The main subject there is the Pan Tao Feast, birthday of Xi Wang Mu, which runs across all three leaves. The screen was in the Austrian embassy, Beijing by October 1900, and relatively full documentation survives concerning its acquisition by the Museum.
Sources: Wu Changyuan, ''Chen Yuan Zhi lue'' (1788), Beijing, Guji chubanshe ed. (Beijing, 1981), pp.215-217.
''Beijing lishi dituji'', ed. by Hon Renzhi (Beijing, 1988), map 38 and text on verso.
Wan Yi, Wang Shuqing and Lu Yanzhen, ''Daily Life in the Forbidden City'' (Hong Kong, 1988), p.95.
[Throne] The throne depicts five clawed dragons and exotic figures meant to represent the bearers of tribute from foreign lands.

Place of Origin

China (made)

Date

1736-1795 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Carved polychrome lacquer on wood core

Dimensions

Height: 119.3 cm, Width: 125.7 cm, Depth: 91.4 cm

Object history note

The throne was almost certainly commissioned in the late 1780s for the Tuanhe Travelling Palace, one of several temporary abodes of the emperors of the Qing dynasty in the Nan Haizi ("southern ponds") hunting park immediately south of Beijing. This park formed the setting for a number of military reviews celebrating the apogee of Man-chu power in Asia, but was neglected in the nineteenth century and gradually fell into decay. The Nan Haizi park was looted by Russian troops in 1900-01, in the aftermath of the occupation of Beijing by troops of the eight allied powers (including the United States and Great Britain) that invaded China, ostensibly to suppress the so-called Boxer Uprising. The czarist Russian ambassador Mikhail N. Girs acquired the throne in China and brought it to Britain following the Soviet revolution of 1917.
The throne was displayed by the dealer Spink & Son at its St. James's premises and bought from the firm on behalf of the Museum by George Swift, a major figure in the wholesale potato industry in Britain and, during World War I, a colleague of Edward Fairbrother Strange, the V&A's furniture curator.

Descriptive line

Chinese Imperial throne, carved lacquer on wood depicting five clawed dragons, Qing dynasty, 1775-1780.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
Artefacts from the Chinese imperial court, including this grand and ornate throne (and cats. 106-107), enthralled many
nineteenth-century collectors and consequently figure prominently in the Museum’s collection. The throne was almost certainly commissioned in the late 1780s for the Tuanhe Travelling Palace, one of several temporary abodes of the emperors of the Qing dynasty in the Nan Haizi (“southern ponds”) hunting park immediately south of Beijing. This park formed the setting for a number of military reviews celebrating the apogee of Man-chu power in Asia, but was neglected in the nineteenth century and gradually fell into decay. The Nan Haizi park was looted by Russian troops in 1900-01, in the aftermath of the occupation of Beijing by troops of the eight allied powers (including the United States and Great Britain) that invaded China, ostensibly to suppress the so-called Boxer Uprising. The czarist Russian ambassador Mikhail N. Girs acquired the throne in China and brought it to Britain following the Soviet revolution of 1917.
The throne was displayed by the dealer Spink & Son at its St. James’s premises and bought from the firm on behalf of the Museum by George Swift, a major figure in the wholesale potato industry in Britain and, during World War I, a colleague of Edward Fairbrother Strange, the V&A’s furniture curator.
Neither Spink nor the Museum has ever attempted to conceal the origins of the throne, which is valued as much for its imperial associations as for its craftsmanship. It has been on continuous display since its acquisition, labelled until the 1980s as “Throne of Emperor Ch’ien-lung” (Qianlong). Until 1952 the throne had pride of place in the displays of Oriental furniture and woodwork (see fig. 105), and since then has been prominent in the Far Eastern Primary Gallery and the T. T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art.
In his 1925 Catalogue of Chinese Lacquer, Strange made the first serious attempt in a European language to provide an overview of lacquer, concentrating on itemising the medium’s most common decorative motifs and their symbolic significance, a style of scholarship derived from the study of Chinese ceramics. More recently, attention has shifted away from the throne’s glamourous lacquer medium and towards the object’s provenance, with an attempt to provide a more precise date and place of manufacture and to understand its role as symbolic of British hegemony in Asia in the popular and institutional imagination.

Lit. Strange, 1925; Clunas, 1991; Clunas, 1994

CRAIG CLUNAS

Exhibition History

A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)

Associated names

Ch'ien-lung (Emperor)

Materials

Wood; Lacquer

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Scrolling foliage; Dragon; Elephant; Key pattern; Geometric pattern

Categories

Furniture; Royalty; Ceremonial objects

Collection code

EAS

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