A pair of mysterious cloisonne.

Earlier I wrote about my trip through Chicago and some of the wonderful things that I picked up down there. One of the truly spectacular pieces that I found at an estate were these Chinese cloisonne. They were quite the mystery when I found them. A good mystery, One that I was quite happy to come upon. Here are some pictures and then I’ll start to break down what there is to interpret from the pieces.

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Late Qing Dynasty Chinese Fish and Heron Cloisonne Vases

At first glance, I was stunned by their beauty and shape. They were inexpensively priced, so it wasn’t a hard decision. When you shop a lot and collect a lot, you tend to not inspect cheap things so thoroughly at free for all sales. Here are some more photos to get a better idea of the imagery in your head.

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Side view

They are decorated top to bottom. In fact, when I was carrying them one time I realized that the entire shape is a fish. That’s where I’ll start, somebody has made this in what I would consider a cheeky manner. If you count the form itself, there are six fish on each face of the cloisonne. There are the two at the top, then there’s another pair underneath the wave and the one being grabbed by the heron. I’m not 100% certain about the species of the fish but I suspect that it is a type of carp native to East Asia and some of China. They could be different species – the artisan has used different colors to represent the same parts of their bodies between them. I.e. one has a blue tailfin when the other has a red tailfin. It could be a decorative difference but it’s good to note.

The bird is native to East Asia. It is a red-crowned crane, one of the rarer cranes. Both the crane and the fish are frequently used as symbols of good fortune, which would make sense with their combination here. I believe the flower is a lily but my knowledge of flowers is mediocre and especially when they are rendered on cloisonne. Guesses there are much appreciated!

For cloisonne, the colors are quite unusual. They have faded with age and aren’t the brilliant renditions of rich color that comes with contemporary cloisonne. The strange seafoam green as the base is a color I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on cloisonne. The water-blue is wonderful. The main color, this deep red, is one that always keeps me coming back to the south of China and items made for Southeast Asia. Though I bought it in Chicago, I’ve begun to wonder if Southeast Asia was not its initial destination.

The last figure I’ll note, because I could keep going but it’s not necessary at this point, is the small little guy hiding at the bottom. The “hidden figure” is what has given me my best hopes of identifying the piece and possible a maker. It would take me through a chase down into the wayback machine but I believe I’ve confirmed my suspicions about the item. I managed to find a similar red cloisonne item bearing traits reminiscent of this piece. And that piece was signed. However, that’s where it becomes more difficult because why would this one not have been signed? Who knows. Seeing that other piece, one of the few pieces I’ve seen that matches the colors, the unusual motifs and even had its own “hidden figures” is the best comparison I’ve come upon. It validates a conclusion that the other  information points towards, that these are made between the end of the 19th century and the early quarter of the 20th century most likely for export to Southeast Asia

Hope all is well, friends!

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