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26 32 34 136790-0023-004

A rare and large Chinese ‘Figures and Landscape’ automaton, Qing Dynasty, 19th centuryEstimation  100,000 — 120,000 USD. Unsold. Photo Sotheby’s

the large central glass case flanked by two smaller cases, all within hardwood frames connected by brass hinges, depicting a lush mystical mountain setting with pavilions, bridges and a pagoda, comprising papier-mâché, silk, wire and polychrome paint, the entire landscape dotted with kingfisher feather ornaments (later added from a headdress), the central case electrically wired, now mounted on a late; height 37 1/2  in.; width 71 1/2  in.; depth 15 1/2  in.; 95.3 cm; 181.6 cm; 39.4 cm

PROVENANCE: Christie’s Hong Kong, April 28-29, 1996, lot 559
Thereafter with the present owner. Property of Gordon Getty.

The present work, though extremely rare, has its roots in the clock making tradition. When the Jesuit Matteo Ricci introduced two striking clocks to the Wanli emperor in 1601, the fascination with the mechanical marvels continued into the reigns of the Qing dynasty rulers. A palace workshop focused on the production of western-style clocks was established by the Kangxi emperor and remained active until at least 1879. When the demand for clocks permeated among the merchant elites, Canton and Suzhou also became manufacturing centers.

Within the palace workshop, automata were created and conceived by Jesuit missionaries. According to Catherine Pagani in her discussion on this subject (see ‘Europe in Asia: The Impact of Western Art and Technology in China,’ Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800, p. 302) an automaton in the form of a walking lion by Gilles Thebault (1703-66) was made according to basic horological principles. Moreover, a walking automaton in human form was planned — but not ultimately realized — by Sigismondo Mainardi di San Nicola (1713-67).

A small clock in the Palace Museum, Beijing, set within a ‘landscape’ similar in palette and style to the automaton, and accompanied by two blue birds comparable to one in the present example, attributed to the 19th century, is illustrated inGugong Zhong Biao, Beijing, 2004, p. 254.

Sotheby’s. Masterworks. New York | 11 déc. 2014, 10:00 AM