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Oriental Works of Art
Oriental Works of Art is one of the most popular categories at Nicholas Wells Antiques Ltd in London. Furthermore, our carefully curated selection is sourced from the finest private collections from around the world. We offer numerous museum-quality Oriental objects from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India that are popular in today’s market.
All areas of Oriental Works of Art are represented in our collection. This includes rare objects for the export market, fine furniture, religious sculpture, weapons, and decorative accessories. We also specifically chose pieces that exemplify the most luxurious materials the Orient has to offer. From porcelain, terracotta, wood, lacquer, jade, bronze, ivory, and coral, there is definitely something of interest to all our customers and visitors.
At Nicholas Wells Antiques, the rare objects from our fine Oriental works of art collection are mostly from China and Japan.
18th Century Chinese Export Ivory
The major highlights in our Chinese art category include exceptional ivory carvings from the 18th to mid-20th Century. Throughout Chinese history, ivory has always been considered a rare material. Even though ivory was first discovered in China from as early as 5000 BC, it was not widely used as a decorative medium until the Shang (16th – c. 1050 BC) to the Han Dynasties (206 BC – AD 220).
Even then, ivory was already considered a luxurious commodity, with pieces imported through the ancient trade routes of Central Asia and South East Asia. The majority of the excavated objects from this time period include hair ornaments, earrings, pendants and necklaces. Ritual wares such as libation vessels were also used, but generally, all ivory carvings were made for the royal family and higher-ranking nobles.
With the introduction of Dutch traders during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911), China saw an increased supply and demand for ivory works of art. The top ivory carvings were still reserved for members of the imperial court, but the increased accessibility saw ownership of this medium by nobles and literati scholars for their general decorations. As such, ivory was carved into sculptures, vases, boxes, jewelry and scholar objects.
At the beginning of the 18th Century, the popularity of Chinese ivory grew to international acclaim. Traders brought in raw ivory from as far as India and Africa to the south-eastern Chinese workshops at Fujian and Guangdong. After they were carved by skilled craftsmen, the completed objects were then shipped to the European and American markets.
Stylistically, ivory carvings for the export market included sculptures and vases that were favoured by the domestic market. However, there were objects specifically crafted for the Western market, of which the finest examples are showcased at Nicholas Wells Antiques. These include cigarette cases, baskets, boxes, jewelry and ornaments.
The Chinese workshops were given blueprints of the popular styles and designs of that time. However, all of the finished works still yield a very particular Chinese aesthetics about them, from the use of lotuses, figures in Chinese attire, mythical creatures, and fantastic landscapes most often associated with Chinese painting.
In continuing with the theme of the Chinese trade, Nicholas Wells Antiques also feature a wide range of Chinese export porcelain in our collection. These were objects that were made specifically for the overseas market – from regions like South-East Asia and Japan, to as far as Europe (including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain), South Africa and North America.
Porcelain was a novel invention discovered in China during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). When firing clay vessels at extremely high temperatures, the chemistry of the material changes to one that was impermeable to liquid, durable, and easy to decorate and clean.
Chinese export porcelain
Chinese export porcelain was popularised during the 16th Century of the Ming Dynasty when Dutch traders brought millions of pieces to the European market. These include vessels of Chinese design as well as items catering to Western tastes. The latter includes European figures, dinner services, and decorative arts, all decorated in enamel such as monochromes, blue and white, famille verte, and famille rose. At Nicholas Wells Antiques, our offering of Chinese export porcelain is the finest of this popular category.
The Decorative Arts of Japan
The collection at Nicholas Wells Antiques also highlights a variety of museum-quality Japanese decorative arts, mostly from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). These include satsuma ceramics, bronze and silver vessels and ivory carvings.
Japanese art became a global phenomenon during the Meiji Restoration. This period marked the end of the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate where Japan was closed off to the world for 200 years, to one that embraced Western ideology and modernity.
Art was one of the methods to showcase a new modern Japan. With respect to decorative arts, new concepts were implemented to mirror the government’s ideals. For example, rather than requiring objects to be strictly functional, the Meiji school of thought saw that art can be purposed solely for display.
Despite Japanese craftsmen still using traditional materials such as silver, ivory, bamboo, wood, lacquer, and bronze, new aesthetics were being developed. Decorative objects can now showcase the creativity of the individual artist (rather than a workshop or studio), while new insights into Western tastes saw greater attention to fine details, realism, and dynamism.