Meta-Museum – CHINESE BAROQUE 中国巴洛克式的样式



The 19th Century Chinese Export Silver Makers’ Love of Theatricality

Rococo is essentially a product of the late baroque period. Although it can be described in many ways, the most delicious I think is “the Late Rococo manner was distinguished by a remarkable facility, exuberance and hedonism”.

The Late Rococo period, what might be called the last gasp of the Baroque style, could not have been better suited to the mid to late Victorian urge to go over the top. it was the age of “more is definitely more” and although in theory there were no limits, there was a line that when crossed good taste faded into obscurity and kitsch [aka poor taste because of  excessive garishness] took over.

Silver was an ideal material to create stylish excesses. By the time Late Rococo had appeared, the Chinese Export Silver makers had morphed from creating faithful copies of  European and American Georgian silverware and were decorating otherwise classical Western forms with an over-abundance of Chinese motifs. The result, in the main, was silver that was uniquely Chinese in the Western style.

This marriage of Chinese motifs and classical form was one made in heaven; they simply were meant to be!

Here [left] we have a superb reticulated Chinese Export Silver centrepiece by Wang Hing, circa 1885. It is a wonderful example of how the exuberance of the Chinese dragon sits so comfortably with the classic form and the decoration of the base. This particular piece was sold recently at Christie’s for €6250.





While this dramatic table cigar lighter, also by Wang Hing, circa 1880 demonstrates how well the dragon can create this unique sino-rococo style.

This particular piece was sold earlier this year at Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh for £850.

Mirrors were always a focus of any rococo interior, and although the next piece may not be what a purist would call rococo, neither is it a mirror, but it definitely takes inspiration from the original style and expresses itself in pure Chinese decoration of chrysanthemums and butterflies instead of the ubiquitous acanthus we generally would associate with rococo.Yet again by Wang Hing, this circa 1890 picture frame  [below] was sold by the London firm of Daniel Bexfield Antiques for £1225

“Dramatic” and “exuberant” are adjectives that sit comfortably with rococo. In Chinese art dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs. In yin/yang terminology, a dragon is yang; the dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. With this, the Emperor usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

The long curling dragon is almost a natural manifestation of rococo curlicues, as we see in this close-up of a circa 1890 Chinese Export Silver table centre/jardiniere [below right] whereas the highly dramatic lidded trophy, originally part of the Sataloff Collection [below left] takes the classical form and embellishes it not only with the dragon, but with a multitude of auspicious chinese motifs, leaving hardly a centimetre unadorned – it could almost be a study of a rococo plaster ceiling!

This Luen Wo reticulated dish [below], circa 1880, also embraces classic rococo forms and chinese motifs.

Chinese Export Silver tea services lend themselves admirably to a show of zestful over-enthusiasm as this sumptuous circa 1880 tea and coffee service by Wing Chun below demonstrates to full effect. Again almost every surface is crammed with repoussé and relief work.

Catherine the Great was not known for her lack of dramatics! She also had a passion for all things oriental and, as with all things she had a fondness for, she collected them with equal passion.

Catherine was hardly an endearing figure, having cuckolded, replaced and finall dispatched her royal husband, but she did much to establish the pride of the Russian people. She achieved this partly through her accumulation of art and objets d’art. She was one of the world’s great collectors.

This rather glorious Chinese Export Silver and silver gilt box [above] is one of a pair that belonged to Catherine the Great and is now to be found at the Hermitage, St Petersburg.

And lastly, this quite unique hongmu and Chinese Export Silver mirror [left] borrows what is essentially a rococo shape but is comprised of traditional Chinese forms.

Extravagantly or excessively ornate, asymmetrical patterns involving motifs and scrollwork – the original Rococo style was characterised by opulence, grace, playfulness and fantasy. It was often thought to be the epitome of aristocratic frivolity.

The Chinese “rococo” of the Chinese Export Silver makers was all this and much much more. It is gloriously theatrical and yet so uniquely Chinese.

      the rococo style: extravagant or excessively ornate

SAY NO MORE!!!!!!!!!


53 pages, covering over 100 Chinese Export silversmiths – showing their various marks and relevant information plus an insight into the bygone age of “The Lost World of the Silversmiths & the Silver Emporia in China”


“Excellent research” “the beauty of this publication is that they are photos of actual marks and not drawings or interpretations”…… David Rees, Director, 20th Century Decorative Arts and Silver, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions

” a valuable resource”……. Patricia L. Whiteside Inc, Appraisals Estates Specialist, Palm Beach & Naples, Florida

Leave A Comment

© 2012-2024 chinese export silver All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright