Chinese Ivory Carvings, ca. 1950
These were some Chinese ivory items that my uncle had come back with. He was in the war in the Pacific in World War II. And they made their way through our family to me. He... my uncle died a few years ago. And this is a Quan Yin, and some fortune Buddhas, a couple of monks, a snuff bottle, a smaller Buddha, a panel with some monk scenes in it, carved tusk shape. My suspicion was that they might be late Qing Dynasty, perhaps. They appear to be ivory, because they have the cross-hatching, which is indicative of... of ivory.
And you had some special concerns you'd mentioned to me about ivory?
Well, I appreciate Oriental art a great deal, but I also appreciate elephants, too, so...
Well, you've correctly identified most of the figures. This is Quan Yin, as you mentioned. The sort of corpulent figures here, commonly called Ho Tai; Buddhai is another name. All these things are ivory. The little plaque over here depicts the eight Immortals over the roiling, turbulent waves beneath the cloud-filled sky. And when you mentioned that you believe that these probably date to the Qing Dynasty, which ended around 1911-- stylistically, you're absolutely correct. In actual fact, though, these were most likely made around 1950, somewhere in the '50s, right after the war. Now, particularly this panel here and the tusk here, and actually the Quan Yin, all are very conscious imitations of what you would find for the Qing Dynasty. What's really interesting is the way that this imitation was done. The carving is very beautifully done-- there's a lot of detail. And if it were just the detail, that would be one thing, but it's beyond the detail. It's the mix of this caramel-colored stain that's on the surface that has been rubbed down, and you can see it particularly well on this tusk, because you'll get this very attractive golden hue, and then in the high areas, it's worn off and you can see the ivory. And, in fact, when you look at the underside, you'll see that there's this very detailed fine crackle that's in the ivory itself that has the dark stains that highlight the crackle. Now, that was all induced by heat, so it was sort of a way to speed up the aging process to make it look older than it was.
How can you tell... I mean, it's sort of... it's just sort of your experience over the years?
It's the... yes, it's the experience, but it's also, again, when you look at this, there's a regularity to the crackle.
Oh, right, uh-huh.
This network of lines that does not actually occur in nature. And the same with the wear on the outside-- the high points are worn, but also if you look around it really carefully, you'll see that some of the areas of the carving deeper inside are also devoid of this golden-hued color. And does that mean that the quality is bad? No, the quality is quite good, which is what makes these interesting. The reason for that is the craftsmen who were doing this wonderful work-- and this was probably done in Hong Kong, not Guangzhou-- the people that did this were likely trained by some of the imperial craftsmen or people who knew people who were the great craftsmen of the late 19th or late 20th century. Now, the value of these at auction, the whole group, is going to be somewhere around $3,000 to $5,000. If they were Qing Dynasty, these would be in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.
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