A rare Chinese export silver gilt and enamelled ‘Eight Immortals’ circular box for the Thai market, mark of Hui Yuan, circa 1840-1875, on the cover repoussé with the scene of the Eight Taoist Immortals gathering in a garden, each holding their own vessels that can bestow life or destroy evil, the exterior of the body decorated with a similar continuous scene, all against a bright blue lapiz lazuli ground, the base impressed with ‘wen yin’ (‘cash silver’) and the silversmith’s mark ‘Hui Yuan’ and ‘xia jiu pu’ (a historical canton parade of shops), 16.2cm diameter x 7.5cm high, weight 858 gram.
Condition: Minor wear to gilding.
Provenance: English Private Collection .
HUI YUAN 汇源 was essentially a manufacturing silversmith based in a known silver smithing area of Canton but, as with many workshops, had an on-site showroom of sorts where bespoke orders could be placed as well as wholesale and retail selling; Hui Yuan operated in Guangzhou 1870-1920. It is well documented that the King of Siam, as well as other Siamese notables, regularly sent envoys to Canton for the specific purpose to place orders and take delivery of already completed orders Hui Yuan was one of several Canton-based silversmiths who were known to create items specifically for the Siam trade, Bangkok mainly; items that were easily identifiable as having been made by a Chinese silversmith but with definitive Siamese [Thai] motifs and even, occasionally, incorporating Bangkok silversmithing manufacturing techniques. Unlike other such makers, no indication has been discovered that indicates that Hui Yuan also had a branch in Bangkok.The circular form box depicts the “Eight Immortals” [八仙 baxian] on the cover; the number eight [ba 八] is considered to be a most auspicious number because its pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is very similar to “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财]. A border of fruiting grapes surrounds the scene with a similar motif forming a frieze around the side of the cover, perhaps alluding to the only female Immortal He Xiangu [何仙姑] who is often depicted holding a basket of fruit and is believed by many to have been born in Guangzhou, He Xiangu is indicative of filial devotion, the ability to resolve domestic disputes and is generally held to be the patron of household management. Fruiting grapes [葡萄 putao] also have a feminine focus, representative of fecundity, abundance and heirs; they can also indicate envy. The side of the box is decorated with a continuous garden scene motif; all the decoration on this box are in repoussé relief, with the background filled with a lapis blue enamel paste; a technique known a shaolan 燒藍 which is believed to have peaked during the mid-Qing dynasty and used extensively during the Qianlong era in the Imperial workshops as well as Canton – perhaps the nearest Chinese equivalent to champlevé.It was common among Chinese silversmiths creating items for the Siam trade to insert a copper sheet layer in the construction of bases of silver boxes to add rigidity. This was a practice taken from Siamese silversmiths operating in Bangkok.See Bromberg, Paul, 2019, Thai Silver and Nielloware, Bangkok for similar examples of enamelled ground silver and silver gilt. Also see Von Ferscht, Adrien, 2015, Chinese Export Silver 1785-1940, for more examples of Chinese export silver约清1840-1875 银烧蓝八仙图盖盒戳记：”纹银””汇源””下九甫”克重：858克尺寸：16.2cm 直径 x 7.5cm 高拍品来源：英国私人收藏