frag­ile beauty

When a quar­tet of fa­mous Chi­nese porce­lain pieces—known as the Buc­cleuch vases—reaches its new home in Wynn Palace, it will have com­pleted a jour­ney span­ning more than two cen­turies and thou­sands of miles.

Wynn Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drea Ben­nett

When a quar­tet of fa­mous Chi­nese porce­lain pieces— known as the Buc­cleuch vases—reaches its new home in Wynn Palace, it will have com­pleted a jour­ney span­ning more than two cen­turies and thou­sands of miles.

Packing and ship­ping four vases that have vir­tu­ally no equal in the world is, as you might imag­ine, not a mat­ter an art han­dler takes lightly. When a set of leg­endary vases from China’s Ji­aqing pe­riod (1796–1821) fit­ted with early-19th­cen­tury French or­molu jour­neys the mere six miles from its cur­rent lo­ca­tion in the lobby at Wynn Ma­cau to the Wynn Palace VIP reg­is­tra­tion area in June, the lo­gis­tics in­volved will be noth­ing short of “in­tense,” ex­plains Wynn De­sign and De­vel­op­ment’s Di­rec­tor of Pur­chas­ing, Pamela Cyr. On mov­ing day, a spe­cialty fine-art mover and in­staller from Hong Kong will ar­rive with six em­ploy­ees to de-in­stall the vases, de­tach them from their or­nate gilt-bronze mounts, se­cure them in the crates that orig­i­nally took them the 6,000 miles from Lon­don to Ma­cau in 2011, and move them to the Co­tai Strip. Flanked by heavy se­cu­rity, the art han­dlers will trans­port the vases to their new home, where the process will be­gin in re­verse. “Even a short move is very com­plex, due to the value of the vases, the co­or­di­na­tion needed, and the staff it takes to make the move hap­pen,” says Cyr, who man­aged their orig­i­nal move from Christie’s in Lon­don. The four-foot-high vases, painted with Bud­dhist and Daoist em­blems, with their 19th-cen­tury gilt-bronze han­dles and bases, are not or­di­nary par­lor dec­o­ra­tion. Pur­chased by Steve Wynn at the Christie’s In­ter­na­tional “Ex­cep­tional” sale in Lon­don in 2011, they were the most ex­pen­sive of 50 lots and set a world auc­tion record for or­molu-mounted porce­lain when Wynn paid $12.8 mil­lion for the set. But in fact they had been par­lor dec­o­ra­tion

Mon­tagu House, White­hall, was one of Lon­don’s grand­est pri­vate man­sions in its day, hous­ing the ex­cep­tional Buc­cleuch art col­lec­tion.

for two cen­turies prior, al­beit for a fam­ily of Scot­tish no­bil­ity that in­cluded two of the fore­most art col­lec­tors of the early 19th cen­tury. The quar­tet, known as the Buc­cleuch vases, was ei­ther first ac­quired by El­iz­a­beth Mon­tagu, 3rd Duchess of Buc­cleuch and Queens­berry (1743–1827), and later in­her­ited by her grand­son Wal­ter, 5th Duke of Buc­cleuch and 7th Duke of Queens­berry, or they were pur­chased by him in the late 1820s. By 1827, Wal­ter was one of the rich­est landown­ers in Bri­tain (the cur­rent Duke of Buc­cleuch is still the largest pri­vate landowner in the United King­dom). And though a prop­erty in­ven­tory for El­iz­a­beth’s Mon­tagu House prior to his in­her­it­ing it listed a num­ber of vases, in­clud­ing “Sea Green China Vases” and “enam­eld [sic] China Jars,” it was her grand­son who be­came one of Eng­land’s great­est col­lec­tors, with the largest stores of not only Boulle fur­ni­ture and Sèvres porce­lain but also of or­molu-mounted Chi­nese porce­lain. Mon­tagu House, White­hall, was one of Lon­don’s grand­est pri­vate man­sions in its day, host­ing aris­toc­racy and hous­ing the ex­cep­tional Buc­cleuch art col­lec­tion, which in­cluded works by Raphael, Rubens, Rem­brandt, and Canaletto, along with many porce­lain ob­jets d’art. The vases resided with the Buc­cleuch fam­ily, later in the fam­ily’s Dalkeith Palace in Scot­land, un­til the death of Wal­ter Mon­tagu Dou­glas Scott, 8th Duke of Buc­cleuch and 10th Duke of Queens­berry, in 1973. They were auc­tioned twice af­ter that, in­clud­ing in 2011, when Wynn Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of De­sign Roger Thomas spot­ted them in his Christie's cat­a­log and im­me­di­ately made plans to fly to Lon­don to bid on the quar­tet. The find was so mem­o­rable, he re­calls, he still has the cat­a­log. The vases likely orig­i­nally ar­rived in Lon­don via one of the im­porters of “for­eign cu­riosi­ties” in the West End, who sought ex­otic items for wealthy clients for whom ori­en­tal ob­jets were in vogue. The or­molu mounts were at­tached to “im­prove” the porce­lain—deal­ers worked with Parisian marchands-merciers (mer­chants) to com­mis­sion the mounts. To the credit of the bronziers who made them, they rec­og­nized the in­cred­i­ble qual­ity of the porce­lain, says Robert Co­p­ley, Christie’s Deputy Chair­man and In­ter­na­tional Head of the Ex­cep­tional Sale of Dec­o­ra­tive Arts. “Of­ten the pieces were pierced to ac­com­mo­date the or­nate mounts,” he notes. “What’s in­ter­est­ing about the com­bi­na­tion of th­ese vases is that the French re­spected the porce­lain enough to leave it in­tact.” Not only are the vases of in­cred­i­ble qual­ity, they are also sig­nif­i­cant for com­bin­ing images and mo­tifs from both Bud­dhism and Dao­ism. The 2,000-year-old in­dige­nous Chi­nese re­li­gion of Dao­ism thrived through­out the 300-year-long Qing Dy­nasty, dur­ing which th­ese vases were pro­duced, de­spite the em­per­ors’ pref­er­ence for Ti­betan Bud­dhism. The many bats in flight de­picted on the celadon back­ground are an aus­pi­cious sym­bol of hap­pi­ness and pros­per­ity, as the word “bats” is a ho­mo­phone in Chi­nese for a word mean­ing “hap­pi­ness.” Ac­cord­ing to the lot notes by †

For Steve Wynn, ac­quir­ing vases was part of a goal to repa­tri­ate some of China’s most im­por­tant art.

Christie’s his­to­ri­ans, the eight Bud­dhist and Daoist em­blems, of cen­tral im­por­tance on the vases, are be­lieved to bring bless­ings and har­mony: “The Lo­tus sym­bol­izes pu­rity and har­mony; the Vase or Jar al­ludes to the elixir of life that stands for vic­tory… the Twin Fish ex­presses the free­dom and hap­pi­ness that true knowl­edge brings.” The only par­al­lels known to th­ese vases were ac­quired by the Prince Re­gent (Ge­orge, Prince of Wales, later Ge­orge IV), and are still in Buck­ing­ham Palace. To give a sense of the work­man­ship in­volved, the 1814 com­mis­sion for the Prince Re­gent re­quired 31 dif­fer­ent crafts­men. To­day, vis­i­tors can see the vases that orig­i­nally adorned Carl­ton House in the palace’s State Din­ing Room, trans­ferred there when Ge­orge be­came king. For Steve Wynn, who has been dubbed one of the 21st cen­tury’s “Medici buy­ers,” ac­quir­ing the vases was part of a goal to repa­tri­ate some of China’s most im­por­tant art. Wynn be­gan col­lect­ing Chi­nese art in 2006, when he pur­chased a rare red porce­lain vase from the 14 th-cen­tury hong wu pe­riod and do­nated it to the Ma­cau Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion, where it is now in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Cul­tural Af­fairs Bureau’s Ma­cau Mu­seum. “It’s not only im­por­tant that Ma­cau ex­pands eco­nom­i­cally, but also cul­tur­ally,” he ex­plained. When Wynn brought the Buc­cleuch vases back to China, he an­nounced in a cer­e­mony at Wynn Ma­cau that re­turn­ing the pieces was part of a con­tin­u­ing pol­icy to add to the cul­tural en­rich­ment of the com­mu­nity. “China is where the vases have their roots and their story,” he said. And af­ter a long trip abroad, col­lect­ing some em­bel­lish­ments on the way, the vases have found their way back home.

clock­wise from top left: The vases at Wynn Ma­cau; a vase in its home in Dalkeith Palace in 1902; Dalkeith Palace; a print of Mon­tagu House, White­hall, 1896.

above: The only known sim­i­lar vases were ac­quired by the Prince Re­gent, and seen here in an aquatint en­grav­ing of the Blue Vel­vet Room at Carlton House by Charles Wild, circa 1816. left: One of the Buc­cleuch vases with­out its mount.

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