Carlton Hobbs, LLC is once again looking forward to exhibiting at the Masterpiece Fair in London, which opens at the Royal Hospital Chelsea next week, and we are very excited this year to be showing a group of works created abroad for the English and Continental markets. A careful blend of tradition and exoticism in these pieces is expressed in the combination of European forms with construction techniques unique to their native regions, namely the British colonies of East Asia and South America.

An extremely rare set of twelve George II carved walnut dining chairs, circa 1740, likely represents the largest extant group of chairs ordered in the Treaty port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) in the first half of the 18th century. While the design of the set represents the earliest model in the development of Chinese export chairs, taking the basic Queen Anne form of a shaped backsplat and cabriole legs, the construction of the chairs is distinctly Chinese with the carved motifs of an exotic character. The style of carving is closely related to an export cabinet in the Cophenhagen Museum of Art and Design, documented along with a set of twelve chairs in the “English fashion,” making it tempting to hypothesize that these chairs formed part of the same commission.

To the south, Chinese craftsmen created European-influenced furniture of great originality in the Straits Settlements, established by the British East India Company in the Malaccan Straits circa 1826. A rare carved teakwood breakfront on view with Carlton Hobbs represents the variety of Straits Chinese furniture modeled on, or related to, English designs dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Although these pieces were clearly Anglicized, their Chinese origins are recognizable by the type of wood used, construction methods and Eastern decorative motifs, which include carved openwork of Asian inspired foliate designs and vases. Although wealthy Chinese patrons generally did not have a taste for European-inspired pieces, the Straits Chinese were an exception, becoming “enthusiastic customers” of the Anglicized furniture.

Along with furniture forms, colonial artists also emulated the European style of portraiture, but often with strong references to their own traditions and subjects. An extremely rare painting of a black artist completing a portrait of a white female aristocrat represents this fusion of metropole and indigenous concepts. The painting, possibly executed in Brazil, speaks to position and integration of slaves in 18th century society. Here, the artist is dressed in an antiquated, fanciful costume and wears an earring, silver collar and arm cuff, denoting his servants/slave status. Usually, black male figures appear in portraits of this period in attendance to their masters, serving as status symbols, however, in the case of this painting, the relationship is indicated in a unique and far less subservient manner. The origin of the painting is as yet uncertain, however, strong clues exist as witnessed in the urban landscape seen through the window in the painting. The tiled roofs of this lively and distinctive reddish-pink color are specific to Portugal and colonial Brazil, which was under Portuguese rule until 1822. The slave population in Brazil was the largest in the world, and spanned four centuries, however slaves in this country experienced a less severe lifestyle than those in other parts of the world.

 

Carlton Hobbs’ New York office will be open as usual from for the duration of the Fair, +1 212 423 9000. Additionally, Carlton and Stefanie can be reached directly at +1 347-603-3441 or at +1 646-710-0777, or by emailing Stefanie at stefanie@carltonhobbs.com.

Carlton Hobbs’ London showroom is located at 16 Bloomfield Terrace, off Pimlico Road and can be viewed any time by appointment.