Yixin (1833-98), the first Prince Gong and sixth son of the Daoguang Emperor (r. 1820-50), was one of the most influential figures in China during the second half of the 19th century. It was he who in 1860 proposed the establishment of the office of Zongli Yamen, which was to be responsible for foreign relations during a particularly turbulent period of Chinese history. As the head of the Zongli Yamen and later as Prince Counsellor to the Dowager Empresses, Prince Gong played an important role in China's domestic and international affairs. In 1851 the prince was given an extensive mansion by his brother the Xianfeng Emperor (r.1850-61). This 18th century mansion, which is now a museum, became known as the most sumptuous in Beijing and was luxuriously furnished. This magnificent pair of screens which would have once graced one of the grand halls is a testament to this luxury with their superbly carved zitan wood stands of enormous size and inlays of exquisite white jade appliques.
When the current screens were sold by the American Art Galleries on behalf of Yamanaka & Company in 1913, the Preface to the catalogue memorialised the beautiful grounds of Prince Gong's residence:
"His spacious Pekin mansion is at the northwest of the Imperial palace, surrounded by a lofty, solid wall, with a group of tall, aged and imposing trees within, and presents an impressive spectacle. It was sealed from the time of his departure until the visit of the purchasers of his art collection last summer, and there was great formality in procuring entrance. In the great dining-room everything remained, by his orders, precisely as when he left, even to a half-smoked cigarette.
Passing through one gate after another of this Imperial abode of Prince Kung, the visitor finds a straight row of buildings accommodating from three to four hundred of the Prince's followers, and the quarters of the household force. In a central location is a great building in the form of a temple pavilion, the reception-room for distinguished visitors. One passes along the veranda to the left to the great dining saloon, and across a central garden toward the right is a small library, with exhibition rooms.
In the rear section of this building, across the center of the garden, is the great library, where, besides the numerous books to left and right, mainly bronzes and jades were shown. Leaving this library at a short distance, one came to a large, solid-looking two-story building in the form a letter L, which might be called the Fine Arts Museum, containing a countless number of precious treasures.
Through the treasure house, and by the way of a stone arch, one entered a garden filled with trees and flowers of foreign lands, around the Tea House, the Waiting Pavilion, and the Moon View Arbor. In a place like this one might spend weeks in perfect contentment, enjoying nature and the great art collection."
A MAGNIFICENT MASSIVE PAIR OF JADE EMBELLISHED ZITAN MOON-SHAPED SCREENS
Each of the central medallions embellished with jade carvings depicting treasured objects in the form of archaic bronzes, vases, scholar's objects, bowls of auspicious fruit, some placed on finely carved wood stands, all on a lacquered light-brown ground, the reverse plain, bordered by a circular zitan frame exquisitely carved with a dense ruyi-cloud pattern; supported on an openwork pedestal, the upper section in the form of an inverted arch, similarly carved with a pair of bats in flight amidst ruyi-clouds centred by an upright bat among lingzhi-fungus, above a waisted central column flanked by six archaistic phoenix-shaped brackets carved in openwork, on an elongaged waisted hexa-lobed stand
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT CHINESE COLLECTION
18th Century, All other categories of objects, stone, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART
57 1/8 in. (145 cm.) overall height (2)
The Most Noble Hardwood, My Humble House, Taipei, 1996, pp. 232-233
Prince Gong (sixth son of Emperor Daoguang, r. 1821-1850) by descent to his grandson
Yamanaka and Co.
The American Art Gallery, New York, 27 February 1913, lot 199
Sold at Christie's New York, 28 June 1984, lot 134
My Humble House, Taipei