One day in the Summer of 2009 my wife Birgitta showed me that the January 2004 issue of The World of Interiors, which she had been flicking through, featured on page 81 an article on Château de Filières which among its treasures held two folding screens with Chinese prints. Birgitta recognized the prints as being similar to prints hanging on our walls.
The illustration in the magazine showed a four-panel screen in full, and partly two panels of a second screen. So I estimated that there were at least six prints; perhaps eight, if the screens were symmetrical although not identical, one made in brown wood, the other in black.
Three of the visible prints were already known to me, but the other three were new acquaintances. I immediately wrote to the owners to ask permission to visit and inspect the prints but never received a reply. Recently, on a journey that took me near Le Havre, I went to the château on the off-chance that I could see the screens. The Marquis de Persan received me very warmly, remembered my letter, offered coffee and guided me through the small château, which has been in his family for 500 years. For more details on the château, please visit www.chateaux-france.com/filieres.
In the main salon stood the two screens and I could now see that they consisted of four panels each, so a total of eight prints, five of which are already represented in my own collection. I was allowed to take photographs but unfortunately I did not have a proper camera so the photos are more for guidance than documentation. I hope though to return soon with proper equipment in order to shoot professional photos of the prints.
The prints are Chinese, printed from woodblocks in at least two shades of black and enhanced by painted colours in red (two nuances), blue (several nuances), orange, green, yellow, white (hands and faces), and brown. The size of the prints is c. 107×57 cm.
They each show a woman surrounded by two to four boys playing or involved in various activities. All are against a backdrop of open views towards a garden or landscape. Three are winter scenes (prints 1, 8, and 9) as can be seen from dresses, landscape and symbols.
The Château de Filières ones are mounted on paper and inserted into the screen. All are cut within the black image frame, which is still preserved on some of mine. Unfortunately they are in very bad state and condition – there are holes and tears, caused by human and insects; some are coming loose from the backing paper; there is surface dirt, they were never protected by glass.
My six prints are framed and glassed, probably recently. Four of them were bought from the Chinese Porcelain Company in New York. Originally they were spotted there by Professor James Cahill who believed them to be copper engravings in western style. He informed my old friend Sören Edgren of their existence. Sören identified them as woodblock prints and alerted me. The vendor (the late Khalil Rizk) claimed they came from an Italian antique dealer’s estate, an antique dealer who had specialized in interior decoration. I guess this is as much as we will get to know of the provenance. The other two were bought at a small auction in the UK.
The Marquis has no knowledge of provenance for his prints or when they came into the salon. This part of the castle was constructed from 1785 to 1790, and it is probable that the prints came in at this time, together with twenty-two Chinese flower-and-bird prints which form the wall panels in another salon. I will write about those at a later opportunity.
Two of the prints have inscriptions:
Print 1. 麟兒集慶新年瑞 with a signature 姑蘓信德號
Print 8. 鳳子歡呼樂嵗朝 and a signature 吳門管瑞玉寫 [Thank you Sören Edgren for deciphering the characters]
Since gusu is the old name for Suzhou and wumen is an area of that city we know that the prints emanate from Suzhou, probably during the second half of the eighteenth century.
In future postings on this site will follow image and description of each print. Print 9 & 10 is not among the prints in Château de Filières, and vice versa print 8 is not represented in my collection [actually, as of October 2015, I have acquired a version of this print].