In the presentation of the various prints I have touched upon my acquisition of Prints 1-4 from the Chinese Porcelain Company in New York. Much later, in 2010, Prints 5 and 9 were bought at a provincial sale in the UK. What I have not mentioned yet is the origin of Prints 6, 7, and 10. These came up in a sale at London, in November 2011. They were mounted in a “North Italian giltwood three-leaf screen, 19th century, probably Piedmont”. Interestingly enough the provenance was stated as from “The Collection of Two Italian Designers”.
Prints 1-4 were also claimed to come from an Italian interior decorator, so now we have seven prints pointing to an Italian origin. The North Italian screen – remember that the Château de Filières prints are also on screens (a total of eleven prints are mounted in this way) – initially caused some stylistic problems. I did not believe the prints to be of 19th century date as advertised, and from the catalogue illustration it was obvious that they were not from the same series. The conclusion was that they must have been inserted in the screen at a later period, a conclusion that proved correct. The three prints have been remounted on a canvas, not of the same coarse weave as Prints 5 and 9, reduced in size, perhaps to fit into the later period screen, and show abrasions and damages, mostly in the lower section of each print.
Prints 1-4 have also been remounted, very recently, perhaps by CPC, on canvas but of a finer and smoother mesh. These fours prints are the only ones to show the black, outer block frame, all others appear to be cut down in size. These four prints are also in the best condition, with less damages to the surface.
Without any knowledge on the subject, or proofs, I venture to speculate that the prints originally were mounted as wall decorations in some European manor or palace, not necessarily in the same locality. Perhaps in the “Chinese Salon” or “Chinese Room”, at one time a very popular theme in 18th century Chinoiserie interiors. I hope to assemble more material on this subject in the near future. It is also possible that they were used for screens, as in Château de Filières. I have not made any efforts to date the two wooden folding screens, but I have an inkling they might be later than the prints. Zhang Ye 张烨, now a Professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, wrote a doctoral thesis in 2009: Yangfeng Gusu ban 洋风姑苏版 Western Style Suzhou Prints. He suggests in it that many of the Suzhou prints of a similar style and type were intended for folding screens, both for the Chinese and the Japanese market.
It should also be noticed that all the Suzhou Beauties prints have appeared in Europe, no examples are found in Japan, which is otherwise the main source for old Suzhou prints. And the finger points to Italy. Might an enterprising Italian merchant or merchants have bought a quantity of prints from Suzhou, shipped to Europe with the East India Trade, and later sold on to a decorator purveying to the various 18th century salons chinoise in various parts of Europe?
A lot of speculating on my part, but future research in the subject might yield the real truth.
For your convenience, here are my prints, grouped as purchased:
Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, Prints 1-4:
Prints 5 and 9 from provincial UK sale 2010:
Folding screen from London sale 2011, Prints 6, 7 & 10:
Compare with the screens from Château de Filières: