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Standing Figure of a Court Lady, 19th century

China, 1800-1899
Porcelain
37 x 13 in. (94.0 x 33.0 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1965.1.134.S
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on view

This tall porcelain figure of a court lady of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was prominently featured on the frontispiece of the 1904 Catalog of the Morgan Collection of Chinese Porcelains, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She wears richly decorated robes of sea-green and imperial yellow, featuring gold-headed vermilion phoenixes in round medallions, a motif reserved for the Empress. Her skirt is covered with butterflies, symbolizing conjugal felicity. The catalog entry dates the sculpture to the Qianlong period (1736–95). Duveen records assign the work to the time of Emperor Qianlong’s illustrious grandfather, the Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722).

With the Duveens’ help, the sculpture was sold to J.P. Morgan as part of the Garland Collection, which James A. Garland’s son dispersed upon the former’s death. It probably was never disclosed to Morgan that the sculpture had been heavily restored from exactly 50 broken pieces. Most of the collar and cuff are completely refabricated. Much of the elaborate decoration had been expertly repainted in imitation of the vitreous colored glazes, and the right hand is a replacement. The sculpture has now been re-dated to the nineteenth century.

In 1977, after the adhesive began to fail to hold the pieces together, Mr. Simon commissioned a full disassembly, removal of old re-paintings and repeated restoration by the London restorer Ronald Bock. This time, rather than nineteenth-century animal glue and shellac adhesives, strong epoxy was used. This adhesive is difficult to reverse, so the figure’s right hand remains in its present incorrectly restored position, upside down. Fortunately, the intricate repainting job was executed in a paint system readily removable in solvents.

Examination under ultraviolet light reveals the extent of the repairs, with remnants of the older mends present under the more recent over-painting. The upper right portion of the figure’s head and body has been stripped to reveal the underlying mends. Much of the fine original glaze decoration had been over-painted, including the intricacies of the phoenix medallions.

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