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Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman

Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman,
by Robert Kleiner. New York (Hong Kong): Alan and Simone Hartman, 1996. xx + (1) + 263 pp, 207 color plates. Cloth, embossed and silvered, color illus d.j. 12 x 8 5/8 inches. $60.00

One of the great pleasures of collecting Chinese jades is to share one's treasures with others. And with a collection as magnificent as the Hartmans' comes the obligation to document it. With the help of Robert Kleiner, the well-known snuff bottle and jade expert, the Hartmans have provided a beautiful and accessible catalog of more than 200 of their finest pieces.

Simone Hartman's introductory section of "Reminiscences" puts a human face on a collection whose museum quality might otherwise be intimidating. Tales of how several pieces were acquired name names and even prices. A favorite Qianlong vase, for example, was acquired by Alan's father in the early '50s, then sold a few years later. Three decades passed before the Hartmans found it again in Tokyo, agonized over its steep price for several years, and finally repatriated it to their collection (but at nearly 20 times the price!). Another story relates how a pair of Qing jade screens, separated for who knows how long, was reunited from two purchases half a world apart.

Kleiner's 8-page Introduction provides an interesting, readable history of the 8000 years of jade carving in China. The ups and downs of the jade supply, the evolution of abrasives technology, and the types of raw material characteristic of each period are succinctly described. A "Chronology of Periods" recounts the jade highlights of each major period, from Neolithic to Qing. The Hartman collection is particularly strong in Ming and Qing jades, so the Qing Dynasty's four distinct periods receive an extended discussion. The exciting archaeological findings of the past few decades are appropriately incorporated, and frequent references to cataloged pieces illustrate stylistic points. For supporting detail, Kleiner principally cites "Jades from China" and Keverne's "Jade."

The Introduction amounts to a thumbnail history of China from the perspective of a jade aficionado. Kleiner acknowledges the technical excellence and decorative sophistication of Warring States jades, but these were achieved, he says, "at the cost of a certain artistic quality." Some may disagree, but all would concur that the Han Dynasty jades which followed demonstrated abundant grace and vigor. In the Six Dynasties and Tang periods foreign influence arrived, introducing flower motives and jade figures of camels and other exotic animals. Competing luxuries soon arose - silver and gold in the Tang, and ceramics in the Ming period - each diverting some of the creative drive from jade carving. The Qing period began with a severe shortage of quality jade, ascended to one of the golden eras of jade supply and carving under Qianlong, and then declined again as the weakened Qing lost their grip on the Khotan jade fields.

A 2-page commentary on "The Origin and Development of Chinese Jades" by noted jade author Yang Boda follows. Dr. Yang devotes his limited space to the two extrema not treated in the Introduction: prior to the Hongshan and Liangzhu, and post-Qing. He speculates on the very earliest period of jade in China, the period of growth and development that must have preceded the Hongshan/Liangzhu, back to the time, perhaps 10,000 years ago, when primitive people first learned to distinguish jade from ordinary stone. His comments on the "bright future" of Chinese jade carving are perhaps less convincing, with Beijing lapidaries today producing overly ornate carvings "to meet Western tastes," as well as imitation antiques.

The Catalogue proper consists of 207 superb examples of jade carving, beginning with a typical Liangzhu cong (but only two dozen pieces are pre-Han), on through the Ming/Qing pieces, particularly vessels in ancient forms, that are the strength of the collection. Photographer Maggie Nimkin has risen to the challenge of capturing jade on film. The color photographs are excellent; many are multiple-view. Each piece is described in a few short paragraphs, with size, provenance, publication data, and a brief caption in Chinese. The jades themselves are masterful examples of glyptic art. The Shang bear (No. 3), the classic Warring States dragon pendant (No. 15), the Han pendant with writhing dragons (No. 29), the yellow Song covered vase (No. 40 and on the cover), the calcified Ming alms bowl (No. 46), the spinach green Qing Imperial seal (No. 150, one of several Imperial pieces), or any of the dozens of green and white Qing vessels - there are too many favorites to name.

The Hartmans have assembled a broad collection with impeccable taste. These charter members of Friends of Jade have bestowed a gift on all friends of Chinese art by so beautifully documenting their collection, yet somehow contriving to keep the price of this catalog quite reasonable.

-- Eric J. Hoffman

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