If you read my previous post “blurring the line” you know how difficult it is to honestly decide whether or not an item should be considered an “genuine Chinese antique.” Answering this question becomes even more difficult when you consider the awkward journey a piece my take as it travels through the “antique-reproduction” supply chain. Consider this attractive low table, we purchase and restored for a customer in Italy. The first picture (upper left) is what it looked like when we purchased it BEFORE restoration. The last two on the bottom are the final result AFTER restoration.
The cabinet itself is a antique. It was collected from a peasant on a farm by a “materials collector” who then sold it to what we would consider to be a wholesale antiques flea market far off in Shanxi province, to the west of Beijing. From there is was bought (in bulk along with many, many other pieces) by a local furniture factory who re-laquered the front and completely retouched (actually repainted) the beautiful gold painting you see on the front of the piece. Or what DID the front look like in the first place? Maybe there never was any red lacquer and the peice was just a common wood color. So while the delicate gold “miao jin” paintings and trim look old, they are in fact completely new. Why is this?
The answer is mostly about business and economics. The cost of labor in the areas in the country side is also more expensive, which means that artist costs less then if he were located near the city. And an added unintended bonus is that the retouching was probably done by a local peasant craftsmen or artist who has been painting the exact same motifs, patterns and styles as his fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers have for generations. This adds to the authentic feel as unless you are a craftsmen from Shanxi province you will probably not know how to paint those particular motifs in just the right sort of look. It LOOKS authentic because in this regard it IS authentic.
At this point though, the piece is still unrestored which means it will be loaded into the back of a flatbed truck, along with a hundred or more other pieces and trucked overland in the open air eventually reaching Beijing. Chicken may catch a ride in the same truck and who knows what else. Along the way it will hit bumps, dirt, dust and maybe even rain, taking on a fresh layer of dirt, grim and dust. Again, this all adds to that antique aged look. Arriving in Beijing it will be unloaded by workers who see it not as an antique but rather as yet another piece of junk to be sold and therefore the scratching and scrapping really doesn’t matter. It will then be loaded into another warehouse – or maybe left in the open air for a few days before being restored.
And all this BEFORE we got it and restored it…. So, is it antique or what?