The possibly unique silver flask, made in the imperial workshops in Beijing for the emperor Xianfeng (1850-61) recently came to light in a small regimental museum.
The 10in (24cm) high ‘Anson Cup’, with its detachable cover secured by silver chains and ring handles, includes two inscriptions. One in Chinese characters to the foot reads Xianfeng urh men (the second year of Xianfeng for 1852). The other in English to one of the faces reads The Hunting Flask of the Emperor of China taken from the Summer Palace, Pekin and presented to the London Scottish Volunteers By Colonel the Hon A Anson VC.
The flask appears to have been unrecorded since its departure from the Yuan Ming Yuan (Old Summer Palace) in 1860. It was gifted to the London Scottish by Colonel Archibald Augustus Anson (1835-77) who served with the regiment between 1867-73 and was subsequently used as a shooting prize.
Anson, the third son of the 1st Earl of Litchfield, was a career soldier. He saw action during the Indian Mutiny (when he was awarded the Victoria Cross) and in the Second Opium War served as aide-de-camp to General Sir James Hope Grant (1808-75). Present at the sacking of the Summer Palace in 1860, one of Anson’s tasks was organising the auction of objects seized from the palace with the money shared among the troops.
The flask is inspired by a Han dynasty archaic bronze bianhu. There appear to be no silver equivalents recorded but it does relate to a gold ewer (now in the National Museum of Scotland) which was presented after the prize auction to General Hope Grant. This is also dated to the second year of Xianfeng’s reign (1850-61) and bears almost identical marks.
Objects with such a direct connection with the Yuan Ming Yuan can be controversial. China’s cultural heritage department protested the sale of a Western Zhou bronze ying with a similar provenenance offered by Canterbury Auction Galleries in 2018 claiming it was an “illegally discharged cultural relic”. The auction went ahead with the purchaser at £410,000 later gifting the vessel to the National Museum of China in Beijing.
The flask is estimated to bring £60,000- 80,000 on July 6.
More Asian art sales are previewed in this issue.