Chinese - Opium Box, 1883

Chinese

Opium Box, 1883

Silver and enamel, 4.4 x 5 x 2.1 cm (1 3/4 x 1 15/16 x 13/16 in.)

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Object details

Accession number

M17e63

Provenance

Entered Isabella Stewart Gardner’s collection at an unknown date, but probably acquired during her trip to Asia in 1883-84.

Marks

Maker's mark (inside the lid): Feng Hua
On the lid: Chinese characters read, "Abode of the mountain resting on a cloud."
Front of box: Poem reads, "A fresh rain passed over this lonely mountain, and the weather toward evening changed into autumn."
Back of box: Poem reads, "Through repose become non-desiring: thus to grow no old is the way of Taoist Immortals. Written in kui-wei." [kui-wei is the cyclical date for 1823 or 1883]

Bibliography

Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 126.
Yasuko Horioka et al. Oriental and Islamic Art: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1975), pp. 43-45, no. 19b.
Alan Chong and Noriko Murai. Journeys East: Isabella Stewart Gardner and Asia. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2009), pp. 444-45 fig. 1a, 447 n. 1.


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Commentary

Opium, an opioid gathered from poppies, was first used in China for medicinal purposes as early as the seventh century. However, many Chinese people became addicted to opium during the eighteenth century, in part due to policies pursued by the British as they sought to expand their trade with China and gain influence in the country. An effort to gain control of the wave of addictions and stop imports of opium to China even sparked several wars between the Qing Dynasty and the British during the mid-nineteenth century. Nonetheless, Chinese people continued to struggle with opium addiction, and boxes like this one made from silver and enamel were used to carry the drug before smoking it. The maker of the box (noted as Feng Hua on the lid) inscribed its surfaces with poetry. The poem on its front reads: "A fresh rain passed over this lonely mountain, and the weather toward evening changed into autumn." Despite their relationship to illicit drugs, it was common for American and European visitors to China to purchase the boxes as souvenirs. Isabella almost certainly purchased this box during her trip to China in 1883.

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