About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Friday, June 9, 2017

F is for Fontanini - Part 5 - Chinoiserie; the Oriental or Asian Statuettes

Firstly a big thanks to Cristianu Hardy ('Ludoprimophile' on the Forums) without whom this post would be a very complicated text-heavy, hard to follow affair with few images! He kindly allowed me to use scans of his original web-posts from ten and more years ago, to illustrate the points/figures as we go.

They have been taken from word.doc documents - as the links from his homepage have become problematical over the years - so are low-resolution, and I've filled the gaps so they are a bit mixed-up. As you'll see lower down, these are a mess really (not on Cristianu's original pages - I hasten to add), as over the years people have added figures to the wrong sets, swapped bases to fill gaps in their collections and not properly annotated the changes, or the finds, so try to ignore the bases until you get to the bottom of the post, where hopefully it will all start to make sense!

Cristianu's website seems to be still viewable from the sub-sections; Elephas Maximus (Andrew) on STS recently found a working bookmark to the animal section, and the home page may still work on older machines, but newer ones won't allow the old Windows Frontpage coding to work; specifically the 'fphover' button hot-links on the homepage.

If you have working links/bookmarks to any of the other sections/sub-sections, let me know and I'll do a post with them on, which can be linked to the original link (top right) through tags. In the meantime the animals are here.

I'll kill the myths at the start

Chinese 'Dog of Fu' (pronounced foe)
or lion guard, carved in celadon jade

Myth 1 - They are 'Chinese' sculptures

The common mistake (going back to Fontanini's original issues) is of calling them Chinese (chinois), they are not necessarily Chinese in origin or particular influence, and definitely not in style and while some of the characters depicted are clearly of Chinese dress or origin, others aren't.

All original Chinese sculptural figurines whether plain or stained (pigmented) soapstone, the harder celadon-jades, 'Blanks' (or 'Blanc de Meudon' - white glazed porcelain), Famille Rose & Famille Verte (porcelain decorated in the Western style) or the carved bamboo (often lacquered in reddish-brown to give the appearance of an almost plastic finish), are in - or tend toward - an anatomically rounded or fuller (well-fed) style; as are most Japanese Satsuma figures, no . . . the output of Fontanini (and their copyists) we are looking at with the 'oriental' sculpts are actually aping Japanese Okimono ivories or bronzes. Chinese Tang-ware is older and more stylised sculpture - you may be familiar with the painted pottery horses, or think of the Terracotta Army.

But back to Okimono - they ape them well; both to the caricature aspect and taller slimmer styling and with the fact that they were originally produced by Fontanini in various shades of white and cream plastic, sometimes wash-stained to mimic aged ivory.

A set of six early Fontnini sculpts are to be found here.

Further complications come from the fact that some characters have several conflicting stories with origins in fact and/or fantasy. They can have up to four spellings of a Chinese name, another Indian (Sanskrit?) name and/or several alternate names - with subsequent spelling variations. Characters can move between myths, fairy-stories and history rather too fluidly and several religions (Buddhism, Dao/Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Japanese Shinto) claim several of the characters - for different reasons.

(thanks to Peter Fox for letting me shoot these)

These are Chinese in influence (and origin?) and may even be Fontanini, but I am not aware of them being such, have no evidence of such, and firmly believe them to be Hong Kong tourist figures, which do ape the 'Blanc de Moudon' figurines from China - the reason for their inclusion here; you can see they are after a very different style, like Fontanini however, they are an 'ivorene' plastic, antiqued with a dark-grey wash, worked into the incised detailing.

However, as well as priestly personages or religious deities, Okimono are known for both their depictions of occupational/craftspeople and/or 'everyday' subject matter as well as for - specifically - figures with fish, and this set has five or six fish or fishing related poses, another sign of its Japanese or part-Japanese origins.

Within the figures below are Gods, priests, rural craftspeople, classic tourist tropes, a couple of possible known characters, some dancers and - hiding among them - Kinder's apparent made-up-names, several of whom have parallels in the stories of old! And one must also bear in mind that culturally speaking; China, Japan, pre-Mogul India and others in the region were closer once, than they maybe now.

One figurine looks more Siamese (modern day Thailand); the female dancer in a tall hat, another looks more Indo-Asian; the chap with his arms folder and having a large sword hung at his waist, while two do have very Chinese-looking top-knot hairpieces (striking octopus tentacles with a sword and playing flute), but such hair was worn by the Japanese too, while the chap with an alligator/crocodile (salt water?) is a known Japanese tourist thing. So the jury's still out on this one, but not Chinese overall, maybe 50/50?

It would be easier and more accurate if everyone could get in the habit of calling them the Fontanini 'Oriental' or Asian figurines!

My two (I have a bunch of similar figures in storage), both sourced in the UK and therefore possibly Lyons Tea? They are very rough, poorly finished versions of the Fontanini originals, with no sign of having had a plinth, while the integral bases are crude and misshapen.

Myth 2 - They represent the 'Immortals' or other specific groups

Several commentators have tried to tie the 8 Daoist (Taoist) 'Immortals' or even the 18 Lohan characters into these 'sets' [see Myth 3 below], but only three of them pass muster as such characters - and then only barely!

The guy holding a 'dragon' fish as tall as himself over his shoulder could (and only 'could') be either a 'Lung-man' (with a sturgeon) at the Dragons Gate from Chinese mythology or Pan-t'o-chia (Panthaka in Sanskrit?) the 10th Lohan who charmed a Dragon, while the man with a feathered fan could (again; 'could') be interpreted as Chung-li Ch'uan (Zhongli Quan)- one of the eight immortals, or Chu-ch'a Pan-t'o-chia (Chota Panthaka) the 16th Lohan. Of the women - the lady holding a bunch of flowers can be taken as Ho Hsien-ku (He Xian'gu) with her lotus, one of the Eight Immortals? Yet the flowers - as modelled - don't look like lotus blooms, let alone a single 'magic' lotus - so it's a stretch to take her thus.

Six of the characters have been given Chinese names on one or two websites, but these seem to be the names awarded them by Kinder in their set of diminutive, die-cast copies, which came late to the oeuvre and I can't find them in Derek Walters' Chinese Mythology, the book I've been working from.

Google revealed that two may be taken from The Water Margin, with one also having the further choice of being mythical or an Empress, while another could choose between a scholar or a Prince; the other three drew a blank, so I guess - as a group - they may be fictional 'Chinese' Ferrero-names, with some happening to be common enough names to attribute by random happenstance!

Likewise, the various premium issues in France gave their sets Chinese titles (Chinese Occupations, Chinese Saga's etc...), but with some Fontanini-sourced exceptions, these are or can be crude copies, possibly from Hong Kong (they mostly aren't marked) and pull various poses from the larger range of original sculpts with little or no sense of order. Mir (washing powder) went with "Chinese Statuettes".

Myth 3 - That these are all made by Fontanini*

While you can call it 'a' set (the whole line/range), they seem to have been designed/used for issuing in pairs, sixes, twelves or eighteens with more than 34 sculpts - that I know of - and not every figure was issued in every style or size, at least four (like the Napoleonics) being confined to the larger sizes, another two being re-cut at some point, while one has a mirror-geometry version.

With most of them more easily available to people lucky enough to still be in the EU, that's where the work still needs to be done, to find out which sets in which sizes were supplied by Fontanini, copied by someone else (who? With or without a license from Fontanini? Where?), or sourced from Hong Kong.

Although it's equally likely some may have been sourced closer to home - the number issued by French or French-based companies suggest France, but if they were unlicensed it's likely somewhere more lawless like Yugoslavia or even a factory beyond the 'Euro' law of the time; maybe Spain, might be in the frame?

*Not really a 'myth' as I don't think anyone's claimed them all 'made by' Fontanini, but the origin of manufacture is questionable for the bulk of them, also while they are all originally Fontanini sculpts, a few of them have been taken directly from the Japanese Okimono originals.

My recent purchase (95/110mm; higher number is guesswork due to absence of plinth), cleaned-up and perched temporarily on a knights plinth - he is clearly marked HONG KONG MADE IN on his kilt-hem - possibly a UK-issued Lyons Tea figure?

In both cases (the various premiums or the later Ferrero/Kinder issue), we are talking throwaway playthings aimed at younger children, and just as one talks of 'Chinoiserie' in English when talking about things which may be Japanese, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese or Korean, so I suspect these figures ended-up 'Chinese' through a combination of laziness, ignorance and a lack of a need to care terribly how accurate the moniker was.

First appearing in the 1960's, from Fontanini they were quite striking figurines, especially in the larger sizes, with various shades of faux-ivory (white, cream and pinkish shades) polythene (PE) they were later made in the same dense vinyl (PVC) as the rest of the Fonplast work's output and found their way onto Carrara marble sample blocks/tiles for tourists to take home - all over the world.

Ageing/antiquing was applied with washes in black, brown, dark gray or an oxide red-brown, and these often prove to be water-soluble so on tatty examples can be removed easily to clean the figure up. This is true for all Fontanini, Premium and marked HONG KONG versions in the larger sizes, but not always for the smaller sizes.

Now, the various sets of premiums come in two sizes, but different finishes and on several different plinth types, and I can't be too specific with my three here and few in storage, all copies of Fontanini, but not Fontanini! While the Fontanini originals came in at least four or five sizes and with various - more ornate - plinths.

So we will just go through listing them in no particular order (I've blocked them together by subject matter where I can - men first; in an institutionally sexist fashion!), numbering is pointless as different collectors have used different orders/numbers for different sculpts over the years, names/titles are equally pointless for the reasons mentioned at the start - some of them have dozens of 'original' (Asian mythological-) names, others have never been given a name by Fontanini, Kinder or any of the premium issuers, and I don't know the Fontanini cavity numbers - in any size!

The known sculpts (Kinder titles in red) are:

Male Sculpts
- Large curved sword across body [Yang Zhi]
- Arms folded, large sword and flame/lions-mane headdress
- Holding large sword over and behind head
- With large bullwhip
- Striking downward with sword (Sculpt only available in larger sizes?)
- Carrying or wrestling an alligator or crocodile, sword hung at waist (Sculpt only available in larger sizes?)
- Striking at octopus legs with large sword (sculpt only available in larger sizes?)
- Running with sword or strap in right hand, rice lunch-box in left (Sculpt only available in larger sizes?)

The guys with bull-whip and crossed-arms both look to be from more exotic Asian countries, Thai or Siamese maybe, while a lady from the Oriental Ceramics Society (OCS) informed me the alligator/crocodile fighter/carrier is a popular Japanese tourist piece? Conversely the man wrestling three octopus tentacles is clearly very Chinese!

Fish or Fishing Related
- Basket of Fish, throwing carp over shoulder [Zhang Shun]
- Giant 'Dragon' fish (or Catfish?)
- Large carp counter-balancing basket of fish over shoulder pole/yolk
- Giant carp in right hand, fishing rod in left (sculpt only available in larger sizes?)

Again as a grouping these represent a very popular Japanese trope, but fish are also associated with various characters from the myths and legends of the whole pan-Asia region.

The guy on the right has a different base to mine; squared-off and may be a Fontanini original from a larger set - all the figures with the more ornate pierced-plinths are to be taken as such.

- Playing flute, long top-knot
- Two fans
- With a hood/pack on his back
- Wagging finger and stroking his beard
- With fan [Song Jan]
- Holding a bird and a pipe (Sculpt only available in larger sizes?)

A similar sculpt to the flute player but with a sword was issued as a pirate in the smaller, painted, PVC set by Fontanini.

The last two on the right might/could be from the 8 Immortals or the Lohan, but their 'signatures' aren't clear enough, one is known for having his fat belly on show, another for being learned, but he should be carrying a book, which would look more like a box to our eyes.

Female Sculpts - Vase holding variants
- Low vase - no crown
- Low vase - crown
- High vase - no crown
- High vase - with crown

Are those with finer detailing from Fontanini, the others copies? Note that with the right-hand pair the vase differs, as does the holding forearm, the first figure having no lid and a heavier forearm.

- Crowned dancer
- Holding fan up
- Holding folding-fan down [Zhang Shi]
- Shallow baskets on yolk

Was the first one (Thai/Siamese?) issued as a pair with the crowned chap holding a sword? A variation exists of the second girl, with the whole figure bending/glancing the opposite ways to the figure above.

- With flowers [Jiu Tiun Xuan]
- Balls or parcels on a pole/yolk [Pan Qiao Yun]
- Playing small lyre
- Playing large lyre
- Bird resting on a pole over shoulder
- Tai/Siamese dancer with dragon
- Holding open-sieve or pearl-diving basket? (Sculpt only available in larger sizes)
- With fishing rod and fish on board (Sculpt only available in larger sizes)
- Bird on branch, stick in left hand, simple shift/dress (Sculpt only available in larger sizes)
- Playing harp (Sculpt only available in larger sizes?)

Was the fishing-rod lady paired with the similarly equipped male sculpt? The pearl-diver could be Polynesian - if that is what she is representing? When I first found the Harpist I thought it was one of Fontanini's Christmas/nativity angels, but she clearly has an Oriental hair-style.

In total - 34 poses, 37 sculpts (that I know of).

Premium Sets

This is the pose layout/pose count for the smaller premiums although some larger ones have been used to fill the gaps in Cristianu's original line-up and a couple have the wrong bases but right plinth (yellow dots). The green dots are figures with the better bases (arched-filigree edged hexagonal drums), the red dots are of poorer finish (beaded edges) like my two above.

Some issuers released these in three tranches of 6 figures which seems to explain the red dots; different source? They also seem the commoner poses - from what I can tell!

65mm 70mm (65/85mm)
Hegaxonal 'tablet' Plinths
Body - Cosmetics (UK)
Café Scarpia - Coffee
Lutin - Haberdashers
Mir 'Nylon' - Washing Powder
Pur Crem - Cheese

Oval 'basin' Plinths
Café Damoy - Coffee
Café Mokaden - Coffee
Grosjean - Cheese Spread
Unmarked (3 bars) - Unknown
Veuve Amiot - Sparkling Wines

No Plinth
Montblanc - Dairy Products

Cristianu's original larger set rearranged to fit the page for a screen-shot with alternate versions of the high-hold jar lady; again sometimes issued in two tranches of 6 poses.

90mm (80/100mm)
Crenellated Plinths
Cafes Maurice - Coffee
Lutin - Haberdashers

Rectangular or Wood-look Plinths
Axion - Washing Powder
Café Damoy - Coffee
Geigy Agchim - Agri-chemicals (UK: CIBA-Geigy)
Laden - Household/Domestic Appliances
Thé Lyons - Tea (UK; Lyons Tea?)
Valnoble - Wine

Oval 'basin' Plinths
Mir 'Nylon' - Washing Powder

Three of the products known so far have links to the UK, but with only one known to have issued in the UK (Body Cosmetics), yet the smaller figurines are quite common over here, and with a domestic appliance firm and agri-chemical company issuing them, it may turn out that someone like Hoover or Pifco may have given them away at some point? But - that's thinking out loud - not a fact!


Additional-plinth types for the premiums and smaller Fonatini's; larger genuine Fontanini's come with more ornate plinths in several designs (some of which have found their way into the above screen-caps, they are also sometimes found on Carrara marble plinths

For the sake of completion, the actual names of the Eight Immortals (Pa Hsien - the Eight Fairies/Eight Genii), not to be confused with the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup - a bunch of drunken poets! Wikipedia name first, should you wish to dig further - I'm about done on mythological Asian celebrities;

- He Xian'gu - Ho Hsien-ku (female)
- Cao Guojiu - Ts'ao Kuo-chiu - Ts'ao Ching-hsiu
- Li Tieguai - Li T'ieh-Kuai - T'ieh-Kuai Li (Li with the Iron Crutch) - Li Yüan - Mung Mu - Li Ning-yang
- Lan Caihe - Lan Ts'ai-ho (androgen/sex unknown, debateable)
- Lü Dongbin - Lü Tung-pin - Lü Yen - Shung-yang Tzu
- Han Xiangzi - Han Hsiang-tzu - Ch'ing-fu
- Zhang Guolao - Chang-kwo Lao
- Zhongli Quan - Chung-li Ch'üan - Chi Tao - Ho-ho Tzu - Wang-yang Tzu - Yün Fan (Han dynasty)

While a little on the Kinder names;

- Yang Zhi (Sizu - Water Margin character, Eastern Han Dynasty official or EmpressYang Zhi (259–292), Jin Dynasty (265–420))
- Zhang Shun (Water Margin character)
- Song Jan (?)
- Zhang Shi (Prince (died 320, ruler of the Former Liang state during the Sixteen Kingdoms period or Song Dynasty scholar (1133-1181))
- Jiu Tiun Xuan (?)
- Pan Qiao Yun (?)

Rack toys - Bazar figures (severn)

In the course of researching this post I also discovered that the Patron Saint of sodomy is called Chou Wang - I kid you not! It's apotheosised from the last Emperor of the Shang (surly 'shag' - ed.) dynasty who was a tyrannical deviant, with an even more deviant concubine! I love this - do you suppose gays know they have a Patron Saint? Or that he's a wang chewer! It's priceless; someone tell Donald, he might explode with rage and do the world a favour! Whoops! There goes my entry visa!


Jan Ferris said...

You have some lovely pieces you have here.

Hugh Walter said...

Only three of them are mine Jan! Cristianu let me use his shots and someone owned me a few from a previous 'borrow'! The non-Fontanini's are my ex's landlord's and the dog of Fu belongs to someone-else too.

But they've seemed to come together OK . . .