A Personal Selection of Fine Jade Carvings From The Yushantang Collection of Nick Troubetzkoy, Vol. 1.

Book Review by Eric J. Hoffman


   Christopher Randall. Hong Kong: CA Design, 2015. 128 + (1) pp, 105 jades illus in color plates. Hardbound, color illus d.j. 12 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches. $140.


   The ideal way to learn about Chinese jades, as with antique jewelry, is hands-on with a fine private or museum collection. Absent that lucky opportunity, next best is reading a first-rate jade appreciation book. This lovely book is exactly that: a way to absorb and appreciate the impressive Yushantang Collection.

    Nick Troubetzkoy is a Russian-Canadian architect, St. Lucia hotelier, and creator of the prestigious Jade Mountain Resort on that Caribbean island. Mostly self-taught, but with a keen eye for fine jade workmanship, he has painstakingly assembled a remarkable collection over more than 30 years. Mostly these are Ming and Qing dynasty jade carvings, with a few a bit older.

    This book represents an unusual collaboration between the author and the collector, who even took joint trips to the very source of the raw jade stones in far western China: Hotan and Yutian in the Kunlun Mountains and along the Karakax River. The book begins with a brief introduction to the stone and its history in China, focused mainly on the Ming and Qing periods (roughly 1368 to 1911). Then follow 105 choice examples, all expertly photographed, some with multiple views and razor-sharp close-ups that allow the reader to study the workmanship. The photographs were shot on a dark, mirrored surface, often giving a glimpse of the underside, which is almost as important as looking at the back of a piece of antique jewelry. Each piece is fully described, with dimensions and―most interestingly―provenances. These provenances make fascinating reading; it’s instructive to see the many different sources all over the world where Mr. Troubetzkoy made his purchases. Of course dating Chinese jades is always fraught with danger―comparable to trying to tell a revival piece of jewelry from an earlier piece―but for the most part the dating seems conservative and reliable.

    This is clearly a very personal collection. Mr. Troubetzkoy shows a special fondness for carved jade “mountains” as well as jade horses, dogs, and other animals including mythical ones. And unlike many contemporary collections that slavishly follow the current preoccupation with white jade, he is not afraid of color. Many of his pieces utilize the colored rind or underskin and other inclusions to great artistic advantage. That is not to say that white jade is ignored; there are many excellent examples, including a Hindustan style vase (#8) and “mutton fat” white jade Immortals and mountains (#28 and #40).

    The art of jade carving parallels many of the concepts of cameo carving. The lapidary artist must look at the raw stone (or often in the case of cameos, the shell) and visualize how to carve away material to reveal a design while also using the colors to best advantage. It took enormous skill, artistry, and patience to create these carvings, and throughout this book the collector’s respect for fine workmanship is evident. As the poem on the flyleaf says:

... The jade speaks silently, yet the artist hears the story

For the next few years, jade stone and carver become one

The jade guiding, the carver crafting ...    

Here is a book that will delight the beginning student of jade as well as more experienced collectors. Further volumes are planned; the next one (on jade pei plaques such as #11 in the book) is already in draft form. Mr. Troubetzkoy’s collection of jade mountains will be the subject of a third volume, and his mountains are also being considered for permanent display at The Jade Club atop his Jade Mountain Resort.


Copyright © 2016 by Eric J. Hoffman (Home Page)

Originally published in Adornment Magazine, Vol 10, No. 4, 2016

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