Whether you’re after fantastic furniture, antique scrolls and rare artefacts or just enjoying a vintage day out browsing the city’s impressive art collections, Macau Tatler offers the expert’s guide to what to see and where.
Only when Queen Elizabeth makes her annual pilgrimage to Scotland in August and September can visitors tour Buckingham Palace to view a rare set of four 18-century ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain vases.
Visitors to Macau don’t have that problem. The only other matching quartet can be found— and viewed for free all year round—in the hotel lobby of Wynn Palace. Known as the Buccleuch Vases, each 1.2 metres tall, Steve Wynn, chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, acquired them for US$12.8 million in 2011 at a Christie’s auction in London.
“This is in continuation of our policy of adding to the cultural enrichment of our community here in Macau,” Wynn said at the time, referring to an expanding Chinese art collection at the property that includes an array of ceramics, cloisonné and textiles.
With this approach, Wynn is well aligned with the spirit of the city, in which the brash and the new have long rubbed shoulders with the historical and the sacred.
Visit the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, and signs remain of Macau’s once-thriving trade in antiques and reproductions, tucked into the ruas de São Paulo, das Estalagens and de Santo António. Among these is Tong Yuk Tong, where Ng To Tong has been selling antique scrolls for more than 20 years. Nearby, Kam Wa Tong Craft Carvings and the Art and Culture Centre focus more on contemporary work in an antique style, some of which are particularly high-end. The former, selling a range of ivory carvings, proffers items such as a Happy Buddha with Nine Children for about MOP$1.5m.
Hoi Long Arts and Crafts is an old-school antiques specialist in the area. A family business for more than 20 years, with a branch in Zhongshan, Hoi Long tends to deal with specialist traders rather than casual buyers, according to the owner’s son Nick Ng.
“My father has years of experience and knows the trade inside out,” says Ng, who is also learning the business. He adds that professional knowledge still tends to trump certificates of authenticity, partly a result of relationships built, and partly due to cost. (Of the various stone statues on display from the Tang Dynasty, ranging between MOP$15,000 to MOP$60,000, only one has a thermoluminescence report that guarantees its age—largely, says Ng, because the reports are so expensive).
But such dealers are becoming a rare breed, and the street-side business is not thriving the way that it did just a few years ago. As Ng To Tong says, increasing rents have forced many shops to close and traditional retail spaces are thinning out fast, while the priorities of shoppers and visitors to the region are shifting.
In one section of Rua de São Paulo, once saturated with antiques and reproductions retailers, just two remain. Ruby Padolina, who has worked at Kin Seng Mobílias for three years, says that most customers look for souvenirs rather than real antiques, although the shop offers two floors chock-full of restored furniture and artefacts. Jenny Wong gives the same story at Mobílias Mei Choi, across the small pedestrian street, where items such as a 200-year-old Chinese bed receive little attention compared to mementoes.
Over in sleepy Coloane, meanwhile, one of Macau’s best-known dealers, Asian Artefacts, has quietly and mysteriously closed its doors after 20 years in operation. “One day they were there and the next they were gone,” says Steven Sitou, who works at the remaining neighbourhood store for furniture and artefacts, Paragon Living. “You know, we don’t see that many customers around here these days.”
This impact of this decline on local businesses and traditions is a shame, but with the pace of development unrelenting, the approach of a few big Macau businesses is causing Macau’s relationship with historical artefacts to shift rather than end.
Back at the Wynn, the giant Jiaqing-period vases are not the only prized possessions presented to the public. Also on display are three tapestries from The Story of the Chinese Emperor series by Beauvais, the legendary factory established in 17th century to make tapestries for French royalty and aristocracy; Emperor on a Journey, The Audience of the Emperor and The Harvesting of Pineapples depict scenes from the lives of early Qing emperors Shunzhi and Kangxi.
Alongside them are three tapestries on Chinese themes from the 17th and 18th centuries by renowned workshop Aubusson, and a collection of dramatic dragon-adorned mirrors by 19th-century French sculptor Gabriel-Frédéric Viardot. And not all the Chinoiserie on display was created in the west: in a fine example of knowing your market, an eye-catching pair of 18th-century lacquer screens were originally created in China for export to Europe.
“We would like for everyone to be able to see and enjoy the works of art in the hotel,” says Roger Thomas, executive vice-president of design for Wynn Design and Development. “So rather than enclosing the Buccleuch Vases entirely in glass, we designed a space where people can walk up and look at them to appreciate the elaborate detail of each one.”
Other treasures, either on display or used as elements of the interior design at Wynn Palace and its sister property Wynn Macau, include a pair of 1.5-metre-high cloisonné camels; an early 19th-century crystal chandelier (brightening the decadent Bar Cristal); 19th-century terracotta statues; a 16th-century wood-carved Italian putto—a nude, winged male child—that flies above diners in Café Encore; an 18th-century piece of Macanese embroidered silk; and a Ming Dynasty-era statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.
Thomas says that his aim in integrating such artefacts into the hotel design is to create “drama, humour, mystery, intrigue and surprise” using art that “has the ability to speak to the soul. When choosing art pieces, they have to move me,” he says. “And they have to have what Stephen [Wynn] and I call ‘wall power,’ or have a great silhouette—something that is remarkable.”
The company took this passion a step further when its CEO purchased an extremely rare Ming Dynasty vase from the reign of Emperor Hongwu (1368-1398) for about HK$78m, and donated it to the permanent exhibition of the Macao Museum.
Another remarkable contribution is being made by the Grand Lisboa hotel and its owner Stanley Ho. Although there are a number of artefacts on permanent display—presented museum-style in glass cases on the ground floor—pride of place currently goes to a bronze horse’s head famously purchased by Ho in 2007 for HK$69.1m.
The head is one of 12 Chinese zodiac sculptures commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty for a water clock fountain in the Summer Palace, but looted by British and French troops during the second Opium War in 1860. The horse, ox, tiger, monkey and pig are now in mainland China, and the rat and rabbit are owned by French antiques collectors, but five statues are still missing. Ho donated both the horse and previously, a boar head, to the country, speaking of his honour at joining the “recovery programme of China’s lost cultural relics. I hope this will help encourage more people to join efforts in preserving China’s cultural relics and nurture patriotic feelings,” he said.
Other antiques on display, largely sourced by Ho, include mammoth tusk carvings of the Great Wall and Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King (who features in the Chinese classical novel, Journey to the West), a tree-root carving of the 8th-century monk Jianzhen, gold-plated carvings of a dragon boat and Spring in JiangNan, a laughing Buddha carved from white jade, and a 19th-century Qing Dynasty Tiangong Cifu imperial clock.
With Macau set to boom like never before, and a number of big resorts due to open in the next few years, it is more than likely that some of them will follow suit. After all, the approach isn’t entirely without profit, as Lisboa General Manager Peter Lun says. “Dr Ho likes to share the treasures he finds at auctions with his guests; that is his philosophy,” he says. “And of course, they draw customers in.”
Grand Lisboa, Avenida De Lisboa, +853 2828 3838, grandlisboa.com
Hoi Long Arts And Crafts, 50 Rua De São Paulo, +853 2834 0063
Kin Seng Mobĺlias, 19d Rua de São Paulo, +853 2830 2565
Mobĺlias Mei Choi, 32 Rua de São Paulo, +853 2836 6357
Kam Wa Tong Craft Carvings, 42a Rua de São Paulo, +853 2836 5564
Paragon Living, 25, 27 Rua dos Negociantes, Coloane, +853 2888 2672
Wynn Macau, Rua Cidade de Sintra, +853 2888 9966, wynnmacau.com
Wynn Palace, Avenida Da Nave Desportiva, Cotai, +853 8889 8889, wynnpalace.com
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