In 1905, James Keiller, a member of one of the distinguished Gothenburg families of Scottish descent, and Carl Lyon his brother in law, "obtained permission from the Governor of the County of Gothenburg and Bohus to salve the cargo and hull of the late East India Companies vessel Gotheborg resting at the bottom of Göta Älv since its stranding on the Hunnebådan shoal in the Roadstead of Gothenburg in 1745" (Phrase from the Certificates later issued for the porcelain finds).
After this salvage operation, which continued for at least the two seasons of 1906 and 1907, nothing of interest or value was felt to remain at the site and the ship was forgotten again.
During the summers of 1906-07 the salvage expeditions is said to have recovered around 3000 undamaged porcelain pieces "within an area 'sized as a football field covered with shards'". The article below speaks of about 2000 pieces plus broken pieces and shards. An earlier article in Hvar 8 Dag 1909/10 edition speaks about 4300 pieces. The large discrepancies could in part depend on how you count paired and matched pieces like tea cups and dishes, jars and lids and fairly OK, not much damaged, pieces etc.
The finds were all registered and declared for import duties, after which some of the finds was auctioned off to the public. A large number of the porcelain belonging to James Keiller Jr. seems to have been given individual numbers and been supplied with a certificate.
James Keiller Jr. kept a substantial part to decorate his large apartment at the Kungsportsavenyn 4, in central Gothenburg. The article in Svenska Hem, May 1921, mention 1000 pcs. decorating the walls of the dining room..
From the dining room decorations of the Keiller apartment, it appears as if large proportion of the recovered pieces was medium sized blue and white fruit dishes. Medium sized bowls are also common among the finds, as is a particular kind of deep dishes with no rim. Jars with strong lids, straight sides and their height equal to their diameter, were packed in nests - one inside the other - are also as common as hard to explain to their purpose. Teacups and saucers of 'eggshell thinness' are mentioned in early reports from the salvage operation, but the full total of undamaged tea sets that would earn their description as eggshell might be less than a few dozen. The thinness and quality of the recovered tea sets in this cargo is still impressive.
An article from the Swedish magazine Svenska Hem i Ord och Bilder, May 1921 edition, p. 89-101 is a detailed, contemporary account of Alice and James Keiller's home as it looked in 1921. It details the collecting interest of the Keillers and how the porcelain from the salvaging of the East Indiaman Götheborg, had come to be utilized as home decoration.
But more than anything else it shows Alice and James Keiller as one of the foremost Chinese Porcelain Collectors of its time. A fact that has got little or no attention, in part we can assume from of a wish for privacy - which the article in Svenska Hem somehow contradicts - but mostly from a surprising lack of a proper catalogue. A lack that this text hope to somewhat begin to correct.
Alice and James Keiller city residence in 1921
From the Swedish magazine Svenska Hem i Ord och Bilder, May 1921 edition
MOST of the buildings, which from the end of the 1870s were built on Gothenburg's main street, Kungsportsavenyen, were private buildings for patrician families. One of these buildings, house no. 4, which more than any other has retained its peculiar furnishings and decoration to the taste of the 1880s, is now inhabited on the floor upstairs by the Italian consul James Keiller and his wife Alice Lyon.
Up a wide free staircase, we pass the vestibule held in dim and discreet lighting and enter a hall, which has the character of a longer gallery.
Mrs. Alice Keiller's Writing Room
From here we first step into a medium-sized atrium, in everyday life called the consul's writing room, with a gray-green smooth wall surface and now a completely white framed stucco roof. The room is adorned with some major oil paintings: Alfred Wahlberg's excellent "Småländsk bokskog", Georges Callot's (1857-1903) typical French 1880s painting "La cigale" (The Cicada) and a couple of family portraits. One a youth portrait of the hostess's mother, Mrs. Carolina Röhss, b. Zachau, made by Adelaide Leuhusen, the other depicting Major David Keiller in English uniform from the first half of the 1800s, a great-uncle of the host, whose family hails from Scotland.
Among the furniture in the room is a cupboard of unusually well-measured proportions and a larger table, both Italian marquetry works in Louis-seize style with hunting scenes, partly adorned with inlays of bone and mother-of-pearl. In the same style is a larger richly inlaid (medallion: Leda med svanen) Italian chest of drawers with heavy slab of red-changing marble. The seating furniture consists of Italian chairs, as well as the fully gilded chandelier in baroque style. The tiled stove is from Rörstrand, 1880s work in medium blue tones with gilded late empiric ornaments; the sideboard carries a so-called East Indian company pendulum of gold bronze with the watch house in the form of a cotton ball, against which a Negro leans and is supported anchors and antique rudder with the dial is signed Joachim Hovenskjöld. Among the amount of handicraft objects in this room, we see a larger collection of silver pieces: Swedish goblets, jugs, cans, a richly decorated dish with embossed reliefs, with Stockholm stamps from 1779, and a particularly finely worked pineapple-shaped goblet, southern German work. Interestingly, a larger Chinese bell is hung on a pedestal in a ring of jade from the Han period (220 BC-221 AD.)
Consul James Keiller's Writing Room
We get further into the consul's writing room, extremely inviting with its comfortable deep fully upholstered and leather-covered seating. On the gray-green wall surface hang larger oil paintings: Lofoten picture by A. Norman, "Floraison", one for its time, early 20th century, signifying painting in the nude by Jeanne Rongier (1852–1929), and a couple of larger pieces of knee, portraits of the consul's grandparents, engineer Alexander Keiller and his wife Louise Wijk, copies by Johan Per Södermark. Among the furniture, our attention was drawn to a desk with a high shelf layout, composed of richly sculpted fillings from probably North German baroque chests.
The main wall is occupied by a low English stove of black marble, flanked on each side by bookshelves, which, like the stove, carry part of the rich and extremely precious collection of older Chinese porcelain, which the Keillers brought home from a trip to East Asia.
We see here a selection of polychrome manufacture: urns, vases, bowls, brush stands, ink cups, sacrificial cups, figures of humans and animals (the dog Fo) from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the Kangxi period (1662-1722), most on sculpted original stands of black wood. A separate group from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) form various animal figures. Extremely rare is a vase from the first part of the Ming period in openwork, on a turquoise base decorated in yellow and eggplant. On one of the tables is an unusually beautiful urn (famille verte), on another table a group of figures and vessels, blanc-de-Chine, and on the desk top a row of particularly decorative pots and some bowls with the famous peachbloom glaze.
Through the consul's writing room into the salon
This room owns more than the floor, incidentally, a typical architectural 1880s decoration; the walls by stucco moldings divided into fields with brown velvet wallpaper in stylized floral pattern, the ceiling framed, painted and partially gilded in stucco work, from whose center rosette hangs a larger glass crown (baccarat).
The salon's walls are adorned with mirrors, which, like some oil paintings, are set in richly sculpted and gilded Italian baroque frames. The seating furniture is of the same origin and equipment. Unusual as furniture work is a larger secretary from the first half of the 18th century, Italian marquetry work with frames of sculpted and gilded wooden moldings. On a pedestal on the floor stands a rare precious "fish bowl" (camaïeu bleu) with imperial name cipher from the Wanli period (ca. 1600).
The Small Salon or the Music Room
Furthermore, follows the small salon or the music room with an original tiled stove, dark brown majolica from Rörstrand with Pompeian decoration in gold and colors. On the red wall panels we see oil paintings by Vilhelm Mellbye, Vincent Lerche, Alfred Wahlberg, Wilhelm von Gegerfelt, Gustaf Cederström, August Hagborg, Bruno Liljefors and others.
The Dining Room
The dining room is an unusual interior of its kind with an all-white ceiling and all-white walls, framed by beamed ceilings, friezes and panels of brown oak.
Most striking is the less common decoration of wall panels and door tops with rows and groups of more than 1,000 pieces of different kinds of Chinese porcelain objects: plates, dishes, pots, sinks, bowls, cups, jars, etc. the majority in camaïeu bleu, some browned, some with remnants of polychrome enamel painting.
Of particular interest are some small dogs of gray-blue porcelain and remnants of tableware of such porcelain with gilded indistinct mirror monogram, A. G. K. under what might be a Grand Duke's crown.
All these whole objects, along with about the same number more, of whole, and lots of broken ones, are about 20 years ago on the initiative of Consul Keiller and his brother-in-law Consul Carl Lyons taken from the wreck of the Swedish East India Company's ship "Gothenburg", which after returning from Canton 1745 ran aground and sank at Nya Älfsborg Fortress.
It is probably this unique acquisition of Chinese company porcelain (Qianlong) that aroused Consul Keiller's interest in this kind of handicraft and gave him insight into the rarely expensive collection of older Chinese porcelain objects, to which in our country many individuals have no equivalent.
This text is based on an article in Svenska Hem i Ord och Bilder, May 1921, by Carl Lagerberg. The text has been edited and extended by Jan-Erik Nilsson, 2021, Gotheborg.com, based on data that were not available at the time of its first publication, 70 years after the first publication in accordance with Swedish copyright law. For the original text in Swedish, see the original publication which is available online in pdf format.
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