Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption

February 11, 2016

Country House cover FINAL 4

Historic England has recently published a volume of essays entitled The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption, edited by John Stobart and Andrew Hann.

A Chinese white porcelain teapot,  c.1650-70, at Ham House, Surrey

Chinese porcelain teapot in European silver mounts (NT 1139006), on a Javanese lacquer table (NT 1140034), both late seventeenth century, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

As Jon notes in his introduction, the book is essentially about looking at the country house as ‘a nexus of complex flows of goods, people and ideas.’ The volume contributes to the burgeoning debate about ‘material culture’, considering art history, social history and economic history not as separate realms but as an interrelated matrix.

The various essays extend this matrix well beyond the shores of Britain, including Finnish, French, Irish, Dutch and Spanish perspectives on the country house.

Cup of cappucinno and a pot of tea on a tray in the Orangery Cafe, Ham House and Garden, Surrey.

Coffee and tea as served in the Orangery Café at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

I contributed an essay on the changing significance of Asian and pseudo-Asian objects and styles in British country house interiors and gardens.

The debate is brought into the present through discussions about how the country house is ‘served up’ and ‘consumed’ today.

Chinese wallpaper conference

February 5, 2016
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Detail from one of the prints used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. NT 872998 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Regular readers of this blog may remember me mentioning the possibility of a conference on Chinese wallpapers in historic houses. I am happy to announce that this conference is going ahead and will take place in London on 7 and 8 April, with an optional excursion on 9 April.

The Dressing Room with hand painted wallpaper from China at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Section including a phoenix from the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. NT 959651 ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

Day one will be hosted by Coutts & Co, who still have an eighteenth-century landscape wallpaper in their boardroom that was owned by the founder of the firm, Thomas Coutts.

Day two will be at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and will include the viewing of sections of Chinese wallpaper from their collection and a visit to their paper conservation studio.

The optional excursion on day three is a visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, to see the role Chinese wallpaper played in the Prince Regent’s decorative vision (and again including the viewing of some archived wallpaper).

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Figure of a labourer in the landscape wallpaper painted on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. NT 872999 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The conference will look at Chinese wallpaper in the round, including Chinese, European, art-historical, economic, social and conservation perspectives.

We are fortunate in having been able to assemble an authoritative group of speakers from from Europe, America and China, who will be sharing some of their latest research.

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Detail of a bird of prey in the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper at Erddig, probably hung in the 1770s. NT 1153114 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

More information about the conference papers and the speakers can be found on the conference website, which includes a booking link.

 

Sharing a taste for Chinese prints

December 22, 2015
The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Various Chinese prints depicting female figures, cut out and combined to form a decorative scheme in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, near Plymouth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A few weeks ago I attended a conference at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna about Chinese-style interior decoration in Europe in the eighteenth century.

2 Saltram Study

Chinese print depicting a female figure in the Study at Saltram, part of a collage of Chinese prints and paintings. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

This conference was organised by Dr Elfriede Iby, head of research at Schönbrunn, and Professor Gabriele Krist of the Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien.

3 Oud Amelisweerd female figure

Fragment of a Chinese print depicting a female figure found at Oud Amelisweerd, near Utrecht, almost identical to prints at Saltram. ©MOA

This conference brought together curators, conservators and academics from across Europe. For me it was a great opportunity to learn about the issues that the colleagues in central Europe are grappling with (very similar to the issues we in the National Trust are grappling with, predictably enough).

4 Kasteel d'Ursel

Chinese print of a female figure, installed as an overdoor at Kasteel d’Ursel, near Antwerp, between 1761 and 1764. ©Provincie Antwerpen

And I very much enjoyed seeing more examples of Chinese-style interior decoration on the Continent.

5 Schloss Worlitz

Chinese print depicting a female figure hung at Schloss Wörlitz, Anhalt-Dessau, in about 1772. ©Bildarchiv Foto Marburg

I presented a paper about the rapid spread of certain types of Chinese prints and wallpapers, which popped up in palaces and country houses across Europe in the mid eighteenth century.

6 Badenburg

Chinese prints combined as a collage, probably hung by 1751 at the Badenburg pavilion, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich.

Occasionally the same or very similar Chinese prints have survived in different European countries. At the Schönbrunn  conference we heard about Chinese prints and wallpapers at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, the Wilanów Palace in Warsaw and Schloss Wörlitz in Anhalt-Dessau, some of which are clearly connected to examples in Britain.

7 Map

Locations of some of the early Chinese print and wallpaper schemes, installed c. 1725-1775.

In addition, scholars like Christer von der Burg and Anita Xiaoming Wang are also investigating aspects of these prints, as is evident from their respective blogs. There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that the research is as international as the subject.

 

The Chinese bridge at Croome rebuilt

August 11, 2015
The new Chinese bridge at Croome. ©National Trust

The new Chinese bridge at Croome. ©National Trust

On 28 July a long-lost feature of the garden at Croome Court, the Chinese bridge, was reopened to the public.

The Chinese bridge was originally commissioned  by George Coventry, the 6th Earl of Coventry, from the designer William Halfpenny in the 1740s. It is clearly shown in a 1758 painting by Richard Wilson, but had rotted away about a hundred years later.

Design for a Chinese bridge in William Halfpenny's pattern book 'Developments in Architecture and Carpentry', 1749.

Illustration of the Croome Chinese bridge in William Halfpenny’s book ‘Improvements in Architecture and Carpentry’, 1754.

Halfpenny illustrated the bridge in his book Improvements in Architecture and Carpentry of 1754, stating that it was ‘executed for the Right Honourable the Earl of Coventry at his Seat at Croom [sic] in Worcestershire.’ Pattern books like Improvements helped to spread the taste for Chinese-style designs in the eighteenth century.

Elevation of the new Chinese bridge. ©Green Oak Carpentry Company

Elevation of the new Chinese bridge. ©Green Oak Carpentry Company

For the new bridge, constructed by the Green Oak Carpentry Company, Halfpenny’s design and Wilson’s painting have been used as models. Although Chinese-style bridges were popular in Europe in the mid-eighteenth century (I showed some other examples here), this particular design by Halfpenny only seems to have been used at Croome.

Axonometric drawing of the new Chinese bridge. ©Green Oak Carpentry Company

Axonometric drawing of the new Chinese bridge. ©Green Oak Carpentry Company

The original footings of the bridge were identified through archaeological excavations. Dams were inserted into the river and the water pumped out to create a relatively dry working area for contractors WM Planthire. The aquatic wildlife, including mussels, perch, tench, rudd and eels, was caught and moved to other parts of the river, to the great interest of visitors who could watch the work progressing.

The completed new Chinese bridge. ©National Trust/James Dobson

The completed new Chinese bridge. ©National Trust/James Dobson

The final section of the bridge was lifted into place with large cranes. The bridge will be left unpainted for a year to allow the traditional joints to tighten, but it will ultimately be painted in the off-white colour seen in the Wilson painting.

Martin Drury opening the new Chinese bridge. ©National Trust/Tracey Blackwelll

Martin Drury opening the new Chinese bridge. ©National Trust/Tracey Blackwelll

The bridge was officially opened by Martin Drury, a trustee of the Monument 1985 Fund (set up by the late Simon Sainsbury) which provided a grant towards the cost of the reconstruction, together with Lord Flyte of Worcester who helped to raise the remaining funds. The bridge can now be seen and walked over whenever the park at Croome is open.

Cotton and paper crossovers

August 6, 2015
Indian chintz coverlet decorated with a Chinese-style garden scene, c. 1750 - c. 1775, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. BK-1980-805

Indian chintz coverlet decorated with a Chinese-style garden scene, c. 1750 – c. 1775, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. BK-1980-805

While I was on holiday in The Netherlands over the last two weeks I spotted this image of an Indian chintz coverlet in the 2015 illustrated diary published by the Rijksmuseum (I am obviously a true modern consumer, accessing culture through merchandise). The coverlet has been approximately dated to the third quarter of the eighteenth century and has a provenance from the Twickel estate in Overijssel.

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House, probably hung in about 1840. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House, Lincolnshire, probably hung in about 1840. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

The pattern of bamboo entwined with flowers reminded me of certain Chinese wallpapers, such as this one at Belton House. Bamboo entwined with flowers is found on wallpapers that are generally thought to be slightly later in date, from the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century. Does that mean that Indian chintz influenced Chinese wallpaper, as has been suggested in the catalogue of the recent Interwoven Globe exhibition?

Detail of a pheasant on  an ornamental rock in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote, kent. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Detail of a pheasant on an ornamental rock in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

But the perforated rocks depicted in the chintz coverlet are characteristic Chinese garden ornaments, as can be seen in Chinese wallpapers with garden scenery, such as those at Ightham Mote and Felbrigg Hall. So that suggests that Indian chintz was influenced by Chinese wallpaper, or by some other kind of Chinese image.

Chinese painted silk coverlet, 1760-1800, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. no. T.3-1948. © V&A Images

Chinese painted silk coverlet, 1760-1800, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. no. T.3-1948. © V&A Images

And then there is the Chinese painted silk coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum, dated to 1760-1800 (shown here earlier). This uses the imagery of Chinese wallpapers but has the same function as the Rijksmuseum chintz, i.e. to cover a bed.

So this game of chicken and egg is still very much inconclusive – with several eggs and several chickens – but what is clear is that there was some kind of mutual influence.

The Chinese taste in British gardens

June 16, 2015
A 'peacock pheasant' perched on a camellia, plate 67 in George Edward's Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1745.

A peacock pheasant perched on a camellia, plate 67 in George Edwards’s Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1745.

This Friday (19 June) I will be speaking at the New Approaches in Chinese Garden History conference, organised by the Centre for East West Studies at the University of Sheffield.

The conference is in honour of Dr Alison Hardie, who has been central to burgeoning field of scholarship on Chinese gardens. I am looking forward to learning more about historical Chinese gardens from an international group of speakers including Lucie Olivová, Georges Métailié, Lei Gao, Bianca Rinaldi and Peter Blundell Jones.

Detail of pheasants in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, hung in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of pheasants in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, hung in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

In preparing my own paper, which will be about the changing significance of the Chinese taste in British gardens, I came across the wonderful plate shown at the top of this post, of a peacock pheasant on a camellia, from George Edwards’s 1745 book A Natural History of Uncommon Birds.

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bushsh

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

Although Edwards claimed to have drawn the camellia from a real plant – and camellias were indeed beginning to be grown in Britain at that time – the picture is strongly reminiscent of a Chinese bird-and-flower painting.

Detail of a cockerel in an English printed cotton, about 1780. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Detail of a cockerel in an English printed cotton, about 1780. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

In the decades following the publication of that book by Edwards you can see the Chinese bird-and-flower imagery ricocheting back and forth between east and west: in the Chinese wallpapers that were starting to be produced in Guangzhou for export to the west, and in the European imitations of that wallpaper, for instance in the form of printed cottons.

Did the European interest in Chinese plants stimulate the development of Chinese wallpaper? Or was it the other way around? We may never find the exact answer to that question, but it is nevertheless useful to discover these correlations between gardens and interiors.

William Chambers, Chinese design guru

January 22, 2015
Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers's book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

This evening I will be giving a talk on the Chinese designs of the architect William Chambers, as part of the seminar series on the history of gardens and designed landscapes organised by the Institute of Historical Reseach.

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

I cannot give a full preview of the talk here, but essentially it will be about the pervasive influence of Chambers’s 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings on the appearance of chinoiserie garden pavilions across Europe.

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Chambers claimed to have written the book to correct European misconceptions about Chinese architecture which were being perpetuated by the authors of fanciful and frivolous ‘Chinese’ pattern books.

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Ironically, the popularity of Chambers’s ‘correct’ book meant that his designs were quickly adapted by others and used to design yet more cheerfully fantastical pavilions, especially as part of the so-called jardins anglo-chinois which were popular in France in the 1770s and 1780s.

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

But in some ways Chambers had the last laugh, as his version of Chinese architecture became the ‘correct’ chinoiserie style for about the next hundred years.

A closer look at the Uppark Chinese wallpaper

January 8, 2015
Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Recently we have been able to have a closer look at the Chinese wallpaper fragments from Uppark, which have been in storage. They were revealed under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark following a fire in 1989 and are proving to be very important.

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

We knew that the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark was early, of the block-printed type that appeared in about 1750. It is clearly similar in style to other surviving block-printed Chinese wallpapers from that time, such as those at Felbrigg Hall, Ightham Mote, and Woburn Abbey.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

But now we have been able to confirm that parts of this wallpaper are in fact identical to some of the wallpaper drops at Ightham Mote. The related section of the Ightham wallpaper can be seen in this previous post.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The colours of the Uppark wallpaper are remarkably fresh. Although it obviously suffered from the effects of the fire, it had only been exposed to light for about twenty years, having been covered over with another wallpaper in about 1770. So the surviving fragments make for an interesting comparison with the Ightham paper, in which the colours have changed due to over-painting with oil paint in about 1900.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The fragments also provide evidence of the artful cutting and pasting regularly deployed by the paper hangers to make the scenic Chinese wallpaper fit particular rooms. In one section rocks, flowers and a bird have been added to extend the paper at the bottom. The lady appearing nearby seems to have been added as well, probably taken from a different Chinese print or wallpaper.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Some of the fragments have the remains of border papers, which were commonly used to frame sections of wallpaper. One of them appears to be Chinese, a trompe l’oeil representation of mottled bamboo fretwork.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The other appears to be European, cut in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern reminiscent of the decorations on mid-eighteenth century furniture. In one area the cut paper can be seen emerging from underneath a damaged section of the ‘bamboo’ paper – perhaps evidence of a change of mind.

 

Phoenix hunt

November 7, 2014
Phoenix (fenghuang)  in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The omens must be favourable for my colleague Andrew Bush, our paper conservation adviser, because he has recently reported a number of sightings of the elusive and auspicious Chinese phoenix, or fenghuang.

Andrew found one in the Chinese wallpaper at Nostell Priory, which was hung by Thomas Chippendale in 1771.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Then he recognised the same bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, which is thought to have been hung during the 1770s.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

And lo and behold there it was again in the Chinese wallpaper at Cobham Hall, where Bromwich, Isherwood and Bradley supplied Chinese wallpaper in 1773.

These phoenixes are more than just vaguely similar: they share the same stance, shape and disposition of feathers, suggesting they are all based on the same master design.

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

But to top all that Andrew has now spotted the same phoenix in a different medium, produced on the other side of the world: it also appears on a British printed cotton, dated to the late 1770s. This textile is now in the Winterthur collection, and is illustrated in the splendid new book Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton. In spite of the more western appearance of the design, the bird is clearly related to the fenghuang in the Chinese wallpapers at Nostell, Erddig and Cobham Hall.

It is tempting to speculate about the exact relationship between these Chinese painted wallpapers and that British printed cotton design. As yet we only have this limited visual evidence, but it is clear that there was some kind of cross-cultural, cross-medium exchange going on.

The familiar hidden in the exotic

October 29, 2014
Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have been reading the late James Cahill’s book Pictures for Use and Pleasure (on the recommendation of Christer von der Burg), which deals with the so-called professional painting tradition in eighteenth-century China. Traditionally the almost monochrome, semi-abstract paintings produced by scholar amateurs have ranked most highly in the canon of Chinese art. But Cahill makes the case that the colourful, realistic and detailed pictures produced by professional painters are also worthy of note.

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These professional or ‘academic’ paintings were intended for specific occasions or seasons, or to decorate specific rooms. As such they are among the ancestors of the Chinese wallpaper with colourful and detailed decoration produced specifically for export to the west (and it was because Christer knows of my interest in Chinese wallpapers that he kindly alerted me to this book).

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Cahill makes the point that many Chinese professional paintings employ techniques and devices originally derived from western painting. During the late Ming and early Qing periods (roughly equivalent to the seventeenth century) some western illusionistic techniques like linear perspective, chiaroscuro and the depiction of interconnected spaces were introduced to China by Jesuit painters working at the imperial court and through the circulation of western prints.

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

These techniques also appear, by now completely internalised, in Chinese wallpaper or pictures used as wallpaper, especially in the depiction of volumetric shading in costumes and perspective and spatial recession in architecture. Taking that one step further, I wonder if this might have been one of the factors that made Chinese pictures and wallpaper so attractive to Europeans: it was excitingly exotic, and yet it included elements that would, on an unconscious level, have been comfortingly familiar to the western eye.

 


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