As far back as antiquity people were writing about the incredible effect of the juice obtained from the ‘papaver somniferum’. It is known worldwide for its effectiveness against various ailments and as a pain reliever. It also offers the opportunity to escape from dreary reality. A host of writers and artists have drawn inspiration from opium visions. Yet the dark side unavoidably looms for those who abandon themselves to this narcotic.
Habituation leads to dependence, and once addicted there is usually no way back. Opium has had a tremendous economic significance as a commodity. The English used it as a crowbar to force open the doors of the Celestial Empire which had been barred for centuries. This almost resulted in the collapse of China. Since then the Chinese have viewed opium as a symbol of foreign exploitation and humiliation.
The many publications about opium have always neglected one aspect: the physical culture surrounding the opium ritual. The riches of Chinese artisan art and its unmatched beauty are expressed in this. With this publication, which presents a number of magnificent and rare opium pipes and paraphernalia from major private collections to public view for the first time, the authors are preserving an almost unknown culture from being relegated to oblivion.
Ferdinand Bertholet is a collector, picture restorer and painter. He wrote ‘Gardens of Pleasure’ (2003) with Jacques Pimpaneau about his unique collection of Chinese erotic art. He lives and works in Amsterdam.