Two and a half years has passed since our last Blanc de Chine exhibition, comprising 132 pieces and the fourth on this theme by Marchant.
Museums, dealers and collectors alike find allure in the rich creamy porcelain of Dehua, Fujian Province. A great amount was produced, ranging from deities to vessels and consequently, are hard to date precisely as the majority of them are unmarked. Current dating has been ascertained from records, cargo ship salvages, tomb excavations and archaeology.
The ‘golden age’ of the production of Blanc de Chine was the 100 years between 1620-1710. Noted for the elegance and tone of the wares, able to evoke many reactions and emotions to the graceful guanyins and archaistic censors. At Marchant we prefer these late Ming/early Qing pieces to the later group, dated circa 1900, as they don’t have the same spirit, with their chalky white glazes and more obvious subject matter.
A very interesting, small group of Blanc de Chine to touch upon is that of the small molded pieces – water droppers, joss-stick holders, brush rests and/or whistles, in the form of small European men wearing three-cornered hats, seated on horses, some with leg bent over wild animals. When researched, these pieces are labeled as Chinese Export Porcelain, however it’s worth considering they were intended as items for the domestic market – the West didn’t burn incense; they didn’t need water droppers or joss-stick holders, so it begs the question, who in the West would order these ‘useless’ things?
The very definition of export ware is that the piece has to have been ordered specifically for export. To our knowledge, there is no evidence that these pieces were ordered. In fact, a few examples have been found in tombs, furthering the theory that they were domestic wares.
This molded group was mass-produced and was inexpensive to make. It’s possible that the tri-purpose whistles, water droppers and joss-stick holders of men in tricorn hats – the never seen before wild barbarian foreigners that came off ships were the inspirations that were caricatured into these cheap to purchase knick-knacks which became a craze across China. Crazes and trends are brief and it would appear that once the fashion was over, local tradesmen and dealers would put them in their shops and warehouses, so that when the European merchants next visited, hungry for goods to take back to the West, they would find these amusing pieces highly desirable especially as the West hadn’t mastered porcelain manufacture much before 1730 and a good stock-pile could be shipped immediately.
Many of the Blanc de Chine that arrived in the West was re-fired with additional colour enamels or cold-lacquered as generally Western buyers preferred colour. If these pieces were intended for export and made to order for the West, then why was work not done at the point of manufacture?
Blanc de Chine pieces span a wide price spectrum. It is therefore a market that suits many pockets. We have a stock of affordable pieces to recommend.
Our forthcoming exhibition of Kangxi Blue & White and Underglaze Copper-Red will be on display at our gallery at 120 Kensington Church Street from Wednesday 2nd November until Friday 18th November 2016.