Blanc de Chine
Literally ‘white from China’, Blanc de Chine (often known as Dehua porcelain) is the name given specifically to the delicate white porcelain that was – and still is – manufactured in the kaolin-rich, south-eastern Chinese coastal town of Dehua in central Fujian province.
While white Dehua porcelain has been produced in China since the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) Blanc de Chine was the name given to the super-white, fine porcelain manufactured during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) and beyond by French connoisseurs as what became Blanc de Chine antiques entered the European market in big numbers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
We are often asked how to identify Blanc de Chine and the special characteristics of Dehua porcelain is that it contains a very small amount of iron oxide which means it can be fired to shades of warm white or ivory. There are also many differences in early and late examples of Blanc de Chine. Particularly in the thickness of the body and how they transmit light, the weight and as mentioned earlier the colour of the glaze.
Pieces of the Ming era are said to have a creamy glaze and sometimes pink translucency, pieces of Blanc de Chine of the transitional period demonstrate a shade between pale yellow and pale cream and Dehua porcelain made in the nineteenth century and later usually have a clear white glaze.
Large Chinese Blanc de Chine, Dehua, group of a standing Guanyin with serene face looking down at a scroll in her hand while her other hand is tucked inside her long flowing robes, wearing a beaded necklace, which drape down toward her feet with her toes exposed, wearing a high cowl tucked behind a raised tiara with a seated figure, her hair neatly tied and incised, all beside her attendant holding a book with his other hand draped inside his sleeve, his head also graciously turning towards her, all standing on a pierced rockwork base.
A Chinese Blanc de Chine incense burner of archaic bronze lian form on three ruyi-head bracket feet, impressed with a central band of archaic animals on a liwen ground between horizontal ribs, covered in a white glaze.
Chinese porcelain Blanc de Chine brushpot, bitong, stoutly potted with gently everted sides, incised on the body with a nineteen-character poem and a four-character signature, covered overall in a rich and even cream glaze.
A Chinese blanc de chine hookah base, the body moulded in high-relief with flowering branches of winter prunus, beneath a relief band of leaves at the shoulder, repeated beneath the rim, the neck of conical form with a wide, flat flange, all on a slightly splayed foot, all between anhua key-fret bands on the rim and foot, covered overall in an even white glaze.
Chinese Blanc de Chine Guanyin seated on a raised rockwork throne, wearing long robes extending to a cowl, resting her hand on her raised right knee, wearing a jewelled necklace and elaborate floral scroll tiara, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese Blanc de Chine libation cup of rhinoceros horn form applied with dragons, deer, pine and prunus branches and overhanging rocks, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese Blanc de Chine large wine cup of magnolia ﬂower form, the openwork branches forming the foot rim and extending on the applied sides with branches of prunus and magnolia, covered in a white cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine brushpot, bitong, of cylindrical form with openwork decoration of three incised peony blooms amongst branches and foliage issuing from rockwork between a wide band at the foot and rim, covered in a white glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine bottle vase with compressed body and cylindrical ﬂared neck applied with a bifid-tailed chilong dragon holding a branch in its mouth, covered in a rich cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine vase of gu form, the central bulge incised with a single branch of continuous ﬂowering lotus between single ribs, covered in a thick rich cream glaze.
Incense burner, lian, of plain cylindrical form on three bracket feet, covered in a rich cream glaze.
Pair of Chinese blanc de Chine fully trapped horses, each facing inwards and standing with a single foreleg slightly bent on a rectangular base, covered in a white glaze.
Group of Chinese blanc de Chine musicians seated on a rocky outcrop by a pine tree, one clapping and the others playing a moon guitar and ﬂute respectively, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine Guanyin standing with one hand raised, looking down at her boy attendant holding a book, wearing long ﬂowing robes extending to a cowl revealing a ﬂowerhead tiara above her detailed hairwork, with single strap necklace, all on a pierced rockwork base, covered in a rich cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine Guanyin seated on a pierced rockwork throne in the position of royal ease, rajalalitasana, with hands in front of her raised right knee, wearing long ﬂowing robes draped over the rockwork and extending to a cowl, her right foot exposed, wearing an elaborate lingzhi and jewelled necklace and ruyi-head tiara, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine Guanyin seated on a rockwork throne with right knee raised, wearing long ﬂowing robes exposing the hands and one foot and extending to a cowl, with elaborate hair and tiara, all between a vase and bird and two acolytes, Longnu, 'the Jade Maiden', and Shancai, 'the Golden Youth', covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine figure of Wang Zhaojun, holding a biwa and mounted on a horse, on a rectangular base incised with ruyi-head clouds, covered in a cream glaze.
Further information on Blanc de Chine
The soft nature of the kaolin clay use to manufacture Dehua porcelain wasn’t suitable for larger objects so the potters quickly established mass-production techniques for small Blanc de Chine cups, waterdroppers and figures that feature beautifully intricate details and representations.
These small religious figures are considered by many collectors of Blanc de Chine to be the zenith of Dehua porcelain craftsmanship . Many have been produced with little or no modification for over 300 years, especially representations of Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of compassion and mercy, widely worshipped even today. This is why precise dating can often be very difficult when asked how to identify Blanc de Chine.
Blanc de chine antiques remain highly collectible and can be found in many of the world’s finest museums and stately homes. One of the world’s largest collections of Blanc de Chine can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio and there are extensive collections of Dehua porcelain in the form of Blanc de Chine lamps and other pieces at the British Museum in London, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and an extensive collection in a purpose-built new wing in the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.