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.
A Blanc de Chine figure of Laozi, seated with his arms crossed, resting on an armrest, with a scroll in his left hand, dressed in long robes, his face modelled with arched brows, bulbous nose and long incised beard and moustache.
A Chinese Blanc de Chine ‘Governor Duff’ group, modelled as a family in western dress seated between a small table, in front of a cross, and a food dish, the family formally arranged with a pet dog and monkey seated either side of a potted plant, the standing boy and girl holding a fan and ornament while the parents each hold a cup, all on a raised rockwork base. 7 inches, 17.7cm high. Kangxi, 1662-1722, circa 1690.
Chinese blanc de Chine stem cup, the bowl with flared rim and single rib on a tall splayed foot, covered in a creamy glaze of slight pink tone.
Blanc de Chine figure of Pintoulo seated on a rockwork base, the turned head with detailed beard and eyebrows, hands clasped beneath the robes, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese Blanc de Chine Buddha seated in meditation with his legs crossed in padmasana, the lotus posture, with both feet exposed, his hands resting on his feet in dhyanamudra, wearing loose robes draped over the shoulders and tied above the waist exposing his chest, with a central wan character and elaborate necklace, the placid face with eyes looking down between elongated earlobes and broad nostrils beneath an urna on his forehead and an intricate mass of tight curls covering the head, all on a stylised lotus form base, covered in a rich 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.
A Chinese blanc de chine group of a standing European gentleman, probably a Dutchman, holding a fan and wearing an elaborate buttoned jacket and tricorn hat with detailed hairwork, standing beside his young attendant similarly dressed holding a flywhisk, all beside a seated dog and between a bonsai tree in a jardinière, all supported on a stylised rockwork base.
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.
A Chinese blanc de Chine joss-stick holder in the form of a seated Buddhist lion, wearing bells and tassel on his collar, his right paw resting on a brocade ball, the hair work and tail well defined, sitting on a rectangular plinth with tubular holder.
A Chinese porcelain blanc de Chine seated figure of Guanyin, her hair in two plaits over her shoulders, wearing long flowing robes and elaborate bead necklace, her hand resting on her right raised knee, all on a rockwork base, with standing boy attendant at her left side.
A pair of Chinese porcelain blanc de Chine models of wide-eyed seated hounds, each with a puppy also seated, by their side, their heads looking forward and wearing a collar with pendant tassel and bells, their tails curled upwards on their backs, all on a rectangular plinth, with arched sides.
A Chinese porcelain cream glaze Dehua Blanc de Chine seated figure of Guanyin wearing long flowing robes with high cowl, her hair with braids, her right hand resting on her knee, sitting on a rockwork base.
Chinese Blanc de Chine jue, tripod libation cup with single strap handle, moulded on the body with four ﬂoral panels between relief ﬂanges, all on three feet with mask terminals and beneath a moulded key-fret band at the rim, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese Blanc de Chine small pair of libation cups of rhinoceros-horn form, each applied with tiger, dragon, deer and crane amongst prunus and pine beneath overhanging rocks, covered in a rich 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.
A Chinese blanc de chine jue, tripod libation cup with single strap handle, moulded on the body with four panels of bamboo and lingzhi between relief ﬂanges, all on three feet with mask terminals and beneath a moulded key-fret band at the rim, covered in a 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.
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.
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