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.
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 Guanyin seated cross-legged on rockwork, her hands and feet concealed beneath long ﬂowing robes extending to a cowl revealing a ruyi-head tiara above detailed hairwork, covered in a cream glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine group of Tudi seated on a throne between two attendants, one holding a tablet, with the inscription zhaocai 'bringing money', on a demi-lune base, moulded with a ﬂowerhead and leaves issuing from rockwork, 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.
Chinese blanc de Chine joss-stick holder in the form of an assignation group of a lady and her servant holding a lantern on a fenced terrace above a scholar attended by the horned Kuixing holding a book, the joss-holder in the form of a fixed post with prunus, all on a rectangular base, covered in a white glaze.
Chinese blanc de Chine group of Wu Song hitting a tiger, with his wife Pan Jinlian standing behind him, on a rectangular base with chamfered corners, incised on a ﬂat top with cross-hatch design, the ﬂat sides moulded with branches of ﬂowers, 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.