Christies offer valuable advice for buyers of Chinese porcelain

We are approaching one of the two busiest periods of the year for Chinese art auctions. More than 12,000 pieces of Chinese art will be available for purchase throughout the UK over the next few weeks. Competition is intense between auction houses. Christies have some top drawer sales coming up and they are tempting buyers with information services. A good idea, we say . . . folow the links for images of porcelain they have for sale.

Christie’s Collecting Guide: 10 things you need to know about Chinese ceramics

From reign marks to firing flaws, the information every collector should be armed with

  • 1 Handle as many pieces as possible


Chinese ceramics have been copied for hundreds of years by Chinese potters. They copy out of a reverence for an earlier period but often just to fool the buyer. The market has many copies so buyer beware. When starting to collect ceramics, there is no shortcut to learning and authenticating pieces than to handle as many as possible. Take advantage of the large numbers of Chinese ceramics offered around the world at reputable auction houses. In many ways, auction houses are even better than museums as you can handle pieces in cabinets. In handling many pieces, you get a feel for what a ceramic should feel like in the hand, the weight of the piece, the quality of the painting.


A rare Ming-style blue and white pilgrim flask, Bianhu. Yongzheng six-character seal mark. 7 1/8 in. (18.3 cm.) high. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A turquoise-ground famille rose ‘five boys’ vase. Qianlong six-character seal mark in iron-red. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm.) high. Estimate: £300,000-500,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

2 Ask questions

Building the knowledge needed to authenticate Chinese ceramics can take many years. Reading reference books can give a structure to the field but pick specialists’ brains and ask as many questions as possible. There is nothing that a specialist with a little time on their hands likes better than to talk about their subject.

Video: Specialist Kate Hunt talks about her passion for Chinese porcelain

  • 3 Always buy what you love


Do not necessarily think of buying for investment. In that way you will never be disappointed. Try to buy the best quality example your budget will allow.


A famille rose yellow-ground bowl. Daoguang seal mark in underglaze blue and of. 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm.) diam.. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

  1. Familiarise yourself with the different palettes and glazes and when they were introduced

For example, the wucai (literally five-colour) palette was used in the Wanli period (1573–1619); from this palette came the famille verte palette introduced in the 17th century and the Kangxi period (1662–1722). This features a predominant green enamel together with blue, red, yellow, black. The famille rose palette was added to the ceramic painter’s repertoire in the 1720s and featured a prominent rose colour; the enamels are opaque and there is a wider repertoire of colours. In the 18th century there were many technical advances and glazes were introduced such as the copper-red glazes and flambé glazes.


A Longquan celadon cong-form vase. Sothern Song-Yuan Dynasty (1127-1368). 15 3/4 in. (40 cm.) high. Estimate: £15,000-20,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A rare flambé glazed vase, fang hu. Yongzheng incised six-character seal mark. 11 7/8 in. (30.2 cm.) high. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

  • Learn about the various kilns and the distinction in glazes between kiln sites


Ceramics were made all over China and kilns in the north and south produced different types of wares and glazes. For example, in the Song dynasty (960–1279) you get beautiful celadon glazed ceramics from the Longquan located in the southwest Zhejiang province, and also the Yaozhou kilns in the northern China Shaanxi province. The celadon glazes differ between these two kilns with the Longquan glaze giving often a warmer, bluish-green tone compared with the Yaozhou glazes that were more olive in tone. Jun wares in the Song dynasty were produced with beautiful lavender glazes often highlighted by abstract purple splashes. The Dehua kilns specialised in ceramics with white and cream glazes. In the late Ming dynasty in the 17th century the Dehua wares were creamy in tone but by the 19th century these became more ivory and white. From the Ming dynasty, the kilns at Jingdezhen in the south of China produced most of the blue and white ceramics.


A set of four doucai ‘shou’ dishes. Daoguang six-character seal marks in. 8 1/4 in. (20.8 cm.) diam. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

6 Turn it over

Always look at the bases of the ceramics as fakers often do not get these correct. The way a base of a vessel is cut, finished and glazed changes throughout the dynasties so looking at bases can help enormously with dating and authentication. Potters who are trying to fake ceramics often may not have an original example to look at, relying instead on photographs in auction catalogues or books that do not feature the bases.


A blue and white vase. Transitional Period, mid-17th century. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm.) high. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

Familiarise yourself with changes in underglaze blue decoration from the Ming to the Qing dynasty

This timeless Chinese decoration changed a lot over the centuries both in the designs favoured and the tone of the cobalt blue when fired. This helps with dating — a characteristic of 15th century blue and white porcelain is the so-called ‘heaped and piled effect’ — when the underglaze cobalt blue concentrates in certain areas, bubbling through the surface of the glaze and turning a deep blue-black. This inadvertently gave texture, energy and shading to the design and was highly admired in the 18th century when potters sought to copy the techniques on archaistic pieces made out of reverence for this early golden period. However, by the 18th century potters had mastered the technique of firing blue and white wares to achieve a more even, uniform cobalt blue tone and this was widely used on most porcelain. The blue varied throughout the dynasties. For example, during the Wanli period (1573–1619) blue and white wares often have a greyish-blue tone; in the Jiajing period (1522–1566) blue and white wares tend to have a vibrant, almost purplish blue.


A massive pair of famille rose ‘water margin’ vases. Daoguang Period (1821-1850). 54 1/2 in. (138.5 cm.) high. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London


A rare ming-style blue and white floral vase. Yongzheng six-character mark in underglaze. 8 in. (20.2 cm.) high. Estimate: £200,000-300,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

8 Pay attention to shapes and proportions

The shapes of ceramics changed and evolved throughout the dynasties. Familiarise yourself with the different shapes in different periods. For example, Song dynasty ceramics often drew on nature for their inspiration and have foliate forms. Ceramics from the Song dynasty are all about combining simple forms with beautiful monochrome glazes. Chinese ceramics also have beautiful proportions. A vase or bowl that looks out of proportion is an indication that a neck or mouth has been ground down.

An incised green-enamelled ‘dragon’ dish. Kangxi six-character mark in underglaze blue. 7 in. (17.8 cm.) diam.. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

9  Consider condition

What is an acceptable condition depends on whether the ceramic is Imperial quality or not and when it was made. For example, on a non-Imperial porcelain vessel made in the 17th century, such as a Kraak ware charger, you would expect to see a certain level of fritting to the rim, or see some kiln grit or kiln dust to the base and perhaps a firing flaw that would have occurred in the kiln. These would be acceptable and would not be considered condition issues.

However, you would not expect to find these kind of kiln flaws on an 18th century Imperial mark and period ceramic as the standard would have been higher and the firing techniques refined. The price of mark and period ceramics made for the great 18th century Kangxi (1662–1722), Yongzheng (1723–1735) and Qianlong (1736–1795) Emperors has escalated in the last decade. Whereas 15 years ago, only mint condition mark and period ceramics would have been considered acceptable to collectors, now collectors will accept certain condition flaws in order to buy these pieces. For example, ceramics that have been broken and restored or have hairline cracks.


A rare iron-red and underglaze-blue decorated square-form vase, Gu. Wanli six-character mark in underglaze-blue. 22 5/8 in. (57.5 cm.) high. Estimate: £40,000-60,000. This work is offered in Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art on 10 May at Christie’s in London

10  Familiarise yourself with marks

Reign marks state the dynasty and the name of the emperor for which an item was made and were used on all ceramics made for the Emperor and his Imperial household. Familiarise yourself with the reign marks used in each period but do not rely on a reign mark to establish the age of a piece. Marks were often copied and can be apocryphal. A useful reference book is The Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, Gerald Davison, London, 1994. This lists all the Imperial Ming and Qing dynasty reign marks that appear in seal script form, zhuanshu, and regular form, kaishu.  These should be studied together with the many different variations of hallmarks, auspicious marks, potters’ marks and symbols that you find on the bases of Chinese porcelain throughout the ages.


Highlighted Sale

Inspired Themes: A Fine Selection of Chinese Works of Art

London, King Street

10 May 2016

Learn more


Related lots

A famille rose yellow-ground bowl

Daoguang seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1821-1850)

Estimate £15,000 – £25,000 ($21,720 – $36,200)

Lot 59 | Sale 13075


View Lot

A wucai dragon and phoenix bowl

Qianlong six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1736-1795)

Estimate £2,000 – £4,000 ($2,896 – $5,792)

Lot 144 | Sale 12289




Tong Bin the Immortal Father of porcelain manufacture

In the Chinese porcelain capital of Jingdezhen is to be found The Wind and Fire Immortal Temple in the grounds of the city’s Ancient Kiln Museum. The temple is dedicated to Tong Bin, the Immortal of Wind and Fire.

 wpid-jingdezhen-ancient-kiln-museum-tong-bin-lr.jpg.jpegShrine to Tong Bin, Ancient Kiln Museum, Jingdezhen

By reputation, Tong Bin was the master of kiln firing in the city during the Wanli period who sacrificed his life firing the giant Imperial jar. As a result he was honoured as the kiln god. The temple itself was built during the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) and is 485 sq m in size with areas for the Ancestral Hall and Bedchambers and a deep pool located in the centre of the structure.


Welcome to Jingdezhen porcelain capital of China




Wall vase, Jingdezhen  Photo by Paul Harris

We have now arrived in Jingdezhen, not without reason dubbed the porcelain capital of China. Porcelain and pottery has been made here for more than 1700 years although the name of this place was changed to Jingdezhen only 700 or so years ago. Porcelain is everywhere . . .  .


Public convenience, Jingdezhen   Photo by Paul Harris

In this, our first posting from the porcelain capital of China, we are putting up some of the more unusual places we have sighted use of porcelain. . . we’ll get serious rather later.


Drainage channel, Kiln & Folk Museum, Jingdezhen  Photo Paul Harris


Porcelain litter bins in blue & white, Jingdezhen  Photo Paul Harris


And even the lamp posts are made of blue & white porcelain in Jingdezhen!

Photo by Paul Harris

Tang taste for the voluptuous revealed

Ben Janssens TEFAF (1)

Going Through Ben Janssen’s handsome 2015 catalogue, just officially launched at TEFAF, we were struck by the elegant simplicity of this Tang dynasty pottery figure of a court lady, most probably someone of great importance.

This charming mid-8th century piece tells us much about the Tang predilection for full-bodied, voluptuous women. The positively plump figure with the hairstyle known as ‘falling horse bun’ (duomaji) represents the apogee of beauty at the time. This concept of beauty is rounded off by cloud-shaped shoes and a high waisted robe which falls in pleats to the floor. The lady represented here might well have been concubine to the Emperor (the painting  Emperor’s Favourite on a Spring Excursion depicts a woman similarly dressed in the form of concubine Madame Guoguo).

You could have a piece of that, so to speak, for 75,000 euros . . . More information at

Ben Janssens TEFAF (2)

A look at the art of the Chinese firecracker label

We recently came across what might, at first sight, be regarded as something of a byway of Chinese art: the art of the firecracker label. Firecrackers have been a source of fun and pleasure for Chinese for centuries and a range of social events are marked by their detonation from shop openings to marriages to celebrations of Chinese New Year. However, we were not aware until very recently that the package labels were avidly collected.


James Dyer Ball, in his book Things Chinese, has a detailed description about the process and material used for making firecrackers around the end of 19th century. At that time, firecrackers were usually made by women and children, who used straw paper to make the body of the firecracker, while the fuse was made of bamboo paper imported from Japan, then stiffened with buckwheat paste. The bamboo paper was cut into strips of 14 inches (360 mm) long and 13 inch (8.5 mm) wide, laid on a table; a string of gunpowder was placed at the center with a hollow tube, then twisted up to make a piece of fuse. The firecracker tubes were made from pieces of straw paper wrapped around iron rods of various diameters then tightened with a special tool. The process is very dangerous and sometimes whole factories are destroyed with considerable loss of life.

Cenxi City firework factory blast 11 dead Nov 1 2013

A destroyed firecracker factory in China, Chenxi City (November 2013) 11 workers died.

200 to 300 firecrackers were tied up in a bunch, then red clay was spread at the bottom of the bunch, and forced into each end of the firecracker with a punch; gunpowder was poured into it, then the other end was sealed with an awl by turning the tube inward, and a fuse inserted.

There is a goodly selection of firecracker labels to be seen at Mr Brick Label Flickr, from which these examples are taken. Generally, a branded label was affixed to each pack and, at the end of the process, the packs were bundled into wholesale lots known as ‘bricks’, which contained, on average, 80 packs each.

tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo8_r1_540 tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo3_1280 tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo4_r1_540tumblr_nivk4eD8lf1rrpskqo6_r1_250 And a rather more threatening example!

64 wedding firecrackers

Firecrackers are particularly popular at weddings in China. Here a Shanghai wedding party observe – from a distance – firecrackers in their honour. Photo by Paul Harris from About Face: Photographs from the Streets of Shanghai 2003.

Sadberk Hanim Museum is Turkey’s unknown Chinese porcelain exhibit

Everybody has heard of the Topkapi Saray collection of Chinese porcelain in Istanbul but few are aware of the Sadberk Hanim Museum . . .  the what, you may ask? Indeed, situated in a an elegant private house on The Bosphorus, rather nearer the Black Sea than the cosmopolitan Turkish city of Istanbul (formerly fabled Constantinople), it is Turkey’s very first private museum, built on a fabulous fortune.

Recently, we were able to visit and look at the remarkable collection of Chinese export porcelain held there. Altogether, there are around 180 pieces of Chinese porcelain. The areas of collecting are particularly strong in kraak ware, early celadon, blue and white  and famille verte.

Sadberk Hanim museum exhibits gv web

A general view of some of the 180 Chinese exhibits at The Sadberk Hanim Museum, Istanbul   Photo Paul Harris

Vehbi Koç Foundation’s Sadberk Hanım Museum is indeed Turkey’s first private museum intended to exhibit the private collection of Sadberk Koç, the wife of Vehbi Koç. The Museum was opened on 14 October 1980 at a building called the Azaryan Mansion in Sarıyer-Büyükdere.

Sadberk Hanim Museum web

The Azaryan Mansion which houses the Sadberk Hanim Museum

The Azaryan Mansion was built at the end of the 19th century and was purchased by the Koç family in 1950. It was used as the family’s summer retreat until they decided to convert the building into a museum in 1978. Between 1978-80, the building was subjected to a restoration project by Sedat Hakkı Eldem and was converted into a museum. The Koc family is probably best known internationally as the owners of the Beko white goods empire.

The museum’s collection initially consisted of the private collection of Sadberk Koç, which included traditional costumes, embroidery, silver artefacts with “tuğra” and porcelain and suchlike artefacts, and in due course was augmented with donations and purchases. Following the demise of Hüseyin Kocabaş, one of the greatest collectors of Turkey, his collection was also added to the Sadberk Hanım Museum’s Collection. In 1983, Vehbi Koç Foundation decided to purchase the neighbouring mansion that is believed to have been built around the beginning of the 20th century to accommodate the Hüseyin Kocabaş Collection and the mansion’s facade was restored in the original style. Sadberg Hanim blue & white 16-17c web

16th & 17th century blue and white porcelain  Photo Paul Harris

Whilst at the time of its foundation Sadberk Hanım Museum contained 3.000 pieces, at present, the inventory has reached more than 18.000 artefacts in its collection. Archaeological relics belonging to Anatolian civilisation from 6th millennium B.C. till the end of the Byzantines are housed in the Sevgi Gönül Building. Islamic artefacts with Ottoman emphasis, European, Far Eastern and Near Eastern artefacts that were produced for the Ottomans, woven textiles from the Ottoman era, garments and embroideries are being exhibited in the Azaryan Building. The important collection of Chinese porcelain reflects both the influence of the Silk Road trading links over the centuries as well as the well developed taste of the Ottoman Sultans.

Kraak porcelain ware 16-17c web Kraak porcelain ware at the Sadberk Hanim Museum  Photo Paul Harris

Asian Art in London: Chinese export ware appears to be on the up . . .

Asian Art in London is always invaluable when it comes to identifying trends. This year, we visited three significant exhibitions of Chinese export ware, an area of collecting which has, let us say, been neglected in the rush for blue and white and pretty famille rose . . .

This year, Will Motley of Cohen & Cohen had one spectacular piece on display, and an array of other simply wonderful pieces in two-floored premises on Jermyn Street. The exhibition, and the accompanying book, shared the same intriguing title, Hit & Myth. The fabulous Yongzheng bowl dated 1735 (pictured below) was sold to an important museum in the Far East. The proposed destination is top secret for the moment as committee approval and paperwork is finalised. The bowl is highly unusual in that it portrays the actual making of porcelain. “As far as we know, there are only two of such bowls in the world,” Will Motley revealed.

It is the second time that Motley has sold this particular bowl. Hardly surprisingly, he is addicted to export porcelain. “It is the forgotten cousin,” he says. “It is a complex field with many sub-categories like armorial porcelain and famille verte.

“Many Chinese buyers are bemused by it,.” says Motley. Apparently, they simply fail to recognise it, so different is it from their normal taste. However, that may be changing, “I have, at least, been asked to sell single items which were part of a pair . . .The Chinese simply don’t get it.”

The title of the exhibition, and the book Hit & Myth (£35), reflects the presence of several mythological pieces and three or four other most unusual items.

1 cohen & cohen

Bound for a museum in the Far East . . .  Yongzheng bowl (1735)        Photo Paul Harris

In Kensington Church Street,  Marchants baptised their new premises, at 101, across the road from their well established ones (which are showing blanc de chine currently), with a selection of alluring pieces. Marchant, a long established firm, have an equally long commitment to Chinese export ware.

1 Asian Art Marchant new premises (3)

Marchants new premises at 101 Kensington Church Street (abovePhoto Paul Harris

An exquisite and unusual bowl on display at Marchants   Photo Paul Harris

1 marchant export bowl

Across the road from Marchant’s export ware emporium, dealer Jorge Welsh has his Out of the Ordinary exhibition. He avers that Chinese export porcelain was produced in an ‘extraordinary’ range of shapes during the late 17th and 18th centuries ‘some of which are truly out of the ordinary’. These were frequently ordered in small quantities and through the private trade. They reflect many changing aspects of daily life at the time. There is a fascinating hardback book Out of the Ordinary (£100), which we shall look at later.

We were particularly attracted by one piece, a pair of famille rose goose tureens with covers. In extraordinary condition and highly unusual, they are worth recording here in some detail (supplied by Jorge Welsh).

Pair of Famille Rose Goose Tureens and Covers

Photo Jorge Welsh      Pair of famille rose Goose Tureens and Covers

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795)

Porcelain decorated in overglaze enamels of the famille rose palette

Height: 32.5 cm; length: 39 cm; width: 25 cm

A pair of large tureens, each naturalistically modelled in two pieces as a goose with webbed feet tucked beneath the body, wings folded against the back, a long neck and small head with a slightly open beak, which serves as a handle for the tureen cover. The detailed plumage is moulded, incised and painted in different shades of brown, while the wings are painted in light brown, dark brown and blue enamel. The neck and head are painted with brown enamels, while the bulge on top of the head and circles around the eyes are painted in pink and the eyes are detailed in black. The beak and the feet are painted in different shades of orange enamel.

Jorge Welsh explains: Large soup tureens in naturalistic forms representing animals and birds were probably modelled after faience examples which were very much in fashion during the 18th century, in conjunction with rococo taste in Europe. Impressive centerpieces, these tureens accompanied table-services and were created for the amusement of guests dining in wealthy households. Large tureens were modelled in the form of fish, geese, roosters, boar’s and ox-head’s, which were also occasionally accompanied by tureen stands. Smaller vegetable and sauce tureens in the shape of crabs, fish, sows, dormice, tortoises and ducks have been recorded, amongst other shapes.

Although the actual prototype has not yet been identified, goose-shaped tureens were most likely derived from European ceramic models, which became increasingly fashionable in the 1740s. Large goose tureens were produced in Germany at the Höchst faience factory, which was patronized by the Elector of Mainz. They were possibly modelled by G. F. Hess, but surviving examples are rare.[1] The director of the factory, Adam von Löwenfinck, left in 1749 and joined the Strasbourg factory, where goose, turkey and cock tureens, among others, were made in faience from 1750 to 1754, from where this fashion spread across France.[2] This type of goose tureen was also produced at the Meissen factory by J. J. Kaendler in the middle of the century and at the Real Fábrica do Rato in Lisbon by Master Tomás Bruneto.[3] These pieces were greatly appreciated and much in demand in Portugal during the 18th century.

Although large goose tureens were usually purchased through private order, demand was such that the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ordered 25 similar tureens for its stock in 1763. The VOC archives record that ‘25 tureens, the form as a boar’s head, the stand finely painted’ and 25 ‘in the form of a goose’ were ordered. In 1764, 19 more boar’s heads and four goose tureens were shipped at fl. 10.50 each.[4] The same year the directors asked for 30 more tureens, but the purchase did not materialise because the supercargoes considered it too risky.

Chinese porcelain goose tureens were manufactured in two similar forms, but one has a much shorter neck than the other. The larger type usually measures about 40 cm in height while the one with shorter neck measures about 34 cm. Each type is often found in pairs of virtually identical form and decoration. The decoration of goose tureens varies from the very naturalistic to more fanciful interpretations of the famille rose palette. Goose tureens with short necks are not recorded as having stands painted with a representation of the same animal.

Similar goose tureens to the present examples, modelled with a shorter neck, are in the Palacio Nacional de Queluz,[5] in the British Museum in London,[6] and in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.[7] Other examples were in the Mildred and Rafi Mottahedeh collection[8] and the Helena Woolworth McCann collection.[9] An example of this type but presenting a lavish decoration heightened in gilt is found in the C.T. Loo Collection in Paris.[10]

Goose tureens with tall necks are found in the Carmona e Costa Foundation in Lisbon[11] and in the former Mottahedeh collection.[12] Another belongs to a private collection and is illustrated by Pinto de Matos.[13] A pair was in the Chateau de Plaisance, built by Pâris-Duverney (1684-1770), who was an advisor (1723-26) to the Duc de Bourbon and a protégé of the Marquise de Pompadour, and also director of the French Compagnie des Indes.[14] A further pair of goose tureens mounted in silver and made for the English market is in the collection of Brodick Castle, probably formerly in the collection of William Beckford in Fonthill Abbey.[15]

Goose tureens with tall necks are also recorded from armorial services for the Spanish market. A set of tureens including a goose, rooster and boar’s head, each accompanied by stands, was part of a large service made for the Asteguieta family.[16] Another example bears the arms of the Cervantes family[17] and one tureen from the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Collection bears the arms of Don Matias de Gálvez y Gallardo, viceroy of New Spain (1783-1784).[18]

[1] See Howard and Ayers, 1978, vol. II, p. 591.

[2] For an example of a turkey tureen see Fennimore and Halfpenny, 2000, p. 178, pl. 97.

[3] Pinto de Matos and Salgado, 2002, p. 148.

[4] Jörg, 1982, p. 190.

[5] This tureen is illustrated in situ by Ferro, 1998, p. 72.

[6] Krahl, and Harrison-Hall, 1994, pp. 208-209, pl. 91.

[7] Palmer, 1976, pp. 56-57, fig. 25.

[8] Howard and Ayers, ibid.. p. 590, pl. 614.

[9] Phillips, 1956, p. 160, pl. 72.

[10] Beurdeley, 1962, p. 172, cat. 102.

[11] Pinto de Matos and Salgado, ibid. pp. 148-149, pl. 40.

[12] This example was exhibited in the exhibition Oriental Ceramic Society, 1968, cat. 297 and is illustrated in Howard and Ayers, ibid., p. 591, pl. 615.

[13] Pinto de Matos, 2011, vol. II, p. 114-115, pl. 258.

[14] Beurdeley and Raindre, 1986, p. 205, pl. 279.

[15] See, Sargent, 1991, p. 210.

[16] Illustrated and exhibited in The Art of the Qing Potter: Important Chinese Export Porcelain, 1997, p. 71, colour pl. 50.

[17] Mudge, 1986, pp. 54, figs. 62-64.

[18] Fundaçao Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva, 2000, p. 68, pl. 53. Also illustrated in Beurdeley, ibid., p. 85, pl. XVII.


Goedhuis opens Yang Yanping show in London

B0014P 0138

Lotus Heaven

One of China’s leading artists, and a pioneer in the field of contemporary ink paintings, has her one woman show opening October 30 in London with China specialist Michael Goedhuis. Yang Yanping’s exhibition, entitled Lotus Heaven, comes in the wake of her 2013 major retrospective exhibition at The Art Museum of Beijing Fine Art Academy. There are 20 paintings in the exhibition opening October 30 and closing November 8 at 66 St. James’ Place.

Michael Sullivan, the late authority on modern Chinese art, recounted how Yang Yanping one beautiful day in the fall of 1978, free at last from the humiliating excesses of the Cultural Revolution, came upon a farm with a long neglected lotus pond in which the plants were fast fading but still alive. With her primitive pen she drew them on a sheet of a coarse yellow paper. This chance encounter ignited a life-long immersion in the subject matter, symbolism and pictorial language of the lotus flower. Into the theme she has poured her thoughts, feelings and memories. ‘The twists and turns of every stem’, she later wrote, ‘were a testimony of a stubborn fight against the passage of nature’.

The theme of the lotus flower is the dominant subject of this exhibition and has been an enduring, as well as sustaining source of inspiration for Yang over many years. But it serves not as a subject in itself, but a convenient catalyst for her to express her weltanschaung – her reading, her experience in life, her knowledge, and her complete intellectual hinterland.

In the early years after Mao’s death, Yang painted a series of lotus as its glory ebbs away in autumn and winter. This was a way to express the deep melancholy and frustration of the intellectual class witnessing the precariousness of man’s freedom of spirit during the trauma of the past quarter century. In her words, the sight of the flower ‘set in the glowing light of an autumn sun seemed to reveal the lotus as a representation of all living things, with all its different destinies, some weaker, some stronger’.

Since then Yang has become a pivotal international figure in the dialectic emanating from cultural life in China for a century or more. In essence, the story is one in which artists or intellectuals grapple with how to revitalize Chinese culture. Are they to jettison the rich but burdensome legacy of China’s glorious past and adopt Western ideas? Or should they dig into the fertile sub-soil of their own culture for guidance and meaning? Or even better, incorporate some of the invigorating currents from the assertive West and link them into their own vision, conditioned as it was by a rigid but sophisticated orthodoxy on the one hand and an intelligent awareness of their world absorbing momentous changes on the other?

As Godehuis point out, ‘these are implacable issues and are still in doubt although the battle lines have been more clearly delineated. Broadly speaking there are four main tendencies in Chinese art today. First is the strenuously conservative backlash adhering ever more tenaciously to the great classical traditions, with just the occasional meaningless nod in the direction of modernism. Then there is the vast factory of artists trained in Western social-realist oil-painting in the Maoist era who left a legacy of technically accomplished painting that can be seen all over China. Thirdly there is an avant-garde movement, which has annexed much of the more provocative work of the Western cutting-edge, without often having truly assimilated the conditions in which it is being produced. And finally there is a minority of artists, of whom Yang is one of the most successful, who see themselves as re-animating those elements of Chinese painting that, together with a multiplicity of other influences can now best convey contemporary reality in all its accelerating and confusing complexity.’

Michael Goedhuis has dealt in Asian art for around 30 years and is currently focusing on contemporary Chinese ink works. This present exhibition coincides with and is part of the wider event, Asian Art in London.




Exhibition: 30th October – 8th November 2014

Michael Goedhuis, 66 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NE

Confessions of an Asian Art Auctioneer

imperial robeLast month, Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull held a successful Sunday seminar on various aspects of collecting Chinese art. They rather bravely allowed their Asian art man, Lee Young, to give a vastly entertaining and very frank talk about the most successful Asian items they had sold over the last eight years.

record breaking charger

Scotland’s most expensive piece of Chinese porcelain was sold by L&T last June for a staggering £455,000, inclusive of premium. This was, of course, the highest price ever achieved by L&T in the Chinese market, and it was rendered all the more surprising because of its £2-3,000 estimate. According to Young, once the piece went on show in London “people got excited” and he went back to the family in the West of Scotland who were offering the piece for sale. They then came out with anecdotal evidence relative to the provenance which served to bolster the interest in the market place and produced determined competition for the charger. Young, rather surprisingly, opined that it would be worth more in the marketplace today – maybe £5-800,000.

flambe glaze vase

In the same sale, L& T offered an attractive 18th century flambé vase which had been a failure when it was offered Stateside by Freeman’s, L& T’s associated auction house in the US: it was unpaid for after auction. Accordingly, the Quianlong piece was brought to Edinburgh where it staged a dramatic recovery, fetching £145,000.

Again, in the same sale, was a robe with an Imperial provenance (shown above). Young was asked to visit a house ‘to look at some things’ following some publicity in the press. The robe, formerly used by the Dowager Empress, was in use as a fancy dress item having been acquired 40 years previously from the Leonard Gow Collection. The intention was ‘to send it to the charity shop’. L&T asked to be given the opportunity to sell it and valued the robe at £10-15,000. It fetched £70,000.

Despite problems of attribution amongst a plethora of fakes, a Qiu Baishi watercolour scroll was judged by the market to be the real thing and got £55,000 last year. A  lobed enamel hors d’oeuvre set from a house in Dundeed, where it was not rated as being anything special, was estimated at £8-12,000 and achieved £75,000. Young thought it would get £100-200,000 in the present market.

The only area he saw as now getting more difficult and not showing the same appreciation in the market is objects covered by the CITES regulations. A full tipped entire carved rhino horn which got £73,000 a couple of years ago, might now only get around £50,000. However, ‘most things are gaining all the time’, according to Young. In some instances, prices are substantially better in the US.

However, he asserts, the market is ‘changing all the time’ and trends come and go. Young’s tip for the future is Song Dynasty ware which he feels is seriously undervalued at present.






Upcoming International Art Fairs for collectors of Chinese art


Affordable Art Fair London June 2014 Photo Paul Harris

***Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong Exhibition Centre May 13-15 2016 Down to earth, everything-priced (reasonably) fair for both new and established artists.

*Affordable Art Fair London Battersea March 10-13 2016 Hampstead Heath June 16-19 2016 Cutting edge art at budget prices (maximum allowed in 2014 was £4,000). Vietnamese art represented Asia in 2014. Garden party atmosphere under canvas on Hampstead Heath.

**Art Antiques London June 24-30 2016 A Haughton International Fair in which approximately 70 dealers show in a purpose-built tent in Kensington Gardens, opposite the Royal Albert Hall. Noted for its garden party atmosphere. In 2014 and 2015, Asian Art in London participated with its own pavilion showing star items from its own participants.

*Art Basel  June 16-19 2016 For 45 years, one of the great premier shows for modern and contemporary art. Approximately 300 leading galleries show paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, video and editioned works.

***Art Basel Hong Kong  March 24-6 2016  The newest Art Basel show featuring galleries from Asia, Asia-Pacific as well as from  other parts of the world. There are many additional shows and events across Hong Kong’s vibrant art scene.

*Art Basel Miami Beach December 1-4 2016 A favourite winter meeting place for the international art world. Over 250 leading galleries display modern and contemporary works. Many satellite fairs now associated with this event.


Asian Art in London Pavilion, Art Antiques London June 2014 Photo Paul Harris

***Art Central Hong Kong March 23-6 2016 Central Harbourfront, Hong Kong island The new kid on the block, mounting a determined challenge to Art Basel Hong Kong. VIP Private View March 22. Over 100 exhibitors with cutting edge contemporary art. 30,000 visitors in 2015.

***Asian Art in London Across London November 3-12 2016 London’s major acknowledgement of the world of Asian art, encompassing a range of exhibitions of private and public works of Asian art, as well as important auctions by Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Many provinicial auctioneers also schedule Asian art events around this event.

**Asian Art Week, London (Spring 2015) Series of auctions rather than actual fair

**Asian Art Week New York  (March 15-18 and also autumn) Series of auctions rather than actual fair. Heavily hyped.

Edinburgh Art Fair November 18-20 2016 at the Old Corn Exchange. A wide selection of Scottish contemporary art

Edinburgh Art Festival Across the city end July 28-August 28 2016 Now developed into a major festival with events throughout the Festival city; running in tandem with the official Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe.

***Fine Art Asia Hong Kong October 2-6 2016 HK Convention & Exhibition Centre Started in 2006, this event is possibly Asia’s leading international fine art fair timed to coincide with a rash of commercial Asian art auctions in the city.

Frieze London  October 6-9 2016 Contemporary art on show in Regent’s Park

Frieze New York May 5-8 2016 on Randall’s Island, Manhattan

International Antiques Fair Hong Kong May 24-6 2016 Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Hall 5BC

*International Fine Art & Antiques Show, t.b.c, Park Avenue Armory, New York. A strictly vetted showcase for exceptional works of art and antiquity.

Masterpiece London  June 30-July 6 2016 A heady mix of art taking place at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea, near to Sloane Square

*New York Ceramics & Glass Fair January 21-24 2016 Private view January 20. Long established fair rebranded in 2015 to include glass. Includes dealers from China.


Ajassa stand at Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair June 2014 Photo Paul Harris

Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair June 27-July 23 2016 The summer version of the Winter Fair, both operated by Clarion Events. A ‘quality’ event being challenged somewhat by the Haughton fair, Art Antiques London (see entry above).

**Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair  October 31-November 6 2016 Private view October 31. Premier event with around 130-50 top dealers participating. Now moved to the National Hall at Olympia.

**TEFAF Maastricht, Netherlands March 11-20 2016 The major, big money art and antiques fair which tends to set new record prices every year. A major event for the big spenders.

**Venice Biennale  Since 1895 An amalgam of events and fairs taking place between May and November 2016 at various locales including the Arsenale and Giardini. Now featuring a Chinese pavilion.

Photographs by Paul Harris



Magnificent Ming Museum offering in Edinburgh


Cloisonné dish 16/17th c. and jar with yellow glaze, Hongzhi. Nanjing Museum Photo Paul Harris

The story of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), a period marked by a social, cultural and economic transformation and a dramatic flourishing of the arts, is being told in a major exhibition showing at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) this summer, Ming: The Golden Empire. We attended the press preview for the exhibition today and which opens on June 27 We can report that the exhibits are magnificent and quite outstanding.

Some of the fine items on display are drawn from the National Museum’s own extensive Asian collection. (Its own rather fine gallery of Chinese Japanese and Korean artefacts has just been closed for large-scale renovation and is expected to reopen in 2018). They have been more than adequately supplemented by some extraordinary objects from the Nanjing Museum. Nanjing was the birthplace of the Ming dynasty, its first capital before the creation of the Beijing palace complex or ‘Forbidden City’. The NMS is the only place in Britain which will be showing this exhibition of international significance: in fact, it has just transferred from Amsterdam.

Dr Kevin McLoughlin, Principal Curator East and Central Asia, at the NMS explained to us something of the thinking behind the exhibition. “We very much aim to make the culture and history of the Ming Dynasty accessible to people who, perhaps, know little of it. Here we are not  assuming any prior knowledge.” Indeed, the signage and descriptions of exhibits are admirably clear, direct and to the point.

“Our approach is not sinological. We have provided for the visitor things gathered together thematically. The aim is to make it understandable.”

Here, in our view, the exhibition succeeds admirably. The objects are of a sufficiently high standard to impress virtually any viewer and the explanation of them is remarkable for its exemplary clarity.

For 276 years, 16 emperors of the Zhu family, beginning with Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor, reigned over the world’s largest, wealthiest and most populated empire. Through this remarkable assembly of treasures, the exhibition examines imperial power, the Ming elite, the development of new wealth, and international trading relationships as they developed over the period. It also sheds interesting light on developing tastes and aesthetics, as Chinese society changed.


We particularly liked this massive Hongwu plate. Early Ming craftsmen mastered the technique of using copper oxide to produce an underglaze red. Nanjing Museum. Photo Paul Harris

As the exhibition literature further explains: ‘The Ming imperial court commanded the very finest materials and workmanship. This is revealed by the exquisite imperial items and rare objects within the exhibition, including the iconic blue and white porcelain with which the Ming period is synonymous. It was far superior to anything that could be produced in Europe at that time. The rich selection of porcelain of different glazes and decorations on display makes clear that blue and white was actually one among many decorative treatments of Ming porcelain. A meiping (plum vase) jar from the Zhengtong emperor’s reign (1435-1449) features a copper red underglaze, a colour effect so difficult to achieve that it was considered especially suitable for elite use.


Copper red underglaze on a Zhengtong meiping vase from the Nanjing Museum. Photo Paul Harris

‘ Workshops overseen by imperial eunuchs provided the court with all it needed for ritual, recreation and decoration. Also on display are sumptuous silk textiles, gold and jades, and rare examples of elaborately enamelled cloisonné.

‘At the top of the late Ming social order were the Ming’s educated elite, the literati, who had achieved success through the punishing civil service examination system. Exams were in principle, open to all, and therefore an important means of promoting social mobility. An extraordinary collection of life-like portraits show the faces of some of these men.

‘Accessories to the scholar’s studio, such as painting tables, musical instruments and delicately carved bamboo brushpots, depicting scenes such as pines and cranes, or scholars writing poetry, illustrate the literati ideal of self-cultivation. Many who failed to reach an official position pursued artistic and literary interests instead, and emerged to become the greatest painters, calligraphers, poets and writers of the Ming.


The NMS is particularly proud of this fish vat taken from its own collection. Jiajing mark and reign with underglaze blue decoration and made in Jingdezhen in the 16th c. Photo Paul Harris

‘Ming: The Golden Empire shows how an increasingly wealthy society led to greater demand for luxury and craft objects, including blue and white decorated porcelain. Using skills and techniques developed for the imperial court, the kilns of Jingdezhen began producing more porcelains to meet the demands of a growing domestic market that sought to emulate the tastes of the literati. Greater discrimination about the quality of goods meant that skilled craftsmen began signing their works just as literati painters did, becoming, in effect, brands.’

Ming: The Golden Empire is supported by investment managers Baillie Gifford. It will also be supported by a programme of events. There is also a publication to accompany the exhibition, featuring many of the beautiful objects on display. This exhibition has been produced by Nomad Exhibitions in association with Nanjing Museum.


Chicken-fat yellow glaze bowls made in Jingdezhen early to mid-Ming for use as table wares reserved for the Emperor    Photo Paul Harris


Museums in the UK specialising in art of East Asia


UK Museums Specialising in East Asian Art


The National Museum of Scotland  Photo Paul Harris

A large number of museums in the UK boast relatively small collections of Asian art. This is a list of those museums with large and significant collections.

  BATH  The Museum of East Asian Art, 12 Bennett Street, boasts a large collection of objects based around the personal collection of Brian McElney, a solicitor who practised in Hong Kong: Chinese ceramics, metalware, jade and bamboo carvings.

CAMBRIDGE The Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street  Founded in 1816 by Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam is the art museum of the University of Cambridge.

COMPTON VERNEY  Compton Verney House, Compton Verney, Warwickshire boasts the largest collection of Chinese bronzes in the UK outside of London.

DURHAM  Durham University Oriental Museum, Elvet Hill  Opened in 1960, this museum is devoted to the arts of Imperial Japan, China and other East Asian countries. A recently opened gallery is dedicated to China in the 20th century. Exhibits on the Silk Route and the Imperial Court, as well as sculptures, ceramics, paintings and jades.

EDINBURGH  The National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street is located in the centre of the city and has been substantially refurbished in recent times. It boasts a large 5th floor gallery showcasing items from China, Japan and Korea. It has collected porcelain and other arts since the opening of the Museum in the middle of the 19th century. An important exhibition of Ming Dynasty art from June 27 2014.

GLASGOW  The Burrell Collection Pollok Country Park, 2060 Pollokshaws Road  The Burrell Collection is home to the vast number of artistic works (some 8,000)  put to together by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell. Includes a collection of Chinese Neolithic burial urns and other items.

HULL  Hull University Art Collection, Cottingham Road. An important collection of Chinese ceramics spanning the period 618-1850 on long-term loan from Dr & Mrs Peter Thompson. Unfortunately, the collection was closed to public view on June 8 2014 but is expected to reopen in September or October.

LONDON  The British Museum has a number of galleries specialising in the arts and archaeology of East Asia. It is an important collection much boosted by the acquisition of the 1700-piece Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese ceramics, which includes many items of Imperial quality. See our list of forthcoming/current exhibitions.

LONDON  The Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, possesses a substantial collection of Oriental art.

MAIDSTONE  The Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, St Faith’s Street Located in an Elizabethan manor house, the museum has a significant Japanese collection.

OXFORD  The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Beaumont Street  Possesses a very large collection of Chinese art and artefacts and benefits from its long term connection with the late Professor Michael Sullivan who has bequeathed his own extensive collection of Chinese paintings.

SONY DSC ‘Heaped and piled’ 16th century Chinese fish bowl in The National Museum of Scotland