Chinese bidets, chamber pots and spittoons come out of the closet

book review typewriter   ‘Out of the Ordinary’

When we talk of Chinese export porcelain we tend to think of the finely worked grander items produced for a sophisticated Western taste: tea services, dinner sets, tureens and armorial plates are seen around relatively often. Everyday objects, fashioned in unusual shapes, like bidets, chamber pots, spittoons and barber’s bowls tend to surface rather less frequently. Now they are doing rather well: at auction only last week I noticed en export porcelain blue and white bidet (illustrated in this new publication) get £3,750. Now we have a detailed guide to these more unusual pieces from Jorge Welsh Books.

bidet L&T

Export porcelain bidet. £3,750 last week at Lyon & Turnbull

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. This lavish catalogue from Jorge Welsh, who is also hosting an exhibition in his Kensington Church Street gallery, focuses on the most unusual forms of porcelain, frequently ordered in smaller quantities and through private trade.

Most of these items were copied from Western prototypes made in metal, ceramics or glass, and can also be characterized by their functionality. This catalogue (in actuality a large format coffee table book) includes egg cups, strainers, cutlery handles, pudding moulds, custard pots, ladles, funnels, bulb pots, snuff boxes, cane handles, barber’s bowls and chamber pots, amongst others. The sheer variety of forms in this group is a testament to the significant reach of the porcelain trade as well as the remarkable adaptability of the Chinese potter.

Pair of Famille Rose Goose Tureens and Covers

A handsome pair of famille rose goose tureens at Jorge Welsh’s gallery

Commissioned according to the latest fashions, they also provide an insight into the scope of the European orders and the sophistication of contemporary consumer society in Europe at this time. The popularity of new, exotic and luxury products such as tea, coffee, chocolate and various spices, as well as some alcoholic beverages, stimulated new social practices and the need for numerous porcelain utensils. Also used for personal grooming, fashionable accoutrements and furnishing the home, Chinese porcelain permeated many of the more intimate aspects of daily life during this period.

The book is particularly well illustrated. If £100 seems a bit on the steep side, I do remember the advice given me years ago by an old China hand. ‘You should always lay aside 10% of your buying budget for reference books.’ They don’t depreciate in value, either. I have seen a shelf of sought after Chinese art reference books make as much as £10,000 at auction.

JW_OOTO_catalogue-cover-3d-420x420

OUT OF THE ORDINARY  LIVING WITH CHINESE EXPORT PORCELAIN    Published by Jorge Welsh Books, London and Lisbon, October 2014

  • Language: English
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 978-0-9573547-1-5
  • 23.5 × 29.7 cm
  • 344 pages, 351 colour illustrations
  • £100.00