Notebook, 1993-


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Pottery & Porcelain - Chinese

Chinese Lowestoft and Export Porcelain - The first Chinese porcelain to leave the country where it had been made were pieces that had been manufactured for use in China itself. They had been brought home to the West by those few travelers who had penetrated the then unknown Orient. It was not until the seventeenth century that porcelain began to be made and decorated in China especially to the order of the European buyers.

The Jesuit Fathers. The Europeans who were concerned in the first place with the production of porcelain in China were the French Jesuit Fathers. These men, of whom the most famous in this connection was Père d'Entrecolles, began to establish themselves in the country in about A.D. 1600. It was not until some fifty years after this date that a tangible result of their presence became apparent. This was the making of pieces of porcelain bearing representations of the crucifix accompanied, in many cases, by the letters I.H.S. It is uncertain whether they were made for export to Japan for the use of Christian converts in that country or for export to Europe. Whatever their intended destination, a few examples of these early wares, decorated in blue on a white ground, exist today, and their designs have an unquestionably European inspiration. However, in some instances, with a typically Chinese tolerance, Buddhist symbols have been incorporated in the patterns.

About half a century later there was a further output of religious designs. On this occasion there is no doubt that the products were made for export. Large quantities of porcelain were manufactured on which were painted copies of the Crucifixion and other biblical scenes from both the old and the New Testaments. Some were in full colours, but mostly they were in Schwarzlot. While the majority were in the form of plates and dishes, there are in existence also a number of secular articles, such as tea sets, which were doubtless for display rather than for use, painted quite inappropriately with such designs.

Armorial Decoration. The most popular form of decoration that was called for from China by patrons in England, Europe, and America generally, was heraldic. Just as it was the fashion that silver plate should bear the arms or crest of the owner, so it became the vogue with porcelain. This may be accounted for by the fact that the shapes of the majority of the articles were copied from pieces of silver, which it was intended that the porcelain should replace, and it was not unnatural that such decoration as the originals bore should be copied in addition.

The making of porcelain in European forms commenced at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Such pieces can be dated by a combination of factors: the shape of the article; the style of decoration and the colours used in painting it; the type of porcelain used in the manufacture; and, in some cases, by the armorial bearings. With the aid of the latter it is possible sometimes to date a piece of china to within a few years. It may so happen that a marriage or a death caused a change to have taken place in the emblazoning of a coat-of-arms, and from this it can be found during which years the particular bearing was current.

In a few cases the original accounts have been preserved in a family, together with the china to which they relate. One such example is the bill, now preserved in the British Museum, referring to the [p. 423] service shipped from Canton in 1731 for a member of the Peers family. Two pieces of the actual china are in the same museum. Such careful and fortunate preservation of the original documents is, of course, every exceptional, and goes far to help in dating many other similar pieces. [pp. 423-424]

Variety of Articles. The output of porcelain for export was not confined by any means to articles solely for use at the table. Any attempt to provide a complete list of the many different things that were made would be doomed to failure. In this type of porcelain it is not untrue to suggest that there is nothing new under the sun, and frequently it is surprising to find what the Chinese potters and painters attempted to copy in a medium that was often completely unsuitable. However, although the result was usually a technical success, it must be agreed that it was far from being also an artistic one.

Next in popularity to table services were punch bowls. These were made in many sizes and decorated in an infinite variety of styles. Many bear the scene of an English fox hunt round the outside, and some of these are completed by having the fox painted on the inside of the bowl. Others have accurate copies of European paintings and engravings, such as Hogarth's Calais Gate, of which a fine example in full colours is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Others refer to political events, of which the Lord Chief Justice Lord Mansfield is typical. Others bear externally, say, a group of flowers, but beneath the base is a well-painted amorous scene, best kept concealed from the general gaze.

A list of other utilitarian articles could be a lengthy one, and would include: candlesticks, cache pots [in which a flowerpot stands], water cisterns, shaving bowls, chamber pot, wall rackets, salt cellars, pepper and sugar casters, knife handles, snuffboxes, tea caddies, and beer tankards. [p. 424]

Figures. Apart from such articles intended for daily use in the home, pieces that could serve none other than a decorative purpose were also made. Figures with attempted European features and in Western clothing are typical. There are also figures of animals copied from Dutch Delft pottery, and from other originals. An interesting group in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is that of a man and woman dancing. This is known to have been first modelled at the Meissen factory by Eberlein about the year 1745 and, besides the Chinese copies, it was also imitated in England at Chelsea. Few other groups can have been made at so many different factories in so many countries within the space of [p. 424] about fifteen years. In the category of figures may be included jugs. Copies of jugs of the Toby type also exist in Chinese eighteenth-century porcelain. [pp. 424-5]

The Factories. The articles enumerated above were all made in one or other of the great factories grouped at Ching-Tê Chên and decorated, with the exception of blue-and-white pieces, mostly at the port of Canton. Figures, groups, and other pieces were made also at the factories of Tê Hua in the Province of Fukien. The porcelain made there was of a distinctive creamy-white colour, and was not usually decorated in the East. Much of it was imported into Holland and Germany and coloured in those countries. Small groups composed of figures wearing recognizably European costume are found in this ware, also tankards with rounded bodices and reeded necks taken from a model known in Rhineland stoneware. This type of porcelain, which dates from the mid-seventeenth century, is known as blanc-de-Chine. One further group of eighteenth-century export porcelains was decorated in underglaze blue, together with iron-red and some slight gilding. It was based on that exported from Japan, and is known by the name of the port whence the original was sent to the West, Imari.

Late in the 18th century exportations from China included a large proportion of so-called Mandarin wares. These were painted with panels of figures within minutely patterned borders. In the next century came the Canton style, which features butterflies and flowers on a celadon-green ground.

Apart from a knowledge of the role played by the various East India Companies in trading with the Orient, little is known of the details of how this large trade was handled. [p. 425]

The Lowestoft Myth. It must be admitted that the word 'Lowestoft' applied to this section is a complete misnomer. In actual fact there is no real connection whatsoever between Lowestoft, a fishing port in Suffolk on the east coast of England, and the porcelain produced in the factories of China. Certainly a type of porcelain was made for some years in a factory established at Lowestoft. The decoration applied to many of the productions of these minor works comprised bouquets of pink roses and groups of figures and was, by a coincidence, very similar to the decoration then current on porcelain from the Far East. This English porcelain itself does not compare at all with the hard Oriental product, and the two are not likely to be confused.

The widespread misapprehension over the origin of the Chinese pieces arose from an error in an early edition of Chaffer's Marks and Monograms, and, in spite of repeated corrections over the past twenty-five years, collectors and dealers in both England and the United States continually refer to Chinese porcelain made to European order as 'Lowestoft'. From being applied, in the first place, to pieces with a particular type of floral decoration, the term has been extended to cover the whole group of export porcelains, and today almost any piece of Chinese porcelain which displays in shape and decoration may obvious sign of European influence is still sometimes designated by this inappropriate term. [p. 425]

The American China Trade. Once the United States had won independence and was free to trade directly with other countries than England, Americans lost no time in entering the China Trade. They did not found an East India Company: individual merchants sent out their own ships and each was a separate venture. The first to sail to the East was the Empress of China, a former privateer, which left New York for Canton on 22 February 1784, and arrived during the summer. Major Samuel Shaw, former aide-de-camp to General Knox, was supercargo on this voyage - an extremely important post, for on the supercargo depended not only financial success of the venture but also diplomatic relations with the Chinese. Shaw acquitted himself well, laying the groundwork for future trade between his country and China, and bringing home a cargo that inspired many American merchants to join in the hazardous but lucrative China Trade.

Ships set sail to the Orient from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Norfolk, Charleston, and other ports. By 1790 twenty-eight American ships had made the voyage. Before 1800 one merchant trader alone, Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, had sent out forty-five ventures. The China Trade became the [p. 425]

Chinese Porcelain for the American Market. In general, American-market porcelain from China is less elaborate and less varied than what was made for Europe. This is partly because it covers a shorter period, partly because the taste of this period was for the neoclassic, more restrained than the rococo of the preceding era. Moreover, by the time Yankees were trading to the East, the production of export porcelain had become a highly developed commercial operation, and a large proportion of the ware was turned out in stock patterns of simple design instead of being specially made and decorated to individual order. [p. 426]

Principal Chinese Dynasties and Reigns
Shang c. 1600-1027
Chou 1027-771 B.C.
Spring and Autumn annals 770-475 B.C.
Warring States 475-221 B.C.
Han 206 B.C. - A.D. 220
Six dynasties 220-589
T'ang 618-906
Five dynasties 907-60
Sung 960-1280
Yüan 1280-1368
Ming 1368-1644
Hung Wu 1368-98
Yung-lo 1403-24
Husüan-tĘ 1426-35
Ch'êng Hua 1465-87
Hung Chih 1488-1505
Chêng-tê 1506-21
Chia Ching 1522-66
Lung Ch'ing 1567-72
Wan Li 1573-1602
T'ien Ch'i 1621-7
Ch'ung Chêng 1628-44
Ch'ing 1644-1912
Shun Chih 1644-61
K'ang Hsi 1662-1722
Yung Chêng 1722-36
Ch'ien Lung 1736-96
Chia Ch'ing 1796-1820
Tao Kuang 1820-51
Hsien Fêng 1851-61
T'ung Chih 1862-74
Kuang Hsü 1874-1909
Hsüan T'ung 1909-12
Chinese Republic 1912-
Hung Hsien [Yüan Shih-K'ai] 1916-

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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