Oriental Pottery And Porcelain - China - Part 2

By this time, Jesuit missionaries from France had established themselves in China, and were sending back notes of what they could learn of the processes of porcelain making. Of these men, Pere d'Entrecolles was the most successful and his letters, when they were published eventually, had a great effect on the art in Europe. In the reverse direction, Europeans of all the nations then established in trade with China, were sending to their agents in the East pieces of silver, pottery and other articles to have them imitated in the wonder material; at the same time, they sent engravings and drawings to be copied as decoration. These tasks were performed by the Chinese with great skill, and resulted in a constant flood of goods in both directions throughout the eighteenth century.

A further stimulus to the trade was public interest in tea-drinking, and the sending of increasing amounts of the leaf from China. The beverage being new to the West, no drinking-vessels entirely suitable were available, and the Orientals obligingly sent porcelain cups and saucers and teapots. Many of these traveled packed in the holds of East Indiamen with the tea above, so that the bilge-water would not ruin the latter. The first teapots sent from the East were made of a hard red stoneware, known as Yi-hsing pottery, and the legend quickly grew that tea could only be enjoyed if poured from a red pot. It will be found that many of the first teapots made in Europe (other than those of silver) were of red stoneware in imitation of the imported ones.

With the discoveries of Bdttger and the making of porcelain in Europe, the Chinese monopoly was broken, but the novelty of having something from far Cathay was sufficient to ensure a market. In addition, the Chinese wares, in spite of the expenses of packing and transport, were cheaper than European-made ones. One early effect of European research was that just as the Chinese had copied the cobalt blue of the Persians, so they imitated the pink colour used successfully at Dresden. In the reign of Yung Cheng this was employed extensively, and completely changed the prevailing tone of decorated porcelain. The opaque pink gave its name to the type of colouring: famille rose, which lasted for the rest of the eighteenth century through the reign of Ch'ien Lung. The transmission of designs continued, and one popular feature was the ordering of complete dinner services painted with the coat-of-arms, crest or initials of the European owner. Punchbowls, mugs, teasets, and innumerable other articles were ornamented in a similar manner and are sought eagerly today. About 1800, America was also importing from China, and there remain in the United States many examples of old porcelain with the insignia of their former owners. An outstanding punchbowl given to the City of New York in 1802 bears a view of the city, and is inscribed with the date of presentation as well as the name of the Chinese artist who painted it.

By many people on both sides of the Atlantic much of this eighteenth-century porcelain exported from China is called 'Lowestoff'. It was given this name mistakenly a century ago, and although the error was corrected soon afterwards the name has stayed. Although a large quantity of old Chinese porcelain was made for export, there was a certain amount for the supply of the home market. In many instances this was made to much higher standards in both modelling and painting, and was generally very carefully finished. On the whole, it was sparsely decorated and relied as much on the beauty of the shape and surface of the ware as on the actual brushwork. This ware, known as being in the 'Chinese taste', is rarely found out of China but is sought eagerly by collectors. With the advent of the nineteenth century, the eighteenth-century styles continued but the quality of both painting and porcelain fell off. In the Tao Kuang period was introduced the manner of painting the entire surface of a piece with flowers and butterflies against a green ground; this is known generally as 'Canton' ware.

The Chinese have always been careful copyists, and their work in porcelain is no exception. It has been mentioned that Yueh ware of the Tang dvnasty was copied in the Ming period, but the same process has been continued down to modern times. Twentieth-century imitations of K'ang Hsi are often convincingly done and only experienced collectors can tell them from the originals. Equally, the clever reproductions of Samson of Paris and of the Herend factory in Austria must be guarded against.

Chinese porcelain is a life-time study, and a fascinating one. New discoveries are being made continually, new theories brought forward, and the wares have an unequalled international interest. There is no short cut in learning how to differentiate between old and new; experience gained from handling and studying pieces is the only way. Although copies of early examples may seem convincing, a careful examination will reveal that subtleties in shaping and colour have been lost, and the collector must aim to discern this at a glance.

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