Monday, July 16, 2012

Chinese Chinese Porcelain of the 18th C. Famille Rose, Blue and White

A Very Quick Refresher on the Origins of Porcelain Making and The West.

The history of porcelain in China is an exceptionally long one. The first known examples of "Proto Porcelains" have been discovered in kiln sites dating to the Eastern Han Dynasty in the province of Zhejiang  around 1,000 BC. The shards and fragments contain Kaolin and were by their very content required to be fired in wood kilns at very high temperatures 1260 C to 1300 C., thus they are technically porcelain.

Kangxi Soldier vases
Pair of Blue and White Kangxi Period Soldier Vases
From those very early beginnings, almost 2,700 years before the first example was made in Europe in 1709 by two German alchemists Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus  and Johann Friedrich Böttger  German working for Augustus The Strong of Saxony. Resulting in the establishment of the famous Meissen Porcelain Factory in Germany.

From those humble, yet historic beginnings 3,000 years ago Chinese porcelain and pottery making evolved over and over through thousands of;  kilns, varying experimental forms, clay and kaolin formulas, coupled with an un-countable number of applied decorations and glazes.

By the 17th C. Chinese porcelain was sought and coveted around  the known world.  Other than in perhaps China itself, porcelain was valued more in Europe than any place else.

A Case in Point

The aforementioned Augustus the Strong of Saxony (1670-1733) actually traded a full regiment of 600 equipped soldiers to King Fredrik I of Prussia for a group of 151 early Chinese Kangxi period porcelain pieces. Part of this transaction included enormously tall blue and white Kangxi vases and were subsequently named "Dragoon Vases" after the soldiers who were used as barter for their acquisition.

Originally this collection was sent to the west via the French Jesuit Missionary Pere d'Entrecolle then living in Jingdezhen through the British East India Company and presented to Queen Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668-1705) who was British, sister to King George I of England and married to King Fredrik I. Upon her death, Fredrik I traded them for soldiers "owned" by Augustus the Strong.  Its a fascinating story and illustrates clearly how much value was placed on these objects.

Blue and white Yuan vases david foundation
Yuan Period Elephant Handle Vases
David Foundation Collection
Other porcelains were of course made and decorated with enamels of every kind available including many colors perfected during the Ming Period (1368-1644), including combinations of under glaze blue and over glaze enamels. Very little enamel ware was made to order for the west initially and tended to adhere stylistically more for the "Chinese taste", though much of it still found it's way into European collector's cabinets. During the Kangxi period the production of Pairs become more common, something rarely seen during the Yuan (1279-1368)  and Ming Period (1368-1644), some do exist but were not typically made until the 17th C. with any regularity when compared to the volume of single vases produced. Most notably among all famous pairs are the from Yuan period and are named  "David Vases"

Perfection of the 18th C. Porcelain

Kangxi Palace vases
Pair of Kangxi Dragoon Vases,
Fine Quality Blue and White 
By the early 18th C. under the Kangxi Emperor (1622-1722) blue and white under glaze decorated porcelain reached what is viewed by many as it's pinnacle. The quality of the cobalt blue now extracted from Chinese mines was superior than the previous cobalt imported from Persia and was at it's best unmatched. When done right, it appears very close to a deep clear pure Sapphire Color. The fired kaolin porcelain was perfectly prepared snow white in color from superb well levigated clay. By the early 1700's porcelains were being produced in Jingdezhen with design influences dictated by the west for that particular market. While still making items purely for use within the country including annual orders of  Imperial pieces made for Kangxi court.

Motifs and Shapes and Patterns

Kangxi Yen yen vases
Fine Kangxi Period "Yen Yen" Vase, Circa 1700
Stong Cobalt Decoration
The shapes utilized by these early 18th C. potters ranged from simple bowls and cups to massive superbly shaped, perfectly proportioned vases. All shapes had specific names of one kind or another; Yen Yen Vase, Rouleau, Bottle Vases, Double Gourd, Meiping, Ginger Jar, Baluster Jar, Moon Flasks, anarchistic bronze forms and so forth. All of these continued to be made straight through into the 21st and are all still made in  Jingdezhen today.

The scenes and patterns used were drawn from all corners of Chinese art and history including religion, poetry, classical landscapes, interior domestic scenes, court scenes, eroticism, dragons, calligraphy, children playing, historic and epic events, battle scenes, gardens, flowers, insects and aquatic life. Yes its endless.

Famille Rose known as Yangcai or Foreign Colors or Fencai or Soft Colors enter China through the Jesuits

Youngzheng Famille Rose plate
Yongzheng Period Famille Rose Dish
Around 1715 a coloring technique perfected in Germany during the 1670's by Dr. Andreas Cassius used in glass making by mixing gold chloride and later in coloring ceramics in Nuremberg. These amazing new colors Yangcai were introduced to the Chinese court by Jesuit Missionary's living in China. Initially these colors were used in the coloring of copper enamels at a Beijing workshop established by Kangxi. Jesuit Father Matteo Ripa in 1716 wrote extensively about the Emperor's reaction and his desire to incorporate these new colors into the Imperial production. By 1720 they had become fairly proficient in creating these new colors and had invented many new shades, including a White Enamel made form arsenic.

Yongzheng (1723-1735)

Fine Famille rose dinner service
Early Qianlong Period Export Porcelain
Following the Death of the Kangxi Emperor in 1722, his fourth son by a Concubine ascended to the throne at the age of 44. His Imperial name was Yongzheng "Absolute Right". During this period, the making of Chinese porcelains entered a period of refinement and elegance under the watchful eye of the court. Resulting in absolutely superb, delicate and very painterly scenes. These included the production of incredibly fine Egg Shell porcelains which as the name implies were thinly potted.

Additionally the Yongzheng period saw a resurgence in making porcelains from models of the Ming period, in particular those of the Chenghua Period (1465-1487). They were even able to replicate the precise tone of the pieces, fine grained body, everted rim, these were as close to as exact copies as could be created. Doucai Chicken Chicken Cups were a particular favorite along with stem cups.

Hongli, The Qianlong Emperor (1735-1795)

Qianlong became the emperor of China at the age of 24 in 1735 following the death of his father Yongzheng. Like his grandfather Kangxi he was a patron of the arts and very liberal compared to his father.

Qianlong period Geese tureens
Qianlong Period Export Goose Tureens, Famille Rose Decoration
He was known as an "enlightened despot" with a curious mind, fascinated by scholarly pursuits, mathematics, astronomy, calligraphy, paintings and loved writing poems. Its is estimated that over his lifetime he wrote over 40,000 of them. Yes he was also a major patron of the arts, on a scale that dwarfed any previous leader of China by a landslide.

During his life he made massive additions to the "Yuan Ming Yuan" also know as The Old Summer Palace. Initially it was called "The Imperial Gardens" and was built  by his grandfather Kangxi. Initially with a small palace but an incredibly elaborate series of gardens. Eventually the building evolved into looking like a French Palace on steroids under Qianlong's rule.

chinese 18th c. Famille rose dinner service
Late Qianlong Period Dinner Service
During Qianlong's reign trade opened to the west on a grand scale resulting in hundreds of ships flooding into China's port of Canton on a regular basis picking up spices, tea, silk and porcelains made to order for the west. By far the vast majority of the ceramics sent to Europe we Famille Rose examples. For many years foreigners we only allowed to trade through Canton due to a basic lack of trust and a fear of outside interference with Chinese culture by the "foreign devils". Canton at this time had a population of over one million people.

From around the mid 1700's onward millions of pieces were produced and shipped for western gold and silver. Some were "stock patterns" others as were produced as custom services depicting Armorial wares with Crests and Coats of Arms of wealthy English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch and Portuguese family's. Many orders comprised massive services of hundreds of pieces including a bewildering variety of tureens, covered bowls, chocolate pots, gravy boats, huge serving platters, punch bowls in  some cases almost 3 feet wide. Yes of course they included tea pots, cups, saucers and tea caddies. Many examples were based on European silver forms, sometimes carved wooden models would be used as guides for the potters to follow.
Qianlong Famille rose court ladies
Qianlong Period Famille Rose Court Ladies,
Carrying Lotus Blossoms

During the 18th C. the thousands of large dragon kilns operated, running day and night firing pieces for export as well as filling local demand and of course orders for the Imperial Court. In time, the finest of the export pieces were rivaling those for the Emperor in quality on all levels.

Custom pieces were also produced, porcelain figures of Dutch and English merchants, dancing figures,  lavabo's, massive tureens, in the shape of full bodied Geese. The Peabody Essex Museum has one of the finest collections in the world of these pieces, along with the best China Trade Collection as well. Make a genuine effort to visit the PEM if you get to the Boston area, Salem is 40 Minutes from downtown Boston.

Toward the end of the 18th C. Trade with America began directly...and that's a whole other story.

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chinese Porcelain, Broken and Damaged; Fix It, Throw It Out or Use It? Estate Property,

Chinese Porcelain, Broken and Damaged;  Fix It, Throw It Out or Use It? Estate Property,
Kangxi Yen Yen Vase

Chinese Porcelain, Broken and Damaged

Frequently people will come across a piece of Chinese or Japanese porcelain that's been tucked away and forgotten or found while in the process of settling a family member's estate. They may even find numerous pieces around a house along with the usual bric-a-brac and inevitably some is damaged. Its can be anything from a hairline crack to being broken in half.

The question is always the same, should "we throw it out, is it worth getting fixed or should we just use it." The answer is probably;  No, Yes, Yes.

Over the last couple decades the prices of Chinese porcelain have changed so much that the old stock answer of "oh, just toss it in the trash" might be a mistake, it might even be a huge mistake.  For example,  vases that have been cut down in height (once the kiss of death for Chinese ceramics) have sold for over a million dollars and many have sold for over $100,000 if it's rare enough. Thousands have sold for over $5,000 despite varying degrees of damage.

With modern restoration techniques and more demand than supply damaged and repaired pieces have a willing an eager market awaiting them provided they are rare enough. They do not have to be million dollar pieces to have residual value if suffering from a break, crack or a missing piece. Not even close!

ming period dragon bowl
Ming Period Yellow Basin with Dragon in Cobalt Blue
The big problem is of course how can you tell? How do you know? The answer is easy, unless you are an advanced collector or work in an Asian art museum, you won't know. 

Where Can You Learn The Value of Your Broken Piece? (or unbroken)

Can you look it up online? No not really, while the web is full of images of Chinese porcelains, jades, silks, bronzes, scroll, carvings on Rhino horn, bamboo and dozens other things, dating them based on photos is literally impossible with any accuracy.

For example lets say you have a pretty blue and white bowl with a an old darkened crack running from the rim. You go on the web, type in "Chinese blue and white bowl" hit "search" under "Images"
plcombs, Dealers-Appraisers, Estate Chinese Antiques
plcombs, Dealers-Appraisers, Chinese Antiques
in Google , quickly it will produce somewhere around 5 million photographs, yes literally 5 million!

Song EU ware bowl
Extremely Rare Ru Ware Song Footed Bowl, 12 th C. 
You'll get a similarly daunting number of "hits" with searches for "vases", "plates", "chargers", "jars" etc. The term  "Chinese jade" in Google will result in over 25 Million responses. Its fun to look, but the likelihood of  locating one like yours, unless its a common form of Canton or Rose Medallion, is about zero.

Fortunately, getting the answer can also be found using the Internet and can easily guide you in the right direction. Especially if you live in a Metropolitan area or within a couple hundred miles of one. Seeking out someone to advise you or give a no cost look is pretty much the nature of the business. SO do not be shy.

Imperial Qianlong period bottle vase
Qianlong Famille Rose Bottle Vase, 18th C. 
We get Emails and phone calls every week from folks who "found something" and have the "what is it" question. Here on Cape Ann in Gloucester we get calls from executors, heirs,  antique dealers, auction houses and people doing "general personal property appraisals" from around the country who are stuck. From Aken, South Carolina to Orange County California to Concord, NH, Google happily works regardless of where you are!

All of them find us on the web. So finding someone in your area should be not too difficult. Do not rely on a "non specialist", if the person you find giving the advice seems unduly vague, get someone else. When you find someone you like and is knowledgeable, ask a lot of questions...write it down! It going to be unfamiliar information and remembering it is very hard.

OK, It has value, Now What Do You Do? "Repair or not to repair, that is the question..."

After looking around and getting the information and you opt to get the item repaired you'll need to find a restorer. Ask questions, the more valuable the item is, ask more questions. Their are several levels of restoration techniques in most cases. Anywhere from "sticking it back together" to a "museum restoration" which means it gets cleaned up and made very presentable with reversible materials (my favorite) just in case later on a better techniques comes along or an full blown high end restoration where you need an x-ray machine to see the mended spot.
Chinese flambe vase qianlong period
18th C. Flambe Glazed Vase

The later is by far the most expensive and also tends to scare off collectors, they will often want their own repairer/restorer to redo the previous repair. Why? I have no idea, but it happens all the time. If the piece in question has invisible repairs, they tend to shy away as they are unsure about the extent of the work previously done.

If you do not know where to find a good ceramics restorer and dealers in your area aren't familiar with one  call a local musuem or historical society. Speak with whoever is involved with  "Collection Conservation" for the organization. Some larger ones have their own restoration department and might take in work to make money for the museum. The MFA in Boston did this kind of thing for years, especially with Japanese screens. So ASK , it never is a bad idea to ask. Museums regardless of their focus, tend to know who can repair things locally.

If you're thinking about getting it fixed and then selling it, ask your new best friend the Asian specialist! It may not make any difference and might very well be worth more in untouched condition, despite the chunk out of it, body crack or the truncated neck.

ming blue and white fish bowl
Ming Blue and White Bowl with Fish
The most important thing is to be patient, look carefully, gather the right information and you will make a smart decision you won't regret later.

If you are seeking a person near where you to advise you are and aren't having much luck, we'd be happy to try and point you in the right direction. Asian/Chinese Antiques is a pretty small universe , over the last 30 years it seems we've met most who work and live in it.

We all love what we do and most are willing to share information readily.

Our Contact information, email and phone number are in the upper right hand side of the Blog.

Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own Chinese porcelains or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Settling an Estate Collection of Chinese Porcelain | Boston

Are you, Settling an Estate Collection of Chinese Porcelain? 


  • Bronzes
  • Silks
  • Scrolls
  • Carved Jade
  • Chinese Furniture
  • Bamboo

When settling an Estate today containing Chinese Antiques, be extremely careful even the
Estate Collection of Chinese Porcelain
Handling and Settling an Estate
oddest appearing items regardless of size can be terribly valuable. 

Having worked as a dealer of Chinese and Asian art for 30 years and a live auctioneer for nearly 20 of them, my perspective on handling estates is a bit different than most people who are merely charged with the task of executor or executrix.  To me, objects are exactly the same as money. All to often executors view objects as things needing to be disposed of after selling the house to get the estate "Settled."  This is often a costly mistake.

  • Did you know?: When Henry Clay Frick, the Pennsylvania steel magnate, died a century ago, 50% of his estate's net worth was his art collection. It was then valued at $50,000,000 dollars. Which is today still a significant fortune, back in 1919 it was equal to over a billion dollars today. 

Obligations of an Executor Regarding Art and Collections , NY Bar Association

Asian-Chinese Antiques Estate Appraisals"Depending on the nature and value of the property, this may be a routine activity, but you may need the services of a specialist appraiser if, for example, the decedent had rare unusual items or was a serious collector."

If you are handling an estate with Chinese porcelains or almost any type of Asian art in it, you need a specialist.
A few years ago we bought a small Imperial Chinese Fan at a local estate auction for under $1,000 which we promptly sold for $195,000. In another case we bought a small celadon vase for a few hundred at well known local auction house that we sent to a new home for $140,000.   
It's not that these antique auctioneers are dishonest, it's simply that they did not know what they had. In both cases the executors should and could have hired us.
Selecting an Appraiser-Dealer-Auctioneer, THE PROBLEM

Often executors and attorneys when in the process of settling an estate comprised of some or a large amount asian art are unaware at how much the values of these objects has risen in the last 20 years. This lack of awareness holds true for many heirs as well.

Some executors may simply opt for an appraisal and advice from a large local auction house simply because "everyone uses them". It happens all the time, even though the results they get are very often sub par.

Settling an Estate Collection of Chinese Porcelain
Large Late Ming Jar, circa 1600,
This jar was bought in Nantucket in 1994
 fitted as a table lamp. 
While attorneys themselves often argue and rightfully so; Large law firms do not necessarily provide the best representation, they often fail to contemplate the same is also true for other specialties.

In today's art world, hiring a non-Asian Art specialist for appraisals and to handle the disposition of items no longer makes economic sense.

Chinese white porcelain incense burner
Fine Rare Yongzheng Period White Porcelain Incense Burner
De-accessioned carelessly by an Institution
and sold by a rural Auctioneer, for peanuts