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Export porcelain and works of art

Robert Bradlow Fine Art

There has been a fascination with Chinese porcelain in Europe since the 16th century, when trade first began with the Portuguese in the latter part of the Ming Dynasty. Early export wares to Europe were often mounted in silver and gold (Fig E1), which illustrated how they were considered as a luxury item of the first order. However, the first truely organised trade with China was by the Dutch in the 17th century who founded their East India Company (VOC) in 1602.

The first real mass produced blue and white ware shipped by the Dutch were the so called ‘Kraak’ wares, which were named after the Portuguese ‘Carracks’, which had originally carried this porcelain. (Fig E2.) Their designs were quite distinctive and comprised a central circular panel, which were most commonly painted with deer, birds and figures in landscapes, which was surrounded by radiating panels of flowers and diaper at the rim.

In the 18th century, the export of Chinese porcelain to Europe increased and the highly organised kiln complex at Jingdezhen allowed for the expansion of mass production. Whole dinner services were ordered for wealthier European families and designs could be of Chinese origin (Fig E3), or of the coat of arms of specific families (Fig E4). European designs were also copied, which were based on earlier prints (Fig E5).  European shapes were also copied, such as tureens, sauce boats, meat platters and tankards. Most of the blue and white wares were made at Jingdezhen, but wares that were to be enamelled were sent to Canton (Guangzhou).

In terms of the market, Chinese export wares have remained fairly static over the last thirty years compared to Chinese imperial wares. However, the more important, rarer pieces have been the exception to this trend, such as large pairs of ‘Soldier’ vases, so named by Augustus the Strong (Fig E6), Elector of Saxony, after trading an entire regiment of 600 men for 18 vases with Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.

Animal-form soup tureens such as boars heads and geese (Fig E7) and rare sculptural figures are also highly sought after, as are large punch bowls with rare designs such as the ‘Hongs’ of Canton (Fig E8) or views of London. Certain more exotic or luxurious patterned services have also held their value such as the ‘Rockefeller’ (Fig E9) and ‘Tobacco Leaf ‘pattern (Fig E10).

In the 18th and 19th centuries, a whole array of works of art were made in Canton for the European export trade. These included ‘Coromandel’ screens (Fig E11) as well as other lacquer wares, which were predominantly decorated in gilt on a black ground, as could be seen on furniture (Fig E12) and other decorative objects.

Other luxury goods were produced by a captivated Western audience that viewed these as exotic imports from the Orient. This included painted enamel on metal (Fig E13), reverse paintings on glass (Fig E14), carved ivory and tortoiseshell boxes and card cases, paintings, fans (Fig E15), and silver (Fig E16).