Archive for the ‘Ceramics’ Category

Phoenix frenzy

October 19, 2016
-

Chinese porcelain dish decorated with phoenixes and peonies, about 1750, one of a pair, at Melford Hall, NT 926292. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I just spotted this image of a rather nice Chinese porcelain dish at Melford Hall, Suffolk, showing a pair of phoenixes. They are perched on rocks and surrounded by peonies. In Chinese art the phoenix – called ‘the king of birds’ – is often associated with the peony – similarly called ‘the king of flowers’.

-

Large Chinese porcelain lidded jar decorated with a phoenix among peonies, about 1745, one of a pair, at Melford Hall, NT 926279. The vases were among the cargo of the Spanish galleon Santissima Trinidad captured by Captain Sir Hyde Parker, 5th Baronet, off Manila in 1762. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A pair of large Chinese lidded vases also at Melford is decorated with similar scenery. Apart from the odd scale of some of the elements of the design (the huge peonies on the dishes and the tiny fences on the vases), the mythical phoenixes are painted with the same level of detail as the other fauna and flora, making it seem as if you could readily encounter them in Chinese gardens.

Chinese wallpaper and silken drapes in a room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Phoenix among peonies, with a magpie and a duck, on the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory, NT 959651. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

A similar mythical phoenix in a similarly realistic setting turns up in the Chinese wallpaper at Nostell Priory.

There is a long tradition in Chinese art of combining myth and reality. This is connected to the symbolic meanings attached to all sorts of plants and animals: if everything is imbued with symbolism, then there is no fundamental difference between reality and myth.

I have just been made aware of a new book about this subject, The Zoomorphic Imagination in Chinese Art and Culture, edited by Jerome Silbergeld and Eugene Y. Wang (University of Hawai’i Press), which I am looking forward to reading.

The craze for garnitures

October 11, 2016
Garniture of three blue-and-white baluster Delft vases, Kingston Lacy, Doret.

Garniture of three blue and white baluster vases made in delft and decorated with Chinese-style figures, late 1690s, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT 1250639). ©National Trust/Robert Morris

A ground-breaking exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum is bringing together fifteen ‘garnitures’, meaning sets of vases meant to be displayed together – all from historic houses in the care of the National Trust.

Garniture of porcelain jars and vases from China, The Argory, County Armagh.

Garniture of Chinese porcelain jars and vases, 1770s, at The Argory, Co. Armagh (NT 563412, NT 563413 and NT 563420.1). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The exhibition has been curated by Patricia F. Ferguson, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser. As Patricia relates, the taste for garnitures goes back to the early seventeenth century, when Asian ceramics began to be imported into Europe.

Arranged on tables, cabinets and chimneypieces, they would glint and shimmer in the light of candles and fires. In an age when China was inaccessible and porcelain rare, they were redolent of exoticism and sophistication.

A group of Japanese Hampton Court style hexagonal jars, porcelain, c.1680 at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Garniture of Japanese Kakiemon porcelain vases, ‘Hampton Court’ type, c.1680, at Dunham Massey, Cheshire (NT 929282 and NT 929283). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

But when war broke out in China in the 1640s and the production of porcelain faltered, both Japanese and European manufacturers came in on the act. Examples of all of these types and styles, and more, are represented in the houses of the National Trust, and in this exhibition.

The free exhibition is in room 146 of the Victoria and Albert Museum until 30 April 2017.

Ladies fishing in Chinese art

September 1, 2016
study 2013AB (7)ed_edited-1

Chinese print depicting a female figure holding a fishing rod in one hand and a recently caught fish in another, in the Study at Saltram, NT 873000. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

I have recently started to notice images of ladies fishing in various kinds of eighteenth-century Chinese art. It seems to have been a well-established theme.

A close-up of a mid 18th century Chinese mirror painting of a woman in a blue silk robe with a child at Saltram, Devon

Chinese mirror painting depicting a female figure fishing seated on rockwork on the banks of a river, a girl standing next to her, mid eighteenth century, in an English rococo gilded frame, in the Mirror Room at Saltram, NT 872171.1. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

This motif is seen on a variety of objects and in different media, including prints, mirror paintings and porcelain.

erd01533

Chinese porcelain punch bowl, decorated in enamels with a scene of a lady fishing, a boy next to her holding up a fish, at Erddig, NT 1145613. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I am not entirely sure whether these female figures are supposed to represent upper-class ladies doing a spot of angling in their well-watered gardens, or whether they are romanticised images of peasant women fishing in order to supplement the family diet.

E78 straightened

Part of the painted decoration on the Chinese House, a garden pavilion at Stowe, showing a lady fishing, English, probably 1820s (restored 1990s), based on a Chinese image, NT 91820. ©National Trust/Emile de Bruijn

Or are they a bit of both, the Chinese equivalent of Queen Marie-Antoinette creating an idealised vision of country life at her Hameau at Versailles?

If anyone has any suggestions, do leave a comment.

Consuming luxury: Asia in Amsterdam

March 18, 2016
Japanese lacquer cabinet on a Dutch gilt stand, c1630-50, in the Long Gallery at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames

Japanese lacquer cabinet (c. 1650) on a Dutch gilt stand (c. 1675), at Ham House, Surrey, NT 1140084. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is currently showing the major exhibition Asia in Amsterdam, about the impact of Asian luxuries on Dutch art and life in the seventeenth century. The museum is also organising a public study day on the same topic, on Saturday 16 April.

A close up of a mirror and curtains in the Queen Anne Room at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

A state bed in the style of Daniel Marot, a japanned cabinet, marquetry table and Delft glazed earthenware vases, in the Damask Bedchamber at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I will be giving a talk at this study day about what I am tentatively calling the Sino-Dutch interior in seventeenth-century England. There was quite a lot of Dutch cultural, influence in Britain at that time, with gardening styles, Delft pots and the occasional Prince of Orange being brought across the North Sea. As Amsterdam was probably the most important European entrepot for Asian goods, the Asian and the Dutch inevitably mingled in the English interior.

SK-A-874

Group portrait of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, his wife Amalia van Solms and three of their daughters, by Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1647, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. SK-A-874

As I am preparing my talk, I am becoming increasingly aware of the pivotal role of Amalia van Solms, the wife of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange. Frederik Hendrik was Stadtholder or ruler of most of the provinces of the Dutch Republic between 1625 and 1647.

CMS_436999_1

Late-seventeenth-century tapestries inspired by Asian lacquer, made by the Soho workshop for Belton House, Lincolnshire, in about 1691, NT 436999. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Frederik Hendrik and Amalia projected an almost royal political and cultural aura, acquiring and decorating a number of residences. Amalia pioneered the practice of taking apart lacquer coffers and cabinets and using the panels as wall decoration, juxtaposed with liberal quantities of Asian porcelain.

This taste spread across Europe and influenced the subsequent history of chinoiserie and interior decoration in general. Without Amalia’s initial moment of creative destruction we would probably never have had Coco Chanel’s Coromandel rooms at her rue Cambon apartment.

A Chinese romance

February 16, 2016
erd01621

Chinese porcelain teapot, early eighteenth century, decorated in blue and white with a scene from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Erddig, NT 1145624. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I recently supplied a little feature on the theme of ‘romance’ in our collections for the Spring 2016 issue of the National Trust Magazine. My colleague Gabriella de la Rosa has now added a version of this feature to the collections pages of the National Trust’s website.

One of the objects in this feature is a Chinese blue and white porcelain teapot at Erddig. It is decorated with a scene from a famous Chinese play, The Romance of the West Chamber, written by the Yuan-dynasty playwright Wang Shifu.

NT 499329.1

One of a pair of Chinese porcelain baluster-shaped vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Lyme Park, NT 499329.1. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The Romance of the West Chamber is the story of Zhang Sheng, a poor young scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of the Prime Minister, who fall in love without their families’ approval. The scene on the Erddig teapot shows Yingying in a garden at night waiting to meet her lover.

The plot is a kind of Chinese Romeo and Juliet, except that it ends happily, with Zhang Sheng doing well in the civil service examinations, rising to high office, and being able to marry his sweetheart.

NT 1245606a

Chinese porcelain bowl with everted rim, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245606, ©National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

All this would have been lost to eighteenth-century British tea drinkers and porcelain collectors. It was only in the 1980s, with Craig Clunas’s article on the West Chamber as a decorative theme on Chinese porcelain (see this bibliography under 1982), that these scenes began to be properly understood in the west.

Gabriella has assembled a few more Chinese ceramics with ‘West Chamber’ imagery in our collections.

Two and three dimensions in Chinese porcelain

September 29, 2015
Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

I just noticed the delicate landscapes on these early-eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain vases at Erddig (on our database here and here). We can see the wall of a country mansion situated next to a waterway, with a figure leaning against a balustrade gazing out at the waves. Another figure approaches the gate over a wooden zig-zag bridge.

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Further along we see the waterway widening out, with a little boat coursing over the waves, a pagoda on the opposite bank and mountains above.

This decoration is derived from the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. But along their necks the vases have also been decorated with stylised floral and fungus ornaments which are part of the Chinese decorative art vocabulary. The globes along the necks have been painted with a diaper pattern that is reminiscent of openwork or basketwork. The silhouette of the vases is pear-shaped, but in section they are in fact octagonal.

So we have three-dimensional objects which are both curvaceous and angular. And we have painted decoration suggesting both pictorial distance and surface perforation. Not bad for a pair of small vases.

A happy ending and a new beginning

November 11, 2014
A pair of black basalt ware vases by Wedgwood & Bentley, 1770-5, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A pair of black basalt ware vases by Wedgwood & Bentley, 1770-5, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It was recently announced that a public appeal organised by the Art Fund to prevent the Wedgwood Museum collection from being sold had been successful.

The Wedgwood breakfast service in the China Room at Penrhyn Castle. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Wedgwood breakfast service in the China Room at Penrhyn Castle. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Because the Wedgwood Museum Trust shared a pension fund with Waterford Wedgwood plc, it became responsible for a huge pension deficit when the company went into administration in 2009.

Black basalt Wedgwood bust of the actor David Garrick (1717-79) in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Black basalt Wedgwood bust of the actor David Garrick (1717-79) in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

As a result, the Wedgwood Museum collection of more than 80,000 pieces was under threat from being broken up. But the Art Fund’s appeal was supported by a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, by other grants from private trusts and foundations, and by gifts from 4,000 members of the public.

A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases, c.1765, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases, c.1765, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Ownership of the collection will be transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum, but it will remain on display at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston.

Two black Wedgwood vases on the corner of the fireplace in the Morning Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Two black Wedgwood vases on the corner of the fireplace in the Morning Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Wedgwood Museum website shows some of the amazing objects in the collection, illustrating the spirit of innovation of the company’s eighteenth-century founder, Josiah Wedgwood, and the ingenuity and elegance of the company’s products.

Wedgwood Queen's Ware cream bowl, decorated with views of Shugborough and Richmond Castle, at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

Wedgwood Queen’s Ware cream bowl, decorated with views of Shugborough and Richmond Castle, at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

This post features just some of the many Wedgwood items that survive in the historic houses of the National Trust, from table wares to decorative objects and including classical motifs as well as contemporary celebrities. Wedgwood’s influence is – and remains – everywhere.

Mellow albarello

March 13, 2014
Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

In the March issue of Apollo I read a piece by Emma Crighton-Miller about Delft blue-and-white which mentioned that albarelli – maiolica apothecary jars – are sometimes adapted and used as water jars by Japanese tea ceremony devotees.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

An example of a Japanese-made water jar inspired by the albarello look, in the Freer collection, can be seen here.

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

This shows rather nicely how the taste for exoticism is not exclusively western. Indeed, Japanese tea taste is a rich mixture of international influences, including wares and materials from both Asia and Europe.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub's face. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub’s face. ©National Trust Collections

With that in mind the original albarelli do indeed have an air of wabi – the imperfect, modest beauty associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps we could even call it ‘Hispano-Moresque wabi‘ or ‘Italian wabi‘?

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman's head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman’s head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

These particular albarelli were bequeathed to the National Trust by antiques dealer Reginald Sneyers in 1989. They are on display at Ightham Mote, an ancient half-timbered house that was carefully restored by the Colyer-Fergusson family in the late nineteenth before being given to the National Trust by American philanthropist Charles Henry Robinson in 1985.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

So like that Japanese pseudo-albarello in an American collection, these jars, too, convey a multi-layered message about how we value and channel the past. In heritage, nothing is ever straightforward.

Double-take

February 14, 2013
The Peacock Room wityh blue and white Chinese Ceramics of the Kangxi period. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with blue and white Chinese porcelain of the Kangxi period. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

Fellow blogger Courtney Barnes recently mentioned a website called The Story of the Beautiful, which chronicles the remarkable and revealing history of the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

As The Story of the Beautiful describes, the Peacock Room was originally constructed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for the London house of shipowner Charles Leyland in the mid 1870s, as a cabinet to display blue and white Chinese porcelain. Then the artist James McNeill Whistler spectacularly redecorated the room, transforming it into a three-dimensional work of art.

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

After Leyland’s death the room was purchased by American industrialist and collector Charles Lang Freer in 1904 and shipped to his house in Detroit. Freer had a different taste in ceramics, preferring subtle glaze effects and collecting wares from across the whole of Asia.

After being moved from Detroit to the public art gallery Freer had initiated and funded in Washington, the Peacock Room was initially displayed with blue and white porcelain, as it had been in London. Now, following the cleaning and conservation of the painted decoration, Freer’s choice of ceramics has been reinstated.

Apart from having a model website, this project also demonstrates brilliantly how objects are changed by their physical context. It simultaneously proves how the context is changed when the objects within it are changed. And on top of that it illustrates how a historic interior can have more than one valid appearance – quite an achievement for a single room, but then this is not just any old room.

Petworth’s oriental vibe

November 27, 2012

Two Chinese lidded vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), acquired by Elizabeth Duchess of Somerset in the late 17th century. They stand in front of a Chinese lacquer screen that dates from the same period but was acquired for Petworth in 1882 in the Hamilton Palace sale. ©National Trust Images/Christopher Hurst

In his new book about Petworth, Christopher Rowell highlights the sumptuous taste of Eizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset, the late 17th-century chatelaine of the house.

Portrait of Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset with her son Algernon, by John Closterman, c. 1692. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Like her friend Queen Mary, Duchess Elizabeth was a keen collector of blue and white porcelain.

Some of Duchess Elizabeth’s Chinese vases on display in the Carved Room. They originally stood on the baroque carved stands which now hold some of the busts. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

Several dealers are known to have supplied porcelain to the Duchess, including a ‘Mrs Vanderhoven’, a ‘Mr Van Collema’, and a ‘Mrs Bull for Delf [i.e. Delft] ware.’

Some of the lacquer cabinets and coffers collected by Duchess Elizabeth in what is now called Mrs Wyndham’s Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

‘Mrs Harrison’, who also supplied the Queen, was paid £52 for ‘a Jappan Cabinet and frame’ in 1695.

The front of one of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinets at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In characteristic baroque style, reflective materials were combined wherever possible. Two ‘India Cabinets’ (‘India’ being a generic terms for East Asian products) in the King of Spain’s Drawing Room were each surmounted by no fewer than 22 pieces of China. In Duchess Elizabeth’s China Closet, the walls were covered with mirrors ‘ornamented wth carved work & 45 pieces of China.’

Detail of the interior of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinet below the Grand Staircase at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Christopher’s book can be purchased through the National Trust Bookshop and via Amazon.