October 2011 Newsletter

I think, without exception, all of us look at the prices of oriental ceramics and works of art and feel rather shell shocked as every week the prices seem to have almost doubled. The analogy might be the million pounds semi-detached and the property bubble. It was seen that the property boom was forcing the price of all property up and it was forecast that ‘a million pounds semi detatched house’ would be the norm. Obviously something that was not sustainable except in central London. Eventually this scenario would be one of the factors that would cause the property bubble to burst as the price of the semi-detached would become out of the reach of the majority. So could this happen in Chinese ceramics? Will there be a £10,000 tea bowl and saucer?

In the past when we have witnessed rises in Oriental Ceramics and works of Art it has not been across the board but been in specific areas e.g. the prices for Kangxi Blue and White gallop away leaving other areas to plateau or flatten out, before in turn stalling and flattening out and then the emphasis moves to Famille Rose for example and the cycle begins again.

What my graphs show me is that there is now no plateau or flattening or stalling of the prices. There are definite areas that slow down for a time before speeding away again, but even when slowly increasing it is still above the inflation rate. Today the Chinese market is fuelled by a strong Chinese economy with millions of new collectors clamouring for a share in what they see as their heritage. This creates a strong collecting market in Europe and the Americas where the long standing collectors are trying to keep up. That £10,000 tea bowl and saucer could be a reality as each financial market relies on different sectors.

Hopefully there are still good buys to be found in the high flying sections of this art market and that I can also spot the slower areas of the market for you before they speed up. I hope that this is exactly what has happened in my recent acquisitions. I have managed to find some good celadon and some excellent Kangxi blue and white. But there is also a good area of late Ming and early Transitional porcelain that has slowed and is on the verge of really taking off again. That is Chinese porcelain made for the Japanese market or ko-sometsuke.

When the Imperial patronage of the kilns at Jingdezhen decreased towards the end of the Ming Dynasty the kilns with their workers needed a new source of income so turned their attention to Japan, as of yet the soon to be lucrative market with Europe was fledgling and being easily looked after with Swatow ware and from Jingdezhen porcelain known as Kraak, but in relatively small quantities. I will come back to Kraak later.

The Japanese had developed a love of tea which they had formalized with an elaborate tea ceremony. But they enjoyed the tea ceremony with the less refined ware and in comparison poorly decorated ware from Korea, almost an inverted snobbery. The ware that they used was coarse with many flaws and with much less refined decoration and glaze compared to what could be produced at Jingdezhen. So in what can only be described as a ‘can’t beat ‘em so join ‘em’ tactic the Chinese adapted ware for this market. They produced more heavily potted ware, asymmetric designs, allowing firing flaws and even smudging the painting in some cases. Subject mater changed but the ware was an almost instant hit with the Japanese and a rich market developed using blue and white and wucai decoration on tea ware and shaped dishes, bowls and then other ware including plates and brushpots.
Below in the pictures the quatrefoil wucai lobed dish is an excellent example of this type of ware. Made during the reign of the Emperor Tianqi it has a Lovely fun design with excellent details of figures in a boat with birds and an acacia tree. Wucai allows for good decoration and needs a good degree of control over the kilns so that the enamels are not burnt when re-fired and the glaze does not gain any smoke smots that may infiltrate the kilns.

The second photograph again is an excellent example only this is in blue and white with quick brush work to show a red headed crane below a willowy pine tree with a mountain in the distance, although it does look like a volcano so is also giving a nod to Mount Fuji

Although the production for this market began c1600 it would last less than 100 years before the European trade supplanted it. There are some good examples of this ko-sometsuke ware on my web site, do have a look.

Kraak so long forgotten in Britain as a good collecting subject now has a growing following. It has always had a strong following in the European Low Countries and the Americas but now add in Britain. Here the British Collector is looking at the type moving in on it in a good way. There is a busy and even on the smaller pieces an impressive quality. The down side about Kraak is its fragile nature, being a ‘tin’ glaze and thinly potted in many cases, the two things that make it desirable. This fragility makes it liable to frit on edges and rims of bowls and plates as its glaze easily falls away and the thin body makes it prone to gain a hair crack, but all acceptable.

The Kraak dish pictured below in the third of the photographs is a good example of what is known as Klapmutsen or Klapmuts bowl, to Britains though it is often referred to as a dish. But the quality is there to see with an aquatic scene and shows that it is alive with character. Kraak makes and excellent collection. If wanting to collect Kraak refer to the Maur Rinaldi publication on Kraak Porcelain
Like the school teacher I once was, I would like to refer you to another bit of light reading. Yuan Ming Blue and White from Jiangxi - Jointly presented by Jiangxi Provincial Museum and the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. This looks and re dates some processes based on archaeological evidence from tombs and wrecks.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if any help is needed.

Happy Collecting