Chinese Porcelain Collectors Market
For a long time Chinese antiques have amazed collectors for their detail & intricacy and subtlety, their beautifully detailed artisan craftsmanship and their deep-rooted connection and deference to Chinese history, philosophy and culture.
Asian art & antiques are as varied and as expansive as China’s history is long and the phrase ‘Chinese antiques’ embodies much, from porcelain, textiles, jewellery, Chinese antique furniture, painting, sculpture and even clothing.
Before the time of wholesale export of Chinese antiques, many beautiful oriental antique works of art were bought by missionaries, travellers and explorers and transported back from whence they came including western Europe and the Americas. Over the years the pieces were passed down from generation to generation and with the works of art came extraordinarily fascinating back stories.
As awareness of these wonderful Asian antiques grew, the market became competitive and leading Chinese antique dealers such as Marchant Asian Art could offer for sale some of the most stunning Chinese antiques to discerning collectors from all over the world.
Qin Dynasty (221BC – 206BC)
The first Imperial Chinese dynasty included the construction of the Great Wall of China but its rulers were more focused on defence and warfare than art. That said, perhaps the most famous of all Chinese antiques, the 8,000-strong Terracotta Army, a form of funerary art depicting the armies of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, was created during this time.
Han Dynasty (202BC – 220AD)
The Han made incredible contributions to Chinese art and it was during this period that craftsmen started to use porcelain to create what are now some of the world’s most collectible Chinese antiques. It was also during the Han dynasty that jade burial suits were made, of which you can read about later in this article.
Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)
The Tang dynasty heralded a golden age in Chinese art and Chinese antiques. Mural paintings were a major art form where the Chinese, like the ancient Egyptians, liked to adorn their lavish tombs with artwork to be enjoyed in the afterlife. This was also the dynasty when fine ceramics were made including the famous Sancai, or ‘three-colour’ style of brown (or amber), green and a creamy off-white. These stunning Chinese antiques were traded along the Silk Road and today, Chinese antique dealers consider these pieces to be some of the most desirable.
Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)
The Song dynasty saw the development of the scholar-elites, a new social class of men who created a sense of aesthetics defining Chinese society and life in general. Learned men they were, but they were also skilled in the arts and many excelled in wood carving. Many of the Chinese antiques made during the Song dynasty focused on melancholy, loss, and the power and beauty of the natural world reflecting the age in which they lived.
Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)
Coinciding with the European renaissance, the Ming dynasty was a period of enlightenment where vast amounts of Asian antiques were manufactured including calligraphy on magnificent scrolls, exquisite textiles and paintings portraying elaborate landscapes, often frightening in their immensity. It was also the time where some of the most famous Chinese antiques were created – the world-famous blue and white Ming pottery – and were exported around the world in huge numbers. Chinese antique dealers are still doing it to this day.
Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911)
Ruled firmly by the Manchu through a huge military force, while they were strong rulers they kept taxes low, people felt safe and the creativity of what has become today’s Chinese antiques thrived. The Qing were very active in their trade with Europe and the Americas and their stunning oriental antiques, especially the porcelain, were exquisitely decorated with bright colours to appeal to these new markets.
Building on the forms and techniques of ceramic production of the Ming dynasty and preceding what is considered the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics production, the Yongzheng period, the Kangxi period (1661-1722), is a landmark in the chronology of Chinese ceramics.
Chinese porcelain collectors and connoisseurs consider Kangxi ceramics to have the most variation—artistic expression combined with impressive techniques. Perhaps you are curious how to identify antique Chinese porcelain or are considering starting or adding to a collection. Illustrated here are examples of porcelain from recent Skinner auctions that exhibit some characteristics to look for that are distinct to the delightful pieces made during, and in the style of, this reign.
Examples of Chinese porcelain with genuine Imperial marks are the most desirable. However, collectors have recognized Kangxi ceramics produced for everyday use in recent years. Examples are often unmarked, use an underglaze double blue ring without text, or incorporate a pictogram such as an Artemesia leaf or lingzhi fungus.
1 : The Kangxi period (1662-1722) was one of the most productive periods of Chinese ceramics. The Emperor Kangxi was the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty and he ruled for the longest period of time of any Chinese emperor. Considered one of China’s greatest emperors, he started off a period of great stability and cultural advancement. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and was fascinated by Western science, art and culture.
2 : Blue and White glazed porcelain is probably the most immediately recognisable art production which flourished under this period, and has roots in earlier Chinese ceramic tradition. Emperor Kangxi was closely involved in every aspects of the ceramic production; not only did he provided an enormous financial outlay in establishing a porcelain factory, but he was also directly interested in the invention of new shapes, colours and styles.
3 : Emperor Kangxi reopened the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, in the Jiangsu Province, which had been largely neglected during the decline of the preceding Ming dynasty and experienced large-scale destruction during the subsequent civil turmoil in 1674. Blue and white porcelain then became one of the most famous types of porcelain produced in Jingdezhen. New technologies were introduced in the production of porcelain, developing also new decorative designs and colour palettes.
4 : Blue and White ceramics have been dated as early as the 7th century AD, during the Tang Dynasty. During the Kangxi period, however, production quality seems to regain its standards, and ancient techniques were employed in a new manner. Sometimes the period is labelled the ‘transitional’ style, marking the rebirth of high quality Chinese ceramics. Blue and white porcelains of the Kangxi period continued a centuries-old decorative tradition. However Kangxi blue and white ceramics in the hands of Kangxi painters presented a radiant new face.
5 : Blue and white porcelain was created by painting designs with the distinctive cobalt-oxide mixture under the glaze. Cobalt ores were originally imported from Persia, but were later sourced from the counties of Shaoxing, Jinhua and Quzhou in the Zhejiang province, leading to the eponymous ‘Zenjiang blue’, which produced vivid and dimensional shades of blue on Kangxi wares. Cobalt ores were ground into a pigment, which was then painted directly onto the smooth porcelain body. The piece was then glazed and fired. When fired in the kiln, the cobalt would have reacted to generate the distinctive bright sapphire blue colour.
6 : In Chinese culture the blue colour always held a special and deep meaning. Often linked with the season of Spring, blue is associated with growth and advancement, as well as representing the element of wood. An azure dragon represents the season of Spring, and featured on the later Qing dynasty flag. The shade of blue on Kangxi porcelain is referred to as ‘gem blue’ or ‘kingfisher blue’. Blue was used in different dilutions and acted like ink at the hands of Kangxi artisans, who utilised the popular fenshui technique in their designs.
7 : Kangxi porcelain was produced for both domestic and export markets. The high quality of material, craftsmanship, design, painting quality and aesthetic appeal, made it so popular in Europe that a separate branch of export designs flourished. It is also thought that Emperor Kangxi’s good relations with the international Jesuits enabled the pottery style to be exported, and the Jesuit priest François Xavier d’Entrecolles is said to have brought the Chinese porcelain technique to Europe. While international trade was blocked during a period of imperial crisis, private maritime trade was allowed to resume in 1685.
8 : Our examples of Kangxi blue and white porcelain come from the ‘Blue Chrysanthemum Wreck’. Analysis of survey material and cargo samples from the wreck site together indicate that the ship was engaged in exporting very high quality Chinese porcelain made in the 1660s, probably on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.
9 : Popular designs included floral and geometric motifs. They were sometimes based on Buddhist and Taoist themes but were more often sourced from literature, theatre and illustrated books. These included the ever-popular Ming stories of ‘The Three Kingdoms’, ‘The Romance of the West Chamber ‘, and the perennially popular dramas Xixiang Ji and Wui Hu Zhuan.
10 : Kangxi pieces are accessible at any step of the collecting ladder, and the variety of styles and decoration appeal to any taste. Previously overlooked and undervalued, recent interest from China is re-establishing the excitement around Kangxi pottery. Visit our Chinese Gallery to discover more Kangxi pieces.