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Chinese Whispers or the Telephone Game



In the mid-17th century foreign access to Chinese porcelain was curtailed, and the Dutch shifted their sourcing of Asian porcelain to Japan. Japanese decoration of export porcelain of this period was either copies or derivatives of designs found on earlier Wanli and transitional Chinese styles according to Ford and Impley in their book “Japanese Art from the Gerry Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, at pages 62-63.


The charger in the first photo is a Dutch delftware piece manufactured in the mid-18th century that I recently sold.


The plate in the second photo is a Japanese export piece manufactured in the late-17th century that is illustrated in Jorg’s “Fine & Curious, Japanese Export Porcelain in Dutch Collections” at page 143.


In the catalog “Interactions in Ceramics Oriental Porcelain and Delftware”, Jorg notes that this Japanese pattern was very popular in the Netherlands, leading to delftware interpretations like the one in the first photo. (In addition to an example of the Japanese version and a delftware version, the catalog also has an example of a rare late 18th century Dutch porcelain plate of this design.)


The plate in the third photo is a mid-17th century Chinese porcelain piece made for export to Japan that is illustrated in Curtis’s “Trade Taste & Transformation, Jingdezhen Porcelain for Japan 1620 – 1645” at page 111.


Returning to our game, the Japanese and Dutch plates would be, respectively, the second and third participants. The first, and the start of the whispers, would be the Chinese plate which contains elements found in the later examples.


Interestingly the flower basket above the head of the immortal Lan Caihe in the Chinese version appears to have been transformed into a parasol in the Japanese version, which is retained in the Dutch version.


As in the children’s game the message changed over time, distance, and culture.


For those interested in comparing more examples of Chinese and Japanese blue and white export porcelain, I highly recommend the recently published “Four Centuries of Blue and White” by Becky MacGuire.


R.J Ruble, Ericsson Street Antiques

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