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Context

Updated: Feb 16


In a previous blog I wrote about “clobbered” Chinese porcelain, using a densely over-painted cider jug as an example. Here in the first photo is a similarly decorated plate.


I noted that in her book “European Decoration on Oriental Porcelain 1700 – 1830”, Helen Espir was not very sympathetic to clobbered decoration, writing: “[The over-decoration] is generally garish and so overwhelming that it gave rise to the term 'clobbered ' and the poor reputation from which all over-decorated Chinese porcelain has suffered since the late 19th century.”


Since then, I found a lengthy article by her in Volume 29 of “Transactions” of the English Ceramic Circle entitled: “The Atrocious Unsworth – Chinese blue and white porcelain clobbered in London in the 19th century.” In the article she points out that this form of clobbering was done to make older, unfashionable Chinese porcelain marketable in competition with the colorful English Regency ceramics then so popular.


In the article she illustrates and discusses pieces of clobbered ware found in situ in a number of National Trust houses, remarking on how well they fit within the Regency interiors. She concludes that in the context of these homes the clobbered decoration was very fitting.


Comparing the views expressed in her book with those of her later article, it seems to me that contextualizing the decoration made all the difference in her apparent change of opinion. This confirms for me that Chinese export porcelain (and all art) should be looked at and admired (or not) as reflective of the fashion of its time, not ours.


The second photo is of a covered syllabub cup circa 1820 decorated in one of the last of the tobacco leaf patterns. I have been told that this pattern also is “garish”, and that it is not as artful as earlier tobacco leaf patterns, an example of which is shown in the third photo.


Yet the syllabub cup shares the dense vibrant decoration of the clobbered plate, its contemporary. Both were decorated during the first quarter of the 19th Century to conform to the fashion of Regency England. Shouldn’t the cup be viewed through the lens of then contemporary eyes as well?


R.J. Ruble

Ericsson Street Antiques

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R.J., I feel like I've taken the spirit of your essay in reverse, with similar prejudices later dropped. I started with English Regency porcelains, having experienced real weakness in my knees in front of an early 19th century Crown Derby Old Japan Soup Tureen with extensive damages. It eventually came home restored and led me to ask, "I wonder what else is out there?" The Universe abhors a vacuum, and Old Japan started filling my shelves. The galleries I would visit for more Regency porcelains had Blue and White Chinese Export Porcelains in another section, but they seemed so very plain and boring. It took a purchase of a Belgian Impressionist Still Life with both cobalt blue and iro…

Mi piace
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