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Following A Thread

Updated: Feb 16

In last month’s blog I wrote that while “clobbered” Chinese export porcelain was considered by many to be garish, it fit the interior design aesthetics of early 19th century England.

This got me thinking more broadly about the decoration of 19th century Chinese export porcelain, particularly pieces from the second quarter, essentially the reign of the Daoguang Emperor (1821 – 1850), like the pair of vegetable dishes pictured above.

Why? Because, if people thought that clobbered ware was garish, what might they think of this Daoguang decoration with its dense designs of bright colors and extensive gilding?

But what if – like clobbered ware – this style of decoration was intended to fit the aesthetics of its time? And, if so, would that mitigate the widely held view that this decoration was inferior to that of the 18th century?

As to the first point - did this decoration fit the aesthetics of the time - the answer has to be yes. If not, why would the pieces have been decorated as they were? The decoration of Chinese export porcelain always was commercially driven. If there were no market for these pieces, they would not have been produced.

By this time, the American market had gained prominence over the English and continental markets, so perhaps it was American taste that was driving this, but pieces decorated in this style were ordered by English and Portuguese armigerous families as evidenced by examples found in both volumes of Howard’s “Chinese Armorial Porcelain” and in Nuno de Castro’s “Chinese Porcelain At The Time Of The Empire”.

As to the second point – was this decoration inferior to that of the 18th century – I think the answer is: “it depends”. From personal observations and even the most favorable commentary, I believe that the decoration found on the best 18th century examples is superior to that found on the best Daoguang examples. Nevertheless, I believe that very good Daoguang examples can be favorably compared to very good 18th century examples – that is if you can get past the “garish” Daoguang period designs.

Can you put your personal taste aside in evaluating the quality of the decoration? If you’d like to try, I’ll be bringing these with me to the 2024 Washington Antiques Show, January 12 -14, at the Katzen Arts Center, American University.

Very little is written about Daoguang Chinese export porcelain and its decoration. There is a slim volume by Feller, “Chinese Export Porcelain in the 19th Century: The Canton Famille Rose Porcelains”. There is a chapter in “China To Order” by Nadler. There is also a brief but excellent discussion in “Chinese Export Porcelain” by Madsen and White. (Although I often use this book, I missed this. I was saved from embarrassment by Richard Coleman of the Oxford Ceramics Group,, an organization everyone interested in ceramics should consider joining.)

R.J. Ruble

Ericsson Street Antiques

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