The Brilliance of Yongzheng Porcelain

A large Chinese famille rose porcelain circular dish, Yongzheng period, diameter 38cm © Toovey’s 2018

The Yongzheng Emperor (1678-1735) reigned over China between 1723 and 1735. He restored a functional imperial court and good government based around Confucian principles rooting out corruption.

He encouraged the development of the arts in China. He was particularly interested in the imperial porcelain factory at Jingdezhen where he appointed Tang Ying (1682–1756) as director in 1728.

The Yongzheng period would see the production of some of the world’s most delicate porcelain and enamelled painting with the Emperor choosing artists and providing commentary on their work.

During this period exports of famille verte porcelain were overtaken by the famille rose palette.

Yongzheng porcelain is of the very highest quality and its brilliance remained unsurpassed in later periods. These pieces are often superbly decorated with harmonious scenes of birds in branches, long-tailed pheasants, flowering plants and fruiting branches like the £4,500 famille rose charger.

A rare Chinese famille rose enamelled export porcelain jar and cover, 18th century, Yongzheng period, height 42.5cm (restoration to rim of cover) © Toovey’s 2021

Family scenes with children and adults are also typical of the Yongzheng period. The restored vase and cover with its beautifully conceived baluster body is decorated with a scene of a boy lighting a firecracker as a group of twelve other boys and four maidens watch on. One of the boys puts his hands to his ears. It sold at Toovey’s for £10,000. Like a scroll painting the scene reveals itself as you turn the vase.

The clear white porcelain made an ideal surface for the fine painting you see on these two examples. The decoration is more restrained and less crowded than later pieces which sought to answer Western tastes for richer designs.

Whilst famille verte pieces continued to be decorated where they were manufactured famille rose pieces were often decorated and re-fired in muffle kilns at places like Canton where Western companies established trading posts.

This technical excellence and style is explained by the production processes refined by Tang Ying at Jingdezhen. Tang Ting was the foremost ceramic expert in China. He was summoned to Beijing in 1743 to illustrate and catalogue the imperial collection and described the process of porcelain manufacture in twenty steps. This led to an elaborate division of labour at the imperial kilns so that no one person was responsible for the production of a single piece at Jingdezhen.

The Chinese market continues to rise as European and Chinese collectors remain as passionate in their collecting as their imperial forebears and the market shows no signs of abating. If you would like advice on your Chinese objects Toovey’s Chinese specialist, Tom Rowsell, can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

The Art of Chinese Cloisonné

An impressive Chinese cloisonné vase (hu), Ming dynasty, height 20inches © Toovey’s 2020

The tradition of enriching metal objects by fusing a composition of ground up multi-coloured glass under heat stretches back over some 3000 years.

It is likely that the origins of these techniques came from the Near East. From the 13th to 12th centuries BC you find it in the Aegean within the cultural sphere of Cyprus. Enamel was employed in Celtic objects from the 5th to 2nd centuries BC and provincial Roman pieces in the first centuries of the Christian era. It reached its heights in Byzantium and European sacred art of the early and high Middle Ages.

The term cloisonné describes the method of creating compartments on a metal object using raised wirework borders, known as cloisons in French. These thin borders remain visible on the finished object separating the compartments of variously coloured enamels. The enamelled powder is worked into a paste to allow its application before being fired in a kiln.

It is likely that these techniques reached China from the Middle East in the 14th century though Byzantium also influenced these developments especially after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 when refugees, in all likelihood, brought their knowledge of enamelling to China.

In China high quality enamelling becomes apparent during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Importantly this branch of artistic endeavour received the patronage of the Imperial Court in China where large pieces were produced.

The impressive Chinese cloisonné vase or hu illustrated dates from the mid-Ming dynasty. The body is decorated in a subtly graded colour palette where two pairs of auspicious, lapis blue dragons frame stylized flaming pearls above the Mountains of Longevity and the Sea of Bliss (shoushan fuhai – live as long as the mountains and may your happiness be as immense as the sea). The chased pair of gilt metal mask and loose ring handles are thought to be of later date.

A Chinese cloisonné bottle vase decorated with a lily pond, Qianlong period, height 8inches © Toovey’s 2020

In the 18th century the emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) surrounded himself with resplendent enamel works in his summer residence which he remodelled in the European Rococo taste guided by Italian and French Jesuit missionaries.

The Qianlong period Chinese cloisonné turquoise ground bottle vase of ovoid form is decorated with a lotus pond whilst the narrow neck has lotus flowerheads and scrolling tendrils above a stiff leaf band. Once again a dragon is depicted, this time cast in gilt metal. Thanks to its symbolic qualities of potent and auspicious powers the dragon is an emblem often associated with the Emperor in China. The turquoise ground is typical of much Chinese cloisonné. Pieces like this embody the search for perfection and originality in an increasingly industrial age.

These two fine examples of the art of Chinese cloisonné were sold for £19,000 and £4,600 at Toovey’s specialist sales of Chinese and Asian Art reflecting its continuing allure to collectors today.

Britain Retains Global Art Market Position

A detail of a Japanese Satsuma dish painted by Sozan for Kinkozan

In 2018 the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Survey confirmed that the United Kingdom had regained its position from China as the second largest global art and antiques market behind the United States. Earlier this year it was announced that Britain had retained this position in 2019.
Given the scale of China’s market this is a remarkable achievement for the United Kingdom.

The British art and antique market is a significant sector in the UK economy. In 2019 the total annual value of art and antique exports broke through £9 billion for the first time whilst imports rose to £2.142 billion.

Britain is the second largest art and antique market in the world with a 20% global market share. It uniquely attracts high value items from around the world for sale recognising the profession’s expertise and ability to add value. These objects are sold, predominately at auction, to a global audience. Britain has the most varied and largest art and antiques market in Europe.

Back in 2013 Toovey’s, together with a small group of the UK’s leading regional auctioneers, was invited to China. The introduction of British auction practice and ethics was seen as an important part of this exchange in Beijing. A working relationship was also formed with Epai Live, China’s largest mainland online auction platform for the marketing of art and antiques, which continues to provide our clients with rare, direct access to this market.

Demand from China has had a profound effect on collectors’ markets.
The Chinese and Asian market for ceramics and works of art proved its resilience and strength at Toovey’s last week.

Our first specialist auction since the Covid-19 lockdown saw strong demand from China, Japan, the UK and Europe. Viewing and bidding at the salerooms by appointment proved popular whilst keeping people safe and successfully combined with interest and competition online, from the bank of telephones and commission bidders.

A fine Chinese polished bronze censer, mark of Xuande but Qing dynasty

One of my favourite lots in the sale was a fine Chinese polished bronze censer. Although of later date it bore the mark of the 15th century Ming Dynasty Emperor Xuande Its rectangular body was beautifully cast in low relief with an archaisitic dragon and keyfret band flanked by a pair of moulded lion mask handles. Raised on four scroll moulded bracket feet it measured just 5 ½ inches and realised £5200.

The Yonghe Lamasery, Beijing

It reminded me of my visit to the Buddhist Yonghe Lamasery in Beijing. There in the courtyards scores of young people lit their incense sticks placing them in giant bronze censers, their prayers rising with the clouds of incense to heaven. Inside towering gold figures provided windows into prayer.

There was a notable increase in competition for Japanese items. The finely painted Satsuma dish by Sozan for the Kinkozan workshop was decorated with two bijin in conversation beneath a pine tree and sold for £3800.
Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown enquiries and interest in art and antiques remained strong. It is exciting and hopeful to see that demand reflected in the confident return of sales with post lockdown prices at auction showing real strength as markets re-immerge.

 

Satsuma: Ceramic Art to Delight the Imagination

A rare Japanese Satsuma earthenware presentation circular dish by Sozan at Kinkōzan, Meiji period (1868-1912)

It is with a sense of anticipation and excitement that we are preparing to reopen Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. The ‘R’ number willing, and having already been postponed once, we will open on Monday 15th June.

Our first specialist auction will be a fine selection of Chinese and Japanese ceramics and works of art from across Sussex; it is already attracting strong interest internationally and from across the UK.

One of the pieces which is attracting the attention of collectors and specialist dealers alike is the remarkable Satsuma dish you see here which has a pre-sale estimate of £2000-£4000.

In contrast to the predominately agrarian society which preceded it, a vibrant community of merchants and businesses grew up in Japan’s towns and cities in the early and mid-19th century.

For the first time urban populations had the means and leisure time to support a new culture of theatres, geisha and courtesans. This search for pleasure became known as ukiyo (the floating world), an ideal world of fashion and entertainment.

The prints, netsuke and ceramics which would be exported to, and have such an influence on, the West were born out this cultural movement.

Satsuma ceramics are a quintessential expression of the Meiji period (1868-1912) which continues to delight the imaginations of western collectors and our sense of the exotic.

Satsuma ceramics met with great success at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867. The mature Satsuma style was introduced to Kyoto by Kinkōzan Sōbei VI (1824-1884) and the Awata district became the centre of Satsuma production. In contrast to earlier pieces Satsuma from the Meiji period was elaborately decorated and predominately produced for export. The extravagance of these designs contributed to its popularity in Western markets.

Wares produced in Kyoto were similar in style and taste to the Satsuma produced in other towns and cities like Osaka and Yokohama. Satsuma had become an aesthetic term rather than denoting place. Indeed popular themes were published and shared.

However, it was the painters’ skill, stylistic preferences and range of colours that gave a piece its individual character. The finest painters like Sozan at Kinkōzan cultivated distinctive and personal styles. Sozan whose red seal within a cartouche appears on the presentation dish illustrated is considered to be among the finest painters of his kind in Japan. Dated, documentary Satsuma earthenware, like this dish, is extremely rare.

Whilst the scene is characteristic of Satsuma the distinctive, exceptional quality and style of painting is typically Sozan. Two bijin (beautiful women) stand in conversation in an exquisitely conceived landscape as a child plays with a kite beside a river. In the distance Mount Fuji can be seen, with a village on the horizon.

Items produced by the Kinkōzan Sōbei porcelain company are marked ‘Kinkōzan’. However, some pieces also carry the name ‘Sozan’. Sozan was a painter of porcelain but it is commonly held that he was also responsible for the decorative schemes and designs on these pieces.

This exceptional dish will be one of the highlights in Toovey’s first sale of Japanese and Chinese ceramics and works of art since the lockdown. The auction is scheduled for mid-June.

All being well Toovey’s will reopen to the public on Monday 15th June 2020 so do email us to make an appointment to meet our valuers, virtually or in person.

The Fascination of Chinese Imperial Porcelain

A Chinese blue and white reverse-decorated ‘dragon’ saucer dish, mark of Daoguang, diameter 7 inches

Chinese potters from the Qing Dynasty went to extraordinary lengths to copy centuries old designs. This was deeply bound up with the very nature of Chinese art which has always had a strong tendency towards antiquarianism. These qualities are apparent in the Imperial Qing Dynasty pieces of the 19th century. The artistry you can see in the pieces illustrated is at odds with the turbulent times during which they were made.

The Qing rulers faced internal rebellion as well as the increasing interference and dominance of Western and Japanese power in China. The century would witness the Opium Wars with Britain and China’s ceding of Hong Kong Island to us.

The profligacy of earlier Qing Emperors meant that Daoguang inherited a throne diminished by its depleted financial resources. Despite his personal austerity Daoguang failed to rebalance the country’s finances. The Dowager Empress Cixi came to prominence when she bore the Emperor Xianfeng (1850-1861) a son. In 1861 she assumed the role of co-regent over the six year old Tongzhi (1861-1875). When Tongzhi died childless in 1875 Cixi successfully installed her four year old nephew Guangxu (1875-1908) on the throne. She would remain in power until her death in 1908. Cixi’s narrow world view and extravagance prevented the reforms which might have strengthened the Chinese Empire and her dynasty.
The three small porcelain objects illustrated span this period and were sold at Toovey’s.

The base of the Chinese blue and white saucer dish is marked with the underglaze blue six-character seal mark of Daoguang. It is delicately decorated in reverse with a five clawed dragon writhing above a rough sea. The articulation of movement is particularly fine for this date and the dish sold for £6000.

A Chinese famille rose porcelain tea bowl, mark of Tongzhi, height 2 inches

The delicate Chinese famille rose porcelain tea bowl is finely painted with a continuous frieze depicting the eight immortals in a garden. It realised £3200. The legendary eight immortals were thought to bestow life and destroy evil. The iron red six-character mark on the base is that of Tongzhi.

A Chinese yellow ground famille rose medallion bowl, mark of Guangxu, diameter 6 inches

Medallion bowls were popular Imperial pieces from the 18th century onwards. This 19th century example, bearing the underglaze blue six-character mark for Guangxu, is beautifully decorated with three circular medallions filled with a recumbent goat, a lamb and an ox, each beneath a tree in landscapes. The fine Imperial yellow enamelled sgraffito ground is decorated with precious objects.
The 19th century Chinese Qing Emperors shared their ancestors’ fascination with the finest porcelain. These 19th century examples, discovered and sold in the heart of Sussex, are increasingly attracting the attention of international collectors including those from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Toovey’s Director, Tom Rowsell, is preparing his next specialist auction of fine Chinese porcelain which will be held on Thursday 5th December 2019. Entries are still being invited. Tom is always delighted to share his passion for Chinese porcelain with others and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.