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.

East Meets West Across the Centuries

A fine Chinese export reverse mirror glass painting, Qianlong period (1735-1796)

In the 17th and 18th centuries mercantile trade exposed the West to Chinese decorative art and, perhaps most importantly, Chinese porcelain. It had a profound influence on English tastes.

In England Chinese motifs were often incorporated into our own decorative schemes like those at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

The £34,000 fine 18th century Chinese export reverse mirror glass painting illustrates this taste and has just been sold at Toovey’s. It is exceptionally well painted with a lady seated on a rock beside a lotus pond with conjugal pairs of pheasants, mandarin ducks and chickens; beyond a pleasure barge processes up the river with an opulent residence on the far shore.

Reverse glass paintings occupy a special position in Chinese art bringing together the genres of Chinese export art, glass working and the painting of idealised beauty. The strong use of colours and exotic flavour ensured their fashionable place in English country house collections during the 18th and later centuries.

In the 20th century Chinese export porcelain and objects from the 17th and 18th centuries once again drew the attention of western collectors.

These interests were reflected in the important single-owner collection from London which has just realised hundreds of thousands of pounds at Toovey’s. One of the features of the collection were a number of fine, rare export porcelain colourful animal, bird and human figures.

A fine, rare pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled export porcelain figure groups of seated maidens with spaniels and phoenixes, early Qianlong period (1735-1796)

Amongst these was a pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled export porcelain figure groups depicting maidens seated in a typical pose with spaniels and marvellous pink phoenixes. 21.5cm high they realised £19,000. They dated from the early Qianlong period (1735-1796) and were fitted with gilt brass candle holders and drip pans. The phoenix, or fenghuang, was the Empress of Birds in Chinese mythology signifying beauty, grace, virtue and the unity of yin and yang.

To understand the importance of this pair of figures it is perhaps helpful to note that a similar pair of figures are to be found in the exceptional Copeland Collection at The Peabody Museum, Salem, USA. The Copeland Collection is known internationally for the superb quality and impressive variety of its many rare pieces. It was put together from 1937 by the American collector, Mrs Lammot du Pont Copeland.

These figures are superb aesthetic objects expressing the form, proportion, detailed decoration, and distinctive modelling that characterize the work of a master potter. They represent the cross-cultural influences and trade between East and West giving a valuable insight into Chinese perceptions of western taste in the 18th century. Being expensive to make and ship these fragile figures were primarily made to order for wealthy private collectors and are therefore rare.

Demand for export pieces like these remains as strong amongst western collectors as it does amongst Chinese. If you would like advice on your Chinese objects Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

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.

Asian Art Preview in London

Bowman Sculpture Gallery

Toovey’s will be previewing items from their Single-owner Collection of Asian Art and items already consigned for their auction of Asian Art on 29th November. The preview coincides with Asian Art in London’s Late Night Opening Tours in St James’.

Alongside other members of the Association of Accredited Auctioneers, like Halls, Forum Auctions, Cheffins, Ewbanks and Chorleys, Toovey’s Asian Art specialist Tom Rowsell and Will Rowsell will be at Bowman Sculpture gallery at 6 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BN, between 12 noon and 9pm.

Important London Collection of Asian Art to be Sold in Sussex

Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, with one of a pair of rare Chinese Qianlong period cloisonné enamel elephants from an important London single owner collection of Asian Art

This week I am in the company of Toovey’s Director and Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, who has just finished preparations for the sale of an important London single – owner collection of Asian Art.

I ask Tom how the collection looked in the collector’s London home and he replies “Many of the pieces were beautifully displayed around the house, but it was when I discovered and began to unpack boxes and go through the shelves in an upstairs room that the scale and importance of this collection became apparent. The collection had remained largely untouched for 40 or 50 years. The vast majority of the pieces are from the imperial Kangxi (1654-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1735-1796) periods of the late 17th and 18th centuries.”

Tom explains how today’s Chinese collectors are following in the tradition of the Qianlong emperor who was the last of the great imperial art collectors and patrons in Chinese history. His genuine passion for art and collecting seems to have been inspired by his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722), and his uncle Yinxi (1711-1758).

The Qianlong emperor was prolific in his collecting applying an exceptional personal connoisseurship. His collection would number more than a million objects.

The Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in porcelain production and was an ardent patron and collector of it. Many of the types of porcelain associated with the Qianlong emperor, however, were seeded under the Emperor Yongzheng’s supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Tang Ying (1682-1756).

A garniture of five Chinese Yongzheng period (1723-1735) porcelain vases estimated at £15,000-£25,000 from an important London single owner collection of Asian Art

My eye is taken by a rare and beautiful garniture of five Chinese porcelain Yongzheng period vases. Tom comments “Yongzheng porcelain is known for the quality of its glazes, these vases are very fine quality. It’s very unusual to find a set of five still together in such remarkable condition. The finely enamelled decoration with its delicate flowers and landscapes has wonderful fresh colours. Look at the subtle, recessed panels with their moulded borders. Lovely details – these would have probably been made for an important European home.”

Tom continues “Toovey’s are one of a very small number of UK auctioneers with the ability to market online directly to mainland Chinese collectors through our working relationship with Epai Live, China’s largest mainland online auction platform for the marketing of art and antiques. This collection will certainly attract Chinese and overseas buyers as well as UK interest. We will be exhibiting the collection’s highlights at the international Asian Art Fair in London on the 4th November before it returns to Sussex to be sold.”

Today’s Chinese collectors are as passionate in their collecting as their imperial forebears and the market shows no signs of abating.

This important single owner collection will be auctioned at Toovey’s on Thursday 29th November 2018. If you would like advice on pieces in this collection or your Chinese objects Tom Rowsell can be contacted on 01903 891955, and visit www.tooveys.com to view the sale online from the 4th November.