Fine Chinese porcelain objects were produced for the Chinese royal family and court for over a thousand years before Western trade even commenced. The Chinese prized porcelain second only to jade for its hardness, pureness in colour, translucence and most of all for its resonant sound when lightly tapped. With all of these positive attributes, it is no surprise that the Chinese focused on its development, shaping, modelling and decorating objects with exquisite skill, detail and wonderful imagination. Hence the finest pieces are not simply considered as interesting curiosities but fine works of art in their own right. It was these much admired examples which would have been seen by the early merchants that inevitably led to the mass export of Chinese porcelain to places such as England, France, Holland, Sweden, India and Russia and the United States of America.
History of trade with China
European trade with China can be traced as far back as the 2nd century A.D. and was well documented by the likes of Marco Polo. For centuries commodities such as silks and spices were exchanged. However, it was not until the mid 16th century that the Portuguese established regular commercial relations with China setting up Europe's first trading post at Macao, under strict Chinese authority and sovereignty. Trade began to flourish and merchants poured in from all over the world. This led to the establishment of various commercial companies such as the English "East India Company" in 1600 and shortly after the Dutch "United East India Company" in 1602, the later of which being the dominating force for nearly 200 years.
The Europeans imported vast quantities of porcelain. Many patterns were used such as Canton, Mandarin, Fitzhugh, Bird and Butterfly and Famille Rose. In fact the Famille Rose pattern was actually developed as a consequence of this interaction between cultures and hence these enamelled colours were referred to as 'foreign colours'. Although these coloured enamels were new to China, they were by no means new to Europe. However, the application of them to porcelain was.
By the early 18th century, the demand for Chinese export porcelain was beginning to wane and by the later half trade had significantly declined. This was due to the rise in porcelain factories in Europe. Fortunately in 1784 America gained independence which again saw a rapid increase in demand. One of the defining aspects of 18th and 19th century Chinese export porcelain was the production of armorial porcelain wares. This was due to the introduction of polychrome enamels. Prior to this only cobalt blue was used which meant that it was very difficult to depict a legible coat of arms. These pieces were decorated with the arms or crests of either Europeans or Americans.
In recent decades Chinese export wares have become avidly collected. Due to the current ongoing rise in value of Chinese 'home market' and Imperial wares, this has helped to significantly increase the market value of such objects which can be seen reflected in auction results across the UK.
If you have any Chinese ceramics or Asian art items in general, please contact Robin Newcombe at Grand Auctions.
- Posted by Robin Newcombe